Let's see now: of the dozens of video games made based on the Mobile Suit Gundam series, only two have made it to the States- Side Story 0079 for the Dreamcast, which was quite good, and now Gundam Battle Assault for the Playstation, a 2D fighting game. No doubt this title is only here to attract fans of the Gundam Wing series, and in fact, the game was originally released in Japan about two years ago as Gundam Battle Master 2. The first GBM was a Street Fighter style brawler based on a Super Famicom game called Gundam Endless Waltz, and BM2 added smoother-looking mech movement and some new characters. If you're expecting innovation, there's really not much- just some logical extensions of what's come before.
On one hand, it's great to actually a MSG game finally appear on the PS, but on the other hand, something like Year One Perfect War, Char's Counter Attack, or any of the other 0079 era games have a bit more depth than this one. Yes, I realize that the games I mentioned have nothing to do with the current Wing Gundam on the Cartoon Network, but then again, this game really doesn't either. There's not much of a storyline here- it's just pick a pilot and a mech and go for it. The game does force you to use Heero Yuy as a mech pilot in the single player story mode, which isn't so good if you like to be the bad guy (hey, some of us do). Your opponents are made up of other mechs from most of the Gundam timeline, which means that you'll have a Wing Gundam up against a Zeong, for example. The game isn't as fast paced as the Street Fighter series, but this makes sense since you're in a huge mobile suit. Each mech has a number of moves and the fun part of the game is mastering and pulling off the assorted air attacks. The larger mechs have the power, but they fill up the screen, while the smaller ones have the maneuverability, and it's pretty funny to see what looks like a one-sided battle turn into a David vs. Goliath affair.
As far as the graphics go, the developers went for a straightforward 2D approach for the fighting engine, and it works just fine. All the mobile suits are excellently detailed and move like a giant mech would if they ever existed. Each MS part is animated separately, so the mechs move slower than you'd think, if you were expecting something along the lines of a Capcom fighter, but you'll get used to the speed and strategy rather quickly. Some of the bosses and enemy mechs get downright huge, which is good for a laugh when the camera scales waaaay back. There are some nice scrolling backgrounds, really cool scaling and colorful special attacks as well. The music and sound effects are decent, nothing remarkable, but they get the job done.
The main drawbacks to GBA are some really difficult to beat bosses (very high on the cheap scale), and the fact that the game probably won't turn too many heads other than hardcore Gundam fans. Even then, that Heero Yuy is one fictional character I personally can't stand at all. Then again, there hasn't been a good 2D fighter on the PSone in a while (hell, there haven't been any fighting games on the system in a while), so perhaps this game will fill the need for the time being. Personally, I think that the Mobile Suit Gundam series has too far interesting a history to be treated as a simple flavor of the month, like Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon. After playing GBA, I sort of felt like it simply an appetizer, and I was still hungry for a larger, more satisfying main course. Perhaps Bandai's next U.S. Gundam game will actually tap into this history, rather than just being yet another variation on what's been done before.
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