Assault Gunners: HD Edition Review – Less than Marvelous (PS4)
Anime and giant robot fights are two perfect entities that, when fused, create a stunning tour de force. There’s something undeniably mystical about neon lights hitting those giant, intertwined, mechanical bodies. Then again, maybe that’s just my opinion. It would stand to reason then, that I would be interested in Assault Gunners: HD Edition, a Japanese mech-fighting game published by Marvelous Inc. Marvelous has had their hands in many PlayStation games throughout the years, including Soul Sacrifice, Muramasa Rebirth, and the Senran Kagura series. Consider me intrigued.
Assault Gunners: HD Edition is the first time the West has gotten their hands on a localized version of the game. It first released on the PlayStation Vita in Japan in 2012, while this Japanese version was available on the Western PlayStation Store. One would expect an elusive title from Marvelous to be somewhat noteworthy. Disappointingly, the high-definition PS4 port does little to prove it deserved to leave the Vita, even with the original’s DLC included.
Is That the Best You’ve Got?
Assault Gunners is a fairly straightforward third-person action game. You create a team of four mechs (yourself and three AI), then sortie for missions fighting hordes of evil robots. I mean literal hordes—certain missions will throw hundreds at you, while you press R1 over and over to mow them down. Sometimes you’ll be asked to stand in place for three seconds, to “initiate a link” or “download some data.” Of course, there are boss fights too, but those are simply larger mech models with extra health and damage. That seems to be the game’s idea of difficulty— cranking up enemy health and damage.
You see, everything in Assault Gunners tends to blend together. Increasing opponent offenses and defenses is a cheap tactic when their bullets and attacks are camouflaged in the environments around you. Quite a few missions reuse maps and assets, meaning you’ll hardly ever see or dodge incoming fire. Even worse, if you do manage to spot it, your mech is too slow to escape or even turn and shoot the threat. There’s a dash evasion option, though this uses up your shield meter, which puts you in a much more dangerous position.
To counteract this, you’ll want to upgrade your mech’s defensive capabilities. You can equip and upgrade different weapons, armor, and items, which you unlock by playing through missions. Perhaps you want a coating that protects you against electricity attacks? You can most certainly equip that. Herein lies Assault Gunners’ main problem: I began with many of the highest-tier items unlocked. I have no idea if this was due to the DLC inclusion or some bug, but I started with overpowered guns and shields. I was also given a lock-on missile launcher that rarely ran out of ammo. In essence, the game ruined its own progression loop.
I’m okay with this, as Assault Gunners wasn’t enjoyable enough to warrant an investment in its progression in the first place. From minute one, the game is a numb, clunky grind through waves of enemies. To win, you just need to walk in circles, soak up damage, and shoot at some enemies. Adding extra weapons or items does not change the fundamental playstyle of the game—it simply changes the animation after you press R1.
Anime Was a Mistake
That’s not to say I didn’t try to spice things up. As I said, I love anime and mechs; Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of my favorite shows of all time. I painted my team’s mechs to look like the Evangelion units. I bought and upgraded new body types and weapons in an attempt to match each unit’s aesthetic. In retrospect, this was a dumb attempt to rub my love of one thing onto another. Yet even with my Evangelion obsession, I had no interest in furthering my pursuits as an Evangelion Unit-01 lookalike.
I even played missions on the hardest difficulty, searching for some sort of hook or enjoyment to Assault Gunners aside from rote combat repetition. “Maybe the game’s charm lies in its customization? It’s bullet-sponge difficulty? The wonky controls? The short, incoherent Japanese cutscenes without subtitles?!” Sadly, no charm or hook exists.
I say “sadly” because it’s clear where Assault Gunners could shine, if given more polish. If extra mechanics and gameplay deviations were introduced, the combat would be enjoyable. If the story had an extra layer or two, it would be the perfect backdrop to its gameplay. If the progression system mattered aside from inflating arbitrary numbers, it would give incentive to push through more missions. Yet all areas falter, so the entire experience falters.
If you check the PlayStation Store listing for the original Vita version of Assault Gunners: HD Edition, it promises “real robot battles realized by simple controls.” I’d argue that the developers went overboard in this concept of simplicity. Not only are the controls simple, but the adventure itself lacks depth. Perhaps the title was more impressive in its Vita heyday. In 2018, though, it feels absolutely barren next to the PlayStation 4’s strong first-party, third-party, and indie lineups. I don’t want to slam Assault Gunners too much, as I’m sure a lot of time and love went into its creation, and the game may certainly be someone’s jam. Yet this is just one mecha-anime dream I want no part in.
Assault Gunners: HD Edition review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy.