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Gundam Battle Assault 2
Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Bandai
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:
As fighting games go for PSOne, this little number delivers on more than a few levels. You have the Gundam characters, always a guaranteed hit. You have the Gundam robots, which may be the stars of the show, but still only a piece of the magic for fans. It's a shame the actual characters don't play a bigger role in the game, and I was hoping some computer animation or actual Gundam footage would be part of the action. What we have instead is pure, unadulterated fighting mania! Nothing breaks up the ring-side action, other than some short dialog balloons between characters as the story plays out and an identical intro sequence where you receive 'orders.' Strangely the orders always seem to be, 'Defeat the giant robot!'

Each battle arena looks good, in a grainy kind of way, and the robot models are very true to the show, but not done in the type of detail you might like. What comes out is a sense that these robots are moving slowly, in robot fashion, but the attacks they use are well animated and have plenty of 'wow' value. As a fan of Gundam, I never quite had the impression these robots were slow or pokey, so the drag in response tends to feel more like a failing in the engine than a feature of Gundam combat. Obviously certain models are bigger and less maneuverable than others, but I still found the action quite slow at times. Special attacks that use dynamic light effects are done well, but not with the kind of flashy eye-candy you might expect. Not that there is really anything to compare against out there for PSOne, but when I think of the graphics in games like Omega Boost being a 7 out of 10, and Metal Gear being a 9, Gundam Battle Assault probably comes in at a nice round 5. Music and voices are also adequate, but nothing to set you on fire. To follow the analogy, Gundam has been on fire for a long time now, so most of the products out there just need to represent the spirit of the show. Ardent fans probably don't demand much more than a chance to play a decent-looking fighting game starring their favorite giant robots.

There is some premise to each of the battle trees contained in the game. Storyline might be pushing it too far, but there is a reason for each character to be fighting, a place each combatant plays in the grand scheme, and a rationale for why you'll be expected to win, lose or draw. So, that said, Gundam Battle Assault 2 is still best thought of as a fighting game. The action tends to subjugate any story you might be following, and this will probably turn some fans off and leave others content. But still, each character you choose in early stage of the game - at least in Street Mode - has a mission.

Street Mode is built on 4 battle trees, and you'll take one character through a series of battles to complete an objective. In one, you fight against Zeon, in another you play as Domon Kasshu in an effort to heal his brother's illness, and what Gundam game would be complete without a chance to take on the persona of Heero Yuy? Playing against 8 robots including a boss in any one 'mission' means you win and get to see one of 4 endings. After you've had a chance to see the different endings, you'll be able to explore all the varied combat possible by jumping into Versus Mode. You'll be able to play against the CPU as a single player, or get on with a friend to play against one another in any of the Gundam Battle Assault 2 fighting arenas. It's a shame the arenas aren't bigger, but this is definitely the 'framed' concept that Street Fighter popularized, versus the more free roaming concept seen in 3D fighters. It IS 2D, after all... ;) Other competitive modes include Time Attack A & B, where you battle randomly selected robots or each of the bosses in sequence. Survival Mode tests you to hold out against wave after wave of enemy when your armor doesn't recharge after every fight, and it really is as hard as it sounds.

The big question you're asking at this point is, 'How is the fighting!?' It is excellent, thanks to some vision on the part of the developers for what a fighting game in the Gundam universe (several, even) might look like. Robots have some very similar controls, so learning to pilot up to 30 Gundams won't give you a thumb-hernia. I love the way in which you can launch into the air and attack from above or defend yourself against attackers in mid-air. As with Street Fighter, it is possible to have some excellent encounters in the air, but these robots are much less agile and speedy. What the robots do have is stopping power, and Gundam fans will love the amount of good special attacks each robot has. Thrusters, used for leaping and Vernier Mode, can be depleted, which only adds to the challenge. Consistent controls for defensive maneuvers, shields and 'super' attacks help lower the learning curve. As fighting games go, Gundam fans have never had it this good.

Getting used to some of the draggier points in the game, where things seem unusually slow and the robots don't seem to be able to do what you ask them to do, is difficult. Learning the moves for any one robot is not difficult, and that helps when things get tough. I found that I was never quite sure how my actions on the controller were being translated to the screen. Sometimes, I really just wanted my robot to spring into action, and it never happened. Guns and firepower are certainly no problem for these guys, so where discerning fighting-game fans might find some of the slowdown irritating, the ability to use Gundam-style weapons (read 'powerful and devastating') without too much restraint brings an added dimension to Gundam Battle Assault 2.

Game Mechanics:
Very few of the fighting controls involve more than 4 button or D-Pad pushes, which is a good and bad thing. Learning controls is easy, but sorting out the different variations, or remembering which robot was the exception to perform a special move is a different matter. Luckily, as you post better and better results, you can save progress off to memory. The manual goes down the list of basic controls for each robot and helps you to understand the nuances of any one attack. I liked the fact that the manual even went into detail on moves, since many games are content to leave this information in the game as a help menu or some such stuff. For this genre, I really want to be able to consult the manual and figure out (quickly) what kind of smack I need to layeth down. It's too bad a training mode wasn't included, but you and a friend can dig in and try moves out on each other. The multiplayer modes are great, and you'll definitely see a performance difference in fights while your friend tries to learn the controls and the somewhat sluggish motion of these robots. Not to say that the game itself is slow, because it's not. What I think is going on is that the model for Gundam Battle Assault 2 was a certain realism present in the Gundam show and others about what a giant robot should feel like to 'drive.' In this case, your ability with your robot will grow as you face wave after wave of enemy, and as you learn to be sensitive to an enemy's special attacks. With some special attacks of your own and the ability to 'stun' an opponent, you'll make mincemeat of the competition. Do watch out for that huge, huge robot you'll face early on, though. He definitely has a good and a bad (very bad) side. In general (as you might expect from following the show) the game does a good job of reflecting the 'brains over brawn' approach to dueling, where one robot's strengths are played against another robot's weaknesses. Just don't get caught on the wrong side of THAT power curve...

Gundam Battle Assault 2 does a lot for the licensed market and represents the brand nicely. I would have liked to have seen more actual story, since the complexity of the series almost screams for this kind of thing. Instead, we have the world of Gundam shrunk to a microcosm where everyone is always fighting for something and fights come one-right-after-another. Battling against the big bosses and even the smaller opponents can seem formulaic (read button-mashing) at first, but the challenge level rises and you'll need to know as much as possible about your robot's capabilities at the end. Special, secret moves are part of developing to your full potential, and the game is mostly about taking on the armor of a Gundam pilot and going into battle with a strategy. Fighting action reigns supreme in Gundam Battle Assault 2, but those folks who might just like one piece or another of this equation (Gundam game + Fighting Genre = Successful Gundam Fighting Game) are still encouraged to take part. It's a niche product, but a good product. If flyweight fighters bouncing around and even off-screen is your thing, stay away. But, if you might like your fighters to be as big and well armed as most battleships, Gundam Battle Assault 2 should be your cup of tea.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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