AnimEVO takes the safety limiters off and gives us a great Gundam Versus event!
Many brave pilots offered their lives up in battle at Evo this year, as part of the combined efforts of AnimEVO and Bandai Namco to host the first Gundam Versus event in North America. What started as a side tournament became a full showcase for Bandai Namco’s new Gundam title, putting the game into the eager hands of both new players and seasoned series veterans, a few months ahead of the upcoming Western release in September.
I made a beeline for the Bandai Namco booth to try out Gundam Versus as soon as I could. As a complete newcomer to the series, I was actually surprised to find that the controls aren’t based on a twin-stick configuration like the much-compared Virtual-ON games, but a single arcade stick with four buttons layout. Should have done some research — but I wanted the experience of trying a new franchise totally fresh. My first fumbling attempts to play on the demo stations equipped with Dual Shock 4 pads did little to clarify this confusion, until I got a chance to try on an arcade stick — and then it started to make sense!
While the lever controls your movement (and changes some other input properties, based on direction), you have four command buttons: shoot, melee, boost, and search. Search controls what enemy you’re locked-on to, and adjusts your camera accordingly. Shoot is naturally your long-range attack, melee your close-up attack, usually a beam saber or similar weapon, and boost controls your jump and longer-distance dashing abilities. Combining button presses opens up different and special attacks, such as shoot and melee together for your sub-weapon, or shoot and boost to fire a more powerful ranged attack.
There is a massive assortment of different mobile suits from across the long-running Gundam anime franchise to choose from, and they each have unique properties and attacks. New to Gundam lore, I tried out a few suits I recognized from what series I have seen: I tried Sandrock and the Wing Zero from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, the Freedom from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, and the Exia and Dynames from Mobile Suit Gundam 00. I was pleased to find that signature attacks from each were faithfully recreated, and each had a very different feel in combat. I had the most success with Sandrock, due to its rapid-fire shot and some nasty melee attacks — but my inexperienced opponents at the time may also have been part of the reason!
Overall, once you start getting used to the basic controls, the game feels very comfortable to play — boosting around and blasting and slashing is easy to get an a handle on, and just feels fun. The game’s presentation, from menus to the graphics and sounds effects in combat are all quite polished, as I would expect from this project.
There are many factors that contribute to success — knowing what your machine can do, knowing the terrain, and having a plan of attack with your partner are all crucial. As total newcomers, my partner and I (as team “nanimo no bokketsu”) flailed our way to 17th place, falling to the much more experienced “Alfredo Sauce” team — that made it ultimately to fourth overall. But we had a blast trying the game out, and lots of fun despite our losses. You can see the final tournament standings on smash.gg.
I caught up with Brett Young, ongoing AnimEVO tournament organizer, who organized and ran the Gundam Versus side tournament. Here’s what he had to say about the event! (Replies have been edited for clarity.)
Zavian “mushin_Z” Sildra: Tell us a bit about yourself, and what you do for AnimEVO.
Brett Young: I’m a fighting game player with a long history doing tournament organization and community work for various games in the last decade (Guilty Gear, UNI, Persona, Koihime, etc). I also got into the Gundam VS series around 2010, and have been running the Evo Gundam side tournaments since 2012. For this year’s AnimEVO I was a streamer for Hokuto no Ken and Koihime Enbu, alongside running the Gundam Versus event. Outside of on-site work, most of my AnimEVO responsibilities involve being the main contact point for Japanese players, and communicating with some of the industry reps and sponsors.
mushin_Z: Was there a significant spike in interest in the Gundam Versus event at Evo, once Bandai Namco’s support was announced?
Brett: There was definitely a big spike in interest. I had been working with them on Evo for several months beforehand, so even before the official announcement, I had been hinting that this year’s Evo should not be missed as a Gundam Versus player.
mushin_Z: How did the official support come about?
Brett: I was contacted by Bandai Namco last year right before Evo. They seemed to have noticed our Gundam side-tournaments, and came to check it out at that year’s Evo. I touched base with them several times about Gundam, and I’ve been working closely with them on events leading up to the English release of Gundam Versus.
mushin_Z: Aside from the increased publicity and prizes, what other benefits came from Bandai Namco’s involvement?
Brett: They were able to provide almost everything at the event space, including some custom builds of the game which were able to function offline (the game doesn’t normally have offline LAN support). The builds also came with all the Strikers unlocked, which normally would require tons of hours to unlock manually. The space they provided us was great and definitely a huge step up from what we normally have to work with. Last but not least, we had our own internet line for streaming, which worked amazingly. Normally we have to rely on our own phone tethering or WiFi, so this was a huge relief for stream production.
mushin_Z: That sounds like it was hugely beneficial both for organization, and for the players. What were the spoils for first place?
Brett: Each player on the winning team walked away with a High-Resolution Model Gundam Barbatos, a Qanba Dragon joystick signed by the Gundam Versus producer, an exclusive Gundam Versus shirt, Gundam Versus poster, and Gundam Versus clear file. [The poster and clear file were also handed out as consolation prizes to less-successful competitors, such as my ill-fated team. – Editor]
mushin_Z: Were the competitors comprised mostly of series veterans, newcomers, or a mix of both?
Brett: It was definitely a mix of both. Most of the veterans who have shown up in previous years were present this year. We even had the return of top Japanese player Riri and his partner, the famous voice actor Kana Ueda. And we also had plenty of players who were only starting with Gundam Versus. Some of them hadn’t even touched the game until that weekend.
mushin_Z: Myself and my partner included, in that last category! Any gameplay moments that stood out, and were particularly memorable or impressive for you?
Brett: In grand finals game 2, team Gundam Force World Champion (AcidAce/Sunhawk) were extremely behind, but managed an amazing comeback with Sunhawk ending the match with a clutch Last Shooting super. Even despite that, there was no pop-off or sigh of relief. Sunhawk had a really determined look of a serious competitor who knew there was still a long road ahead for them.
mushin_Z: Even with a long arcade heritage in Japan, the Gundam Versus series is very new in North America, and somewhat tangential to “traditional” fighting games such as Street Fighter. Would you consider Gundam Versus a fighting game by definition, or something else?
Brett: I don’t really consider it a fighting game. In a very broad sense, yes, it has characters with health bars, there are combos, pokes, spacing, and neutral, etc. But if something like Smash was already debatable, I would say Gundam is still several steps more removed from your traditional fighting game.
Gundam Versus is basically its own genre. It’s most closely compared to Virtual-ON, but other than that I feel it stands on its own, especially as a contemporary game. Honestly, the closest current game I can think of that’s like Gundam is actually Rocket League. Final Fantasy’s Dissidia is obviously very similar, as is Rise of Incarnates, but both had gameplay that seems very much inspired directly by Gundam.
I would still say it’s definitely close to a fighting game, more so than other genres. A lot of fighting game players have picked it up, and the FGC has much more overlap with Gundam than other communities. If you can learn a fighting game, you can definitely learn Gundam Versus.
mushin_Z: Even though it wasn’t announced as one of Evo Japan’s game events, do you think Gundam Versus deserves to have been part of the Evo Japan 2018 line-up?
Brett: I definitely think it does. Especially in Japan, it certainly has a fanbase large enough to compete or even eclipse many of the other games on the lineup. That being said, I’m sure that the folks over at Bandai Namco JP have big plans for Gundam Versus. As I said, Gundam Versus is really it’s own genre, so I foresee them trying to create something special just for Gundam.
mushin_Z: Will Gundam Versus have a home at future AnimEVOs?
Brett: Definitely. I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
mushin_Z: Straight talk — what’s the best Mobile Suit Gundam series, and the best mobile suit of all time?
Brett: UC is the best timeline for Gundam, and within that, Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta has the best arc. As for what the best MS is, you are a cruel man for making me choose only one. For now I’ll say it’s Gundam AGE-2 Normal, SP version.
mushin_Z: Are there any other franchises that aren’t well-known in North America yet, that you’d like to help introduce to the West at a future AnimEVO?
Brett: Koihime Enbu is definitely a modern game that I think deserves a lot more attention, and luckily we’ve been able to run it at Evo for the last two years now. There are some older games that I would like to see more of, such as Chaos Breaker, Bushido Blade, and Umineko Ougou Musou Kyoku, but I doubt there’s any room with so many games already out there.
As far as niche games that don’t have side tournaments go, I’m always down for the return of Akatsuki Blitzkampf and Fate/unlimited codes. Hokuto no Ken has started to gain a rebirth in the West with this year’s Evo, and the aforementioned two games both definitely deserve something similar.
And for non-fighting games, a lot of people have been asking me about Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, which is getting a console port soon. As someone new to the franchise and honestly still a novice, it’s hard for me to give a solid answer until I get my hands on the game. If I end up being passionate about the game, I could see myself helping to push for that game’s success as well. They definitely need to add Noctis before I even consider it, though.
You can watch the top 8 of Gundam Versus at Evo 2017 in the video below, courtesy of Bandai Namco. Enjoy! Maybe we’ll meet on the battlefield once Gundam Versus hits PlayStation 4 in North America and Europe on September 29, 2017!
Additional sources: Bandai Namco Entertainment America