|Fans of anime and Cartoon
Networks Toonami are already familiar with the venerable Gundam series. Through a
slew of episodes, OAVs, and movies, the Gundam series has documented Earths struggle
against the Zeon forces in the far future. The warring factions vie for control of the
planet, using monstrous Mobile Suits wreak havoc across the world.
Gundam Side Story 0079 is just that a side story that accompanies the Gundam Wing series made popular in the US by Toonami. Throughout the game are sly references to the activities, mainly victories, of the Gundam Wing characters. But in Side Story, youre the hero. You play a commander in charge of the Red Dingos, a small squad made up of you, two other Mobile Suits, and Oasis, your recon and information vehicle. You are given a series of missions which seem to weigh unnaturally heavy in the outcome of the overall war. Of course, it only seems unnatural. The game unfolds a story that makes clear just how essential your teams success is to victory.
Side Story has a lot going for it. The graphics are not revolutionary, but very nice. It is even nicer that they didnt jack up the graphic quality as high as they could because battles tend to get really hectic, and the game never slows down or stutters. Flame, smoke, and explosion effects are amazing, the kind of quality that is currently only available on the Dreamcast. In addition, the game sounds just like the Gundam cartoons. The sounds of incoming messages, servos and actuators, explosions and weapons, are all perfectly reproduced from the animated version.
These bits of well-done design add to the enveloping nature of the game. Between missions youll check your voice mail to receive messages from your troops. They tell you about their personal lives and about new information that might come in handy during the mission. In addition, you get detailed mission briefings that feel very realistic. Whats more, all of this info builds the missions into unpredictable, again more realistic, efforts. You will have one goal (or a few) that is given to you by your commander, but the information that your fellow soldiers bring to the battle adds several other factors to each mission. In addition, during the missions unforseen circumstances crop up and force you to change your battle plan. I found that because of this, the missions were never as straightforward as they seemed, and I often had to replay missions three or four times in order to get through. On some games, having to replay each mission can be a real downer, but in Side Story the replay is welcome because it allows you to fine tune your strategy and hone your leadership.
Before missions you choose how to equip your Mobile Suits. By the later missions you have a choice of three different Mobile Suits and several weapons configurations. This is the beginning of the strategy. During missions, you not only have to perform well yourself, but you are in charge of commanding the other two Mobile Suits and Oasis. Your orders are essential to completing each mission, and you cannot do it all on your own. In fact, if you are too full throttle, youll end up hobbling around in a smoking hulk of twisted metal, and your troops will be the only things that can get you through the mission. This aspect of Side Story was probably the most satisfying for me. Not only did you get a great first-person experience, but you get an excellent command simulation.
Of course, the style of play begs comparison to Mechwarrior, the "big robot" PC juggernaut. Mechwarrior, Battletech, and Gundam have always been suspiciously similar, probably an example of convergent evolution more than any extreme influence. In fact, it was probably the Gundam series of the late 1970s that influenced FASAs design of Battletech and Mechwarrior more than Mechwarrior, the video game, has influenced the Gundam games. Still, Mechwarrior has been, rightfully, insanely popular on the PC, and its nice to have an equivalent game on a console. The play is fairly similar somewhat complex controls, and a mix of action/fighting and command/strategy. Graphically, the two are also pretty comparable, a tribute to the capabilities of the next generation consoles.
Side Story uses a simplified control scheme, something like well see in Mechwarrior 4 later this year. Some reviews have criticized the control, calling it difficult and complicated. It is obvious that these reviewers have never played Mechwarrior (either on the computer or the board game version), and really arent into the complexities of big mech brawling. These are tough machines to control, and half the fun is learning the details. Side Story, if anything, has controls that are too simple. However, I had a blast with the actual gameplay, and I think Bandai has hit on a nice compromise between simple and complex control. In fact, when you consider that they could have utilized the DC keyboard, and when you consider what a nightmare some of the previous versions of Mechwarrior have been to control, youll feel very lucky cruising with relative ease in your Mobile Suit. The Side Story suits are as nimble as any other first-person avatar, targeting is relatively straightforward, and the whole thing is just a blast.
Unfortunately, like a blast, the whole thing is just too short. Undoubtedly the worst aspect of Side Story is the brevity of the game. Only nine missions will win the war for you, and thats just not enough. While each mission is a pretty good length, the game felt like it should have had at least 15-20 missions. Still, this could have been overcome with better replayability, but Side Story is weak in that department, too. With no multiplayer, youre left to simply replay levels by yourself. Replaying them is fun, especially with better equipment and skills, but not nearly as much fun as duking it out with a friend. And, of course, the most fun sort of multiplayer would be online. With a game like Side Story, having the entire screen to display info is almost required, but an all-out eight player dogfight would be heaven.
Overall, Gundam Side Story 0079 is a great first stab. This is a franchise that Id really like to see developed. Reports say that a Gundam Wing game, focusing on a two-player game, is in development, and that sounds really wonderful. There is so much that can be done with this concept it would be criminal to not exploit those avenues. If youre a fan of big mecha, Gundam, or Mechwarrior, Side Story is a must play, and if youre a big enough fan it is an absolute must own. Even if youre not a fan, Gundam Side Story 0079 is an essential play. This is an example of why we love our Dreamcasts, and if you havent tried it yet, youre missing one of the great gaming experiences of Summer 00.