||Gundam Side Story 0079
Dammit, I've got a semi-trailer stuck to my boot. - Review By Subskin
Ever since the Cartoon Network started running Gundam Wing twice daily, I've been fascinated by the depth of the Gundam universe. As a kid raised on Transformers and Robotech, I'm a prime target for Gundam's massive history - and massive war machines. Watching skyscraper-sized mechs battle with guns and beam sabers is mouth-watering goodness.
Gundam games emerged on several consoles in Japan, from turn-based strategy on the NES to shoot-'em-up and one-on-one fighting on the Genesis. Gundam Side Story is the American debut of the series, though. So after 20 years of Japanese success, we finally get to sink our teeth into the Anime. Is it worth the wait?
Despite the overwhelming plot Gundam has developed, Side Story's opening cinematic presents just enough to initiate a newbie. At the same time, veterans of the Gundam world will have no problem figuring out exactly when the action takes place.
Your orders are issued through this straight-outta-an-anime interface.
Let's get down to the nitty gritty: space colonies orbiting Earth have formed their own government called Zeon. In the opening phase of a war for independence from Earth, the Zeon drop an abandoned space colony straight at the capital of Earth's defense force in South America. Their aim is to wipe out the capital by using the colony as basically a city-sized bomb. Instead, the colony breaks apart entering Earth's atmosphere.
The largest part of the colony falls on Australia. (They were aiming for South America and hit Australia? What the hell were they smoking?) Earth isn't severely damaged by the colony drop; just pissed. Anticipating a long-term war, the Zeon invade Earth to steal natural resources. Since Australia was most devestated by the colony drop, it becomes the center of the battle between Earth and the Zeon.
All of this is presented in beautiful pre-rendered graphics. I was absolutely amazed by the level of detail on the gargantuan mechs, while the tiny human soldiers running around them were equally crisp. Watching the futuristic jets circle Mobile Suits (Gundam mechs) gives you a taste for what's ahead.
The in-game graphics are great as well. The Mobile Suits are on par, graphically, with Half-life models. At a distance they appear a little bland; Mobile Suits have few joints, so their movement looks like a robot from afar. However, they are robots, and when you see them up-close through sabre battles or in-game cinematics, you realize how bad ass these things really are.
The extremely useful sniper scope allows you to see enemies from afar.
The sound effects are straight out of Gundam, but for some reason they sound better on the Dreamcast. On the anime, Mobile Suit motions sound like a can opener scratching across a chalkboard. In Side Story, they have a little extra bass to save the ear drums. Somehow, it comes across much more effectively.
But this isn't an isolated world of Mobile Suits battling on flat deserts. You are given specific mission goals - destroy a supply depot, search an enemy city, protect a downed jet. The battlegrounds range from mountainous terrain to highly populated cities. In populated areas, you have to be conscious of civilians - opening fire on a building is likely to level it.
Strategy, then, is essential to Side Story. To that end you have two mech-partners who obey your commands. Tell him to attack a target, he'll charge until it - or he - is deader than Nixon. You've also got a tank that acts as a command center and will run searches for you. The tank demonstrates the graphic complexity of Gundam well - it's about fifteen feet tall and detailed as well as some racing games, but it comes up to the ankle of your mech. Early in the game you may see humans riding in Jeeps. Even though they're the equivalent of an ant in Quake, the humans and the vehicles are rendered well enough that when the camera zooms in on them they're still impressive.
The actual Mobile Suit combat is awesome. The D-Pad is for movement, while the Analog Stick controls your turret rotation. When you target a Mobile Suit or vehicle, its identification appears in your Heads Up Display. Pressing B locks on, so that your Mobile Suit automatically rotates to keep it as close to center as possible. Then, you can use machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers, vulcan cannons... just about anything big and nasty you can think of.
In-engine cutscenes advance the story in the heat of battle, which works out quite nicely.
Enemy Mobile Suits can take a beating, so you've got to be good to drop them. Each Mobile Suit has rear and side thrusters to attack and evade. For long distance shots, the Y button zooms in a sniper scope. Close up, you make like a gladiator with a sword and shield. Close-up battles more or less require lock-on, because the enemy will be using his afterburners to jump all around you.
One great thing about Side Story is its somewhat dynamic plot. Most missions have alternate positive outcomes, which can have unpredictable results. You must satisfy the primary mission objectives, but other than that you're on your own. Choosing to destroy one last Mobile Suit rather than stop a passing train leads to different weapon advancements, though. Sometimes the mission briefing will give you a hint - "That jet has the new prototype Mobile Suits on board, if it survives we may get one" - other times, it's just a matter of luck.
Finally, for some strangely outstanding reason, Side Story has next to no load times. This is a huge bonus to an already stellar game.
Side Story is not without its faults...
When you get close to an enemy suit, a lightsaber-like sword is automatically deployed. Cool.
The actual game interface is sort of bland - you can start a game, load a saved one, or mess with sparse options. Between battles you check out video clips of mission briefings and e-mail from other characters in the game. The main problem is, all you can do is play the single player story game. There are no multi-player modes, and no single-mission maps. There is the possibility that some secret needs to be released in order to select individual missions - or better yet, design your own. Without it, though, Side Story is fairly limited.
Plus, the AI ain't the greatest thing in the world. Both friendly and enemy Mobile Suits' intelligence is akin to Bald Bull of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out - they run like hell until they're at the set range, then launch everything they've got. Enemy Mobile Suits refuse to attack your teammates if you are even a remote possibility. The result is that you basically have to fight every on-screen Mobile Suit unless you instruct your teammates to attack them up-close
The pause menu is also problematic. This is the only way to issue commands to your teammates - a button for "Attack my target" would have been great. It's also the only time you can check the map. Basically you have to pause the game every minute or so to check on the status of your teammates and the map.
This is particularly annoying because walking away from the battlezone is an automatic forfeit. The trouble is, it's hard to tell where the battlezone ends unless you're looking at the map! Twice I've been running in what I thought was the direction of an enemy Mobile Suit when I heard the tank commander say "Lieutenant, watch out you're leaving the..." Before you can stop, you've gone AWOL and lost the battle.
Lastly, there are some major slowdown issues in Side Story. Holding down the machine gun too long screws up the frame rate. Firing automatic vulcan blasts will eventually mess up the frame rate as well. Effectively, rapid fire slows the game noticeably.
The Final Word
Hell yes, Gundam was worth the wait! Slave Zero may have been a teaser for the mech-lovers among us, but Side Story is the real thing. While it has some minor interface problems and frame rate stutters, Side Story provides a great mech combat world with a perfect blend of action, strategy, and simulation.
Developer: Sotsu Agency / Sunrise
Highs: Excellent graphic detail on multiple levels, deep story, great mech fighting.
Lows: Clunky interface, stupid computer, frame rate drops.
Other: 1 Player, VMU Compatible (6 blocks), Jump Pack Compatible.
Intro Movie (MPEG) - The game's opening cinematic is pretty well done. And hey, the narrator is actually good for once. [Big (19M)] - [Med (10.2M)] - [Small (2.2M)]
Gameplay (MPEG) - A little combat from the first mission. Lightsabers, explosions and such. [Big (15.5M)] - [Med (8.3M)] - [Small (1.8M)]
(out of a possible 10)
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