Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
There have been Gundam video games for almost as long as there have been Gundam TV shows (which, for those who missed all of the celebrations in 2019, is about 41 years), and they’ve historically fallen into two categories: tactical strategy games that lean into the “war is hell” aspect of Gundam, and fighting games that lean into “gotta buy ’em all” aspect of Gundam merchandise. None of them ever really capture the exact right tone, though, with both the strategy games and fighting games often completely dropping the traditional Gundam tropes of ace pilots, rivals, and wildly corrupt authority figures drooling over the prospect of more warfare. How can there be a power-hungry commander throwing soldiers at a problem that could be solved with diplomacy if you are the power-hungry general and the only option the game gives you is to kill things with robots? And how can you care about the people inside the robots if all you’re doing is smashing them together with no regard for stories whatsoever?
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxiboost On is the latest in a long, long, long line of Gundam games that don’t really get what makes Gundam special. It’s cool, certainly, just as all of the expensive Gundam models and figures I have on the shelves above my desk are cool (super cool, even), but that’s really all there is to it. I’m as much of a sucker for meaningless fan service as anyone else, especially when it comes to Gundam, but even suckers like me deserve better than the desperate pandering of MSGEVMO (writing out the full name would almost be quicker).
There is something to be said for Bandai Namco’s continued willingness to publish video games that are exclusively for a specific hardcore audience (i.e., me), but that also lets the company get away with things that a studio looking to capture a wider audience wouldn’t be able to do. For example, as you might expect from a game with a name like this, it’s very complicated—or at least it appears complicated. The actual mechanics are rather simple, with each playable robot having two close-range attacks and two long-rage attacks, but trying to follow the action in a hectic 2v2 (or more) battle in a big 3D space while everyone is shooting missiles and lasers can sometimes leave you just mashing buttons in hopes of being able to swing your big lightsaber before another guy swings their big lightsaber. To mitigate this, the game lets you pick a partner character who will bark warnings or tips during a battle, all of which are in Japanese. Oh, sure, a text box with a translation will appear onscreen, but it’s hard to read a paragraph of text about the enemy aiming their big laser gun at your back when you’re already getting hit by a big laser.
It would obviously be wildly expensive (and a lot of work) to add an English dub, and I’m not saying the game needs it. But the whole partner system seems largely unnecessary if you don’t understand the language the partners are speaking. It’s just another big list of references for you to gawk at. Also, far too many of these characters uncomfortably cater to a slightly different specific hardcore audience, with most of them being young women who are… overly supportive and encouraging. Gundam stories often have a problem with how they treat their female characters, but at least that can be mitigated a bit by the characters growing and changing. The 08th MS Team, the best Gundam story, is a take on Romeo And Juliet in which the Juliet is a female test pilot for the enemy army who gradually works up the strength to push back against the men in her life who treat her like a fragile doll. She’s one of these partners in MSGEVMO, but the game uses her dialogue and character design to reduce her back to being nothing but a doll. It’s gross.
Really, the treatment of that character is emblematic of the game as a whole. It looks really nice, and there’s a truly impressive amount of Gundam crap in it for you to look at (over 180 playable characters!), but you can essentially get the same experience by looking up pictures of Gundams on the internet. On a similar note, there is absolutely nothing here that would appeal to someone who doesn’t already like Gundam, and there’s barely any effort put into relating who these characters are or what their stories are about. As a game, MSGEVMO is fine, and I’ll certainly play more of it. But as the latest big tie-in for a franchise that I’ve spent a good portion of my life thinking about, it’s very disappointing.
And now, I’m going to go look up pictures of Gundams on the internet.