PS3-exclusive Mobile Suit Gundam Side Stories adds yet another underachieving Gundam action game to a long list. With a good story and variety of Mobile Suits to control, it ends up being a decent consideration for big fans who can’t get enough of the source material, but those more casual about their Gundam fandom or those whose greater priority is tight gameplay, might find themselves underwhelmed.
One recurring problem with Gundam games, where some fans would be concerned, is the use and constant re-use of certain battlefields and mission objectives. A serious fan knows that this is a necessary evil — that these stages are used often within a game because that’s really how the canonical story went. A more casual fan might only be focused on the samey goals and re-used areas. Gundam Side Stories is at odds with itself in this way, as so many Gundam games before it. In staying true to Gundam stories, it needs to take the player certain places several times each. Someone walking into this saying, hypothetically, “Oh hey Gundam, I remember that from Toonami. Cool, maybe this game is good,” then popping this in, might be put off by how often he finds himself in the same handful of locales. The designers are in a tough spot where there’s no perfect decision readily apparent, yet understanding their plight doesn’t make the game any more interesting.
In that way, Side Stories is something of a missed opportunity. Including stories from such a span of Gundam games might have made this a great jump-in point for new fans, or perhaps a good introductory game for those only a little bit familiar with the universe. Stronger gameplay would have provided greater incentive to stick around and enjoy the new story. Then again, this game’s target audience is not likely people playing their first Gundam game.
This review may sound quite negative, though the game comes out overall around average quality. The good parts aren’t particularly astounding, and the bad things warrant specific descriptions that take up most of the space here.
Combat itself is fun on a base level. As a fan of Gundam and giant robots in general, I did find myself interested in the large scale robot military battles. Gamers will find a brand new story that connects several previous Gundam Side Stories games, appropriately titled Missing Link. Tons of non-story missions are also available, in which players can get a little more creative with their loadouts.
One of the most dangerous opponents in this robotic combat game is named Camera. Every mission will come with at least one struggle against Camera, be it only a five-second tussle or an all out endurance match that comes around, off and on, the whole battle.
Locking onto a target will also prove challenging, especially on well-populated battlefields. It would have been nice to have some kind of priority system in place for target selection, as the best you can do is angle yourself toward a group of enemies, hit the change target button, and hope for the best. This means, at times, there will be a huge deadly Mobile Suit charging at you, but as you raise your gun and try to cut off the attempt, your target becomes a little tank. You switch, and it happens again. By now, the huge enemy has closed the distance, and you try to draw your knife, but it’s too late. This will happen not frequently enough to be game breaking, but enough to damper the experience.
Level advancement in Gundam Side Stories is poorly handled. After every victory, players earn points which can be spent on new units and gear. These points are so easy to acquire, however, that there will never be any tough decisions — no need for careful planning or strategic thinking. Just buy everything that you want, right now, because you can.
Now add in the fact that upgrades are the biggest determining factor in your ability to win, and you’ve got a game that feels very haphazardly put together. In one battle in which I had to destroy a specific target, I danced around him dodging virtually everything he threw at me, picking him apart at range and up close. Despite all my damaging blows, his HP hardly moved at all. Time expired and I failed the mission; I bought the best round of upgrades, spending only a tiny fraction of my enormous pile of money, went in and won the battle with no problems. If you’d have seen both fights, you’d have thought they were completely different versions of the battle. Imagine being in Mortal Kombat and landing uppercut after uppercut, fireball after fireball, and hardly getting hit in return, but then the match ending in a draw. It’s backwards.
You might say it was my fault for a lack of Suit maintenance and to an extent, you’d be right; but look at the huge problem with this design for a minute. The way to win was not skill — that got me nowhere. The way to win was not careful strategy — none was involved at all. The way to win was to go in and spend my seemingly unlimited money and that was it. It’s like an extra step put in perhaps to add some sort of effort justification, yet it ironically was completely unnecessary. If the battle had more emphasis on skill and less emphasis on spending money (which flows hilariously), it would have been fantastic. It would’ve felt amazing to fight that fight, win or lose.
Despite being a late-cycle PS3 game, Gundam Side Stories doesn’t look too sharp. The most important parts — the mobile suits — look fine, but you’d best not be expect interesting scenery of effects. In fields, you’ll see a lot of copy-pastes of the same three or four trees; when a pile of defeated enemy machines lay before you, they’ll all have the same exact smoke trail rising above them. Visuals, like most aspects of the game, come out about average.
Camera and targeting be damned, the gameplay is good enough that some dedicated Gundam fans will be satisfied — perhaps not thrilled, but satisfied. It doesn’t, however, deliver a noteworthy action game. If you love the source material, there’s some good stuff here, but as an action game itself, Side Stories doesn’t shine in any particular area. At no point did I find myself with the sudden urge to pop in Gundam Side Stories for any reason related to the gameplay. The new story is decent, made better by connecting so many other Gundam games. Apart from the Gundam skin, however, we’re left with a game in which every aspect is average-grade at best.
(Post-review notes for importers. Read the PSLS guide to importing here.)
You straight-up will not understand much of the story if you don’t speak some good Japanese. A high reading level will help with your mission briefings and menu navigation, but isn’t essential. I do recommend you at least know some basics. PS3 is region free, so the game will work on your machine with no problem.