Traditional mech games are, for the most part, a min-maxer’s paradise. Build a giant robot, equip it with whichever parts are going to make it function the way a player desires, and then take it into battle to watch all the hard work and number crunching pay off. In the same way that JRPGs can often be a spreadsheet painted over with a fantasy setting, mech games are formula upon formula of cold, hard math condensed into one battle-hardened machine wiping out its enemies with brutal efficiency, something that New Gundam Breaker looks to continue.
New Gundam Breaker is a very traditional mech game in that sense, albeit one that has the benefit of one of the most iconic mecha licenses in the world. The Gundam games have long been a staple of the genre, but typically vary wildly in quality. After a recent string of successes, however, New Gundam Breaker has sent the franchise spiralling back down to Earth like the Gundanium alloy that caused a revolution in Gundam Wing. Instead of hitting the ground gracefully and ushering in a new age, though, this game instead takes two giant robot-sized steps backward, and despite a robust offering of options, never fails to disappoint in its execution of any of them.
Do It For the Waifus
One of the most shocking elements of New Gundam Breaker is that its story is actually pretty serviceable. Because a lot of games in the franchise try to incorporate mobile suits from different entries in the Gundam series, the result is usually a bit of a jumbled story – how did Setsuna end up picking a fight with Char Aznable, and why is it happening in an area neither of them would ever be in?
Here, players take the role of a Gunpla Builder. Gunpla is the real life toy line that allows fans of the series to build their own Gundams out of small parts and paint them, or otherwise watch a hundred tiny, uncooperative plastic parts burn in a fire. Luckily for story purposes, the protagonist and his friends are all extremely good at building their own Gunpla, and the world they live in allows those who build them to operate them in virtual simulations like Gundam pilots. There’s even a school for builders in Japan, where the story takes place and our hero must end the oppressive regime of a student council that, for some reason, really seems to hate people having fun with Gundams.
The main takeaway from the story is just how great the female cast is. They’ve all got their own motivations and desires, and they all seem to want a piece of the protagonist too. In this alternate universe where being really good at building a toy robot creates harem-style situations, each girl that players come across needs help in some way. Helping them resolve the issues in their lives and become more confident as a result is genuinely rewarding thanks to a simplistic but well written story. I want to stress that the narrative is not ground-breaking, but makes sense, is fun, and does a good job framing the gameplay, which I think is a good direction for Gundam moving forward.
Meching a Mess
Unfortunately, the game’s core appeal is in its Gundams, and that’s also where it falls apart. Despite a huge array of customization options, most of the Gundams I played as felt largely the same. There weren’t many parts that created unique movement patterns, for instance, and most of the melee weapons felt largely interchangeable despite being wildly different. When I finally unlocked Gundam Deathscythe’s, well, uh, Deathscythe, I thought now I would finally see some big changes. Instead, I just had a bit more range on my attacks. Unlocking a new part only to have it be cosmetically different is a massive disappointment.
The shop system is also pretty frustrating. Those looking to just quickly put together their favorite Gundam once they’ve unlocked it in the shop menu, which only requires uncovering one part during a mission, will be upset to learn it’s really hard to afford the rest. The game is stingy with its currency, so much so that after hours of playing I could only really afford one or two parts from the shop. In theory, this isn’t such a big deal, since replaying missions gives players multiple chances at destroying the enemy Gundams whose parts they desire and acquiring the ones they need. In practice, though, it simply doesn’t work in an intuitive or fun way.
Maybe some fans will enjoy having a Gundam that is the randomized min-maxed parts of six or seven iconic mechs from the franchise. That certainly can be exciting for a while. Ultimately, though, the hoops one has to jump through to acquire one fully-realized Gundam is likely a little too much for a game of this kind of substance.
The actual gameplay itself is extraordinarily repetitive, too. Players get transported to a battlefield, destroy netural enemies, destroy some crates, recover some parts, and then rinse and repeat until a boss shows up. Sometimes it’s just the player and a partner, others its a 3 vs. 3 skirmish against the computer, but they feel identical. Online gameplay is the same, and has the added frustration of lag playing a major factor in the gameplay.
The lag is the worst part of New Gundam Breaker by far. There are plenty of hang-ups in the game where the screen freezes for a few moments during a lot of action. That, coupled with input controls that seem delayed at best, make for a frustrating experience. Gundams are supposed to be the cream of the crop in the mech world, yet the ones in New Gundam Breaker handle like old Cadillacs. Sometimes, a game can get away with messy gameplay, but in a mech game about Gundams, having the titular robots feel nothing like their anime counterparts is too big a mistake to overlook.
Ultimately, New Gundam Breaker does little to continue the good faith the past few Gundam games have worked so hard to garner. It’s a charming game at times, and its characters are refreshingly simple. That’s not enough to save it from itself, though, and the gameplay is well below what a game based entirely on building and piloting a Gundam should be. Hardcore fans will likely want to pick this one up simply because it has Gundam in the name, but for anyone else, this one should probably be avoided.
New Gundam Breaker review code provided by Bandai Namco. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our review policy.