Super fighting mobile suits and fun gameplay wrapped in a bizarre premise.
Spanning almost four decades, Gundam video games have come in dozens of forms across a multitude of platforms, including every Nintendo console that has ever developed. Yes, even the Virtual Boy. Of course, many of these titles never left Japan, so it’s always a breath of fresh air to get a new entry in the franchise that is also seeing a more global release. SD Gundam Battle Alliance is an action-RPG with local and online multiplayer, in addition to featuring over 25 individual Gundam series. Even if the gameplay can grow a little stale over the course of the main story, the variety of unlockable Mobile Suits, the ability to respect individual suits pretty easily, and the opportunity to change up your two partner characters before each mission ensure that players will feel fairly engaged all the way to the end credits.
Taking place in G: Universe, an alternate reality of sorts, players are tasked with fixing the broken history of past Gundam adventures. Missions come in a few different narrative forms, but the primary division is into past events that are distorted and true versions to replace them. In between missions, and even during them, there are dialogue-filled cutscenes between the main characters–one of whom is an AI who looks human and another who is a small hovering robot. Eventually I found myself skipping past most of these narrative sequences so that I could get back to the action and Mobile Suit tinkering faster, which are ultimately much more interesting. Gundam diehards may find the story content worth their time, but casual fans and those without that background may be better off holding down the fast-forward button.
And that’s not to say that without knowledge of Gundam there’s little reason to jump in; the gameplay is actually pretty solid. The difficulty ramps up at a really gradual pace as you control your Mobile Suit from a third-person perspective and smash through enemies that are mostly similar in size to you. You can toggle between normal and easy difficult modes for each mission, too, in case you get stuck on one of them. Occasionally, you’ll take on larger Mobile Suits or be tasked with defending air or landcraft from assault. Each mission lasts between three and six minutes, and none of them overstay their welcome. The boss fights that end every stage pit you against a tough opponent with a long health meter and the ability to drop your health down in a hurry. It certainly would have been nice to see more varied missions, but if you say what’s here, there’s quite a bit of it.
Mobile Suits are divided into three categories that prioritize range, melee, or a mix. I spent much of my time with a standard white Gundam, an all-rounder with a rocket launcher and a dash attack for special moves. Melee attacks, light and strong, default to the Y and X buttons, with jumping and dashing on the B and A buttons, respectively. The triggers activate your standard ranged attack and your guard, while the bumpers are used for the aforementioned special moves. Overall, the controls work well and combat feels fairly good, even if the camera can be a bit of a nuisance. It’s also somewhat frustrating that locking on to an enemy doesn’t immediately end when one is defeated.
During missions, you’ll collect Capital, the game’s currency, which can be spent to upgrade one of four parameters for every Mobile Suit: health, boost, melee, and ranged. Once Capital is used to improve a specific Mobile Suit, it can actually be retracted to respect that particular Mobile Suit; however, Capital returned back to you in this way can’t be used on a different Mobile. Capital can be earned from defeated enemies and bosses; it can also be found in crates that are slightly hidden within nearly every mission. You can also pick up blueprints that are automatically put towards the construction of new Mobile Suits and parts that allow you to upgrade your stats beyond their initial limit. There’s a satisfying loop of finishing missions, improving a particular stat or two, and then seeing the fruits of your labor in the next battle.
While the sound effects and music do a fair job of setting the mood for the Gundam battles that make up so much of Battle Alliance, there’s no English voice acting. As it turns out, there’s a fairly large amount of dialogue, and while outside of combat you can just read the subtitles on screen, this is a much harder ask during missions. In a game where the combat is fairly fast-paced and frequent–especially given the brevity of each mission–having a steady stream of dialogue play out over the action sequences seems an odd choice. It may be all well and good for those who can understand spoken Japanese, but anyone wanting to read the English dialogue boxes will struggle to do so while simultaneously controlling their MS and trying to complete their objectives. This attempt at incorporating narrative into each mission is a noticeable misfire.
I was a little surprised by how much SD Gundam Battle Alliance grew on me as I played it. Experimenting with different Mobile Suits and replaying missions to build them up makes for a surprisingly entertaining gameplay loop. And the way in which the missions are both bite-sized and gradually more challenging gives ample opportunity to try out new configurations for yourself and your partners when things don’t work out initially. The story itself is likely only going to appeal to a specific, dedicated part of the Gundam fanbase, but the gameplay can stand on its own for Gundam newcomers. If you’re okay with some repetition and an inscrutable plot, Battle Alliance offers a fun action experience with lots to unlock and try out.