Gundam Extreme Vs. Force Review Impressions

Extreme and with Force.

They said it couldn't be done! They said it would be ridiculous to bring a Gundam game to rest of the world!

No, really. Until recently, publisher Bandai Namco has maintained that Mobile Suit Gundam doesn't carry the cultural weight needed to localize its games. That, despite the fact that Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. is a genuine phenomenon in Japan, has kept the Western world without anything but the occasional Dynasty Warriors tie-in. Unless you’re up for importing.

Lately, though, Bandai Namco has positively showered us with localizations of otherwise Japan-centric series. From the prolific Tales RPGs, to the flamboyant JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and now -- finally -- to Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. Force.

That last one is particularly important to me, because I absolutely adore Gundam. Like, "builds $120 plastic model kits" adore it. And, happily, Extreme Vs. Force delivers exactly the level of fan service I demand, along with at least some of the twitchy, tactical, competitive spirit of its arcade and home console counterparts.

But first, let me tell you what it actually plays like.

The Extreme Vs. games in Japan are strictly two-on-two competitive games in which mobile suits from all across the Gundam franchise duke it out at high speed. Competitors keep their distance, circling each other with ever-present lock-ons, taking pot shots with beam rifles and bazookas. That is, until they don't. The instant an opponent overextends themselves by using too much boost fuel, or attempting a risky special attack it's on -- with the units clashing into each other, looking for an opening to begin devastating melee combos that can cleave through half a health bar at a time.

That's Extreme Vs. Force, as well, with some major changes. The first, and most obvious, is what gives the title its "Force." Besides two-on-two battles there are also missions with light -- almost MOBA-like -- strategy elements. Players command entire squads of mobile suits and warships to take towers and complete objectives.

Here, the dance of beam sabers, jet boosts, and missile fire is replaced by simplified strategy, and pummeling waves of Zaku II's with single shots. It can be fun in its own right, as it lets you live out the grander level of conflict in Gundam's Universal Century timeline. Charging the White Base's mega particle cannon to blow away Big Zam (no relation) puts a goofy grin on my face every time.

Even if you're not into the strategy angle, the 2v2, and occasional 1v1 battles remain intact -- albeit without the same degree of depth you can find in Japanese arcades these days. One of the biggest omissions seems to be the "Burst" system. Which, from what I can glean, is a sort of one-time get-out-of-jail-free card that lets players escape some of the more destructive combos.

Meanwhile, the dozens upon dozens of unlockable mechs have fewer attacks. While that's a bummer to importers who know the series already, the suits certainly aren’t lacking in variety.

In fact, I'm very much in love with how well the game translates its on-screen counterparts into playable flying robots.

Gundam Barbatos, from the recent and quite popular series Iron-Blooded Orphans, lacks regular ranged weapons. So instead of a normal ranged attack, it gets an extra forward charge that doesn't drain the ever-important boost gauge. The Turn-X, meanwhile, can split itself into multiple flying parts -- good for both dodging attacks and hitting enemies from multiple angles.

My biggest gripe with this is how poorly the game explains it. There's a pretty comprehensive database of all the games modes, terms, and basic controls, but it's all surface level. You won't find anything in Extreme Vs. Force that describes how to string together a combo, or whatever the hell a "Rainbow Cancel" is. For that I recommend this excellent NeoGAF post (which something I never thought I'd say) that I only just discovered while writing this. I'll definitely be taking the knowledge it imparts back with me into the single-player game.

Oh, yeah. About that. Extreme Vs. Force is bereft of an online mode. Now that's the sticking point that will likely get the goat of series fans. If you want to play against your friends, they'll need their own PlayStation Vitas, as well as a copy of the game for Ad-Hoc multiplayer.

That said, I don't feel like the game is lacking content. There's the campaign, custom free-play fights, and incredibly difficult "course battles" that let you take a single mobile suit through a gantlet of missions. As a primer to the complicated series, I'm fine with only combating its aggressive AI. For now, at least.

Besides, the scripted fights make for some excellent moments. Unlike some previous Gundam games that have made it to North America, this one features all of the original, often stellar music from the anime.

In the very first mission, set at the start of the original series, everything looks and sounds as it should -- so when The Red Comet himself comes flying in "Gallant Char" starts blaring right on cue. The same goes for fights throughout the campaign, which is just the thing for those times you dodge the Gundam Double-X's satellite cannon to put it in a Burning Finger headlock.

Come to think of it, that might be all I've ever wanted (in life, as well as in a Gundam game). Though the more I burn through what's here, the more I'll be interested to see Bandai Namco's plans to bring the "real" Extreme Vs. games westward.