“What should I do next, Orga?”
Bandai Namco’s Gundam Versus landed briefly on Western PlayStation 4 consoles this past weekend for its first (and likely only) open beta test. Naturally, we jumped into the cockpit to give this mech-smashing arena fighter a shot.
The beta offered a number of both online and offline modes to sample. Online, you could dive into the usual two-on-two team battle, a more frenetic three-on-three version, or duel a single opponent one-on-one. It was also possible to set up a lobby for battle yourself; however, the options on configuring the battle type were very limited, with no option for one-on-one fights that I could find, and there was no means to invite a friend directly — you could only scan from the other side for friends’ lobbies to join. No idea at this point if this is simply due to limited beta features, or if this setup will carry to the Western release build; if it does, players might be left relying on outside channels (i.e. PSN messaging, or Discord) to coordinate fights alongside or against the teams/players of their choice. It seems like a significant oversight, but we’ll see how things go in the release version.
The online fights were a mixed experience in terms of connectivity and matchmaking. 2-on-2 fights were relatively easy to get into, with not too much in the way of connection problems. 1-on-1 duels seemed slightly less popular when we tried — the wait time was generally much longer. If I recall correctly, I had only one fight of this type with unplayable lag. 3-on-3 however, that was a bit of a problem: I had only one battle with a solid connection. Every other fight was reduced to a tragic slideshow by lag, often dropped mid-fight under a connection error. Compounded by long wait times to even try the mode, we didn’t get that much of a chance with 3-on-3, unfortunately. If getting six players into a match at once is proving difficult for their netcode, I hope the beta provided the data needed to improve it — 3-on-3 has the potential to be a lot of fun, by dropping that much more violence into these large arenas. A positive point that I already noticed from the build we played at Evo 2017: you get to practice your mobile suit’s moves in a holding lobby against a dummy opponent while you’re waiting to connect — a little touch that makes the wait time pass more easily, and that Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (another arena fighter, also on beta test last weekend) could really benefit from.
Interestingly, a good chunk of single-player content was included as well: you could play two series of a survival-type mode against CPU opponents in Ultimate Battle, and take on specific challenges in a Trial mode. Both of these modes offered the ability to play with a CPU partner, or invite along a friend to help you out. A nice touch, to allow the chance for two players to take on these modes together over PSN. You could also set up CPU battles how you liked via a “Free Battle” mode.
I actually enjoyed the single-player content more than the online, in this instance — it allowed time to relax into the game’s groove and really get a feel for it without lag, or the pressure of battling more-experienced human opponents. Dashing and boosting around the level maps while blasting low-health enemies was enjoyable, and both the enemy waves and the boss fights are fun nods to their respective anime origins, as enemies from similar eras come out together, and it’s easy to get pumped up to take on a mobile armor or high-powered mobile suit you recognize as your boss enemy.
For someone unaccustomed, the controls of Gundam Versus are not exactly intuitive. While they are fairly straightforward once you get the idea, jumping right in and pressing buttons will not quickly lead you to understanding the controls well. This is compounded by the staggering number of mobile suits to choose from, each with slightly different weapons and abilities. Even worse: the tutorial was left out of the beta test — visible on the main menu, but locked — so you were on your own (outside of some helpful outside tutorial content like this, of course). Some time examining the control configurations helped — there are multiple layouts for a Dual Shock user to try, but keeping to the game’s arcade origins, I wanted to use an arcade stick. The “joystick” preset layout most closely matches the placement of the buttons as they would be on the cabinet (square: long-range attack; triangle: melee attack; R1: jump/boost; X: lock-on; circle: Striker [assist]; the other buttons serving as other functions, or combinations of the main three). Comfortable access to the shoot/melee/boost buttons individually and in combination is vital; series veterans have long discussed different “ideal” button layout for various controllers, but it shouldn’t be a challenge to find something that works for you, either in the preset layouts or by personal customization.
Having some more time to study the layouts and experiment gave me a much better idea of how to play than I got from my limited time at AnimEVO’s event — not to mention more of a chance to see exactly how massive the roster of playable mobile suits and Strikers are included in this game. The many Mobile Suit Gundam series, and the suits and characters they each contain, seem very well-represented — there’s enough here for a fan to dive deep into, and for a newcomer to get totally lost. The ability to make a shortlist of favorites (tied to the R1 button at the selection screen) is a welcome feature. As each suit plays a little (or sometimes, a lot) differently, I recommend newcomers choose a single suit and stick with it to get a feel for the gameplay before mixing it up too much. (Basically: pick a main!) Suits are each designed to favor a different type of play; some excel at long-range projectile combat, while some are built for close-up melee combat. I ended up exploring the latter primarily, via the Barbatos from Iron-Blooded Orphans. It wasn’t long before I got a good handle on the slippery close-range rushdown this Gundam Frame is built for. Being a somewhat lower-costed suit often served my teammates well while I was learning the ropes, as having a lower load value (300) made my repeated destruction less costly to our team.
Some older footage of Mikazuki Augus and his Gundam Barbatos in action, from the Japanese beta test.
“Hey Orga, is this the place?”
Overall, this open beta proves promising toward the upcoming final product we’ll be getting later this month. In terms of localization, only Japanese voices were available for the pilots in this beta, and lacking subtitles as well (except for the very chatty Haro, which has its own speech window to continually chirp at you). Hopefully those are in the works for the final product, if it isn’t too late already. But in terms of presentation and gameplay: the game is looking great, sounding great, is loads of fun to play offline and online (when the connection is stable), and is a great diversion from traditional fighters. I look forward to spending more time with it soon.
Gundam Versus hits the PlayStation 4 in North America & Europe on September 29, 2017, and is available to pre-order now from a variety of retailers, or digitally through the PlayStation Store. (PSN pre-orders get an exclusive theme in addition to the usual pre-order bonus: the GN-005 Gundam Virtue, ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos Lupus, and BN-876β Hot Scramble Gundam mobile suits.)