Reviewed: October 26, 2005
Released: September 27, 2005
I have no idea what I just did for the past five hours of my life...
I know that I was blown away by some truly awesome CGI movies – don’t ask me to explain what they were about, because I have no idea – but I remember them being some of the most amazing visuals I have seen in a long while. I just remember they showed a bunch of robots, and explosions, and shooting, and then at one point there was this naked girl and then…gosh, I can’t remember anything else.
It’s coming back to me now – there was a video game involved, and it had something to do with robots. Big robots – but only they weren’t called robots, they were called “suits”. And from what I gather, I was this kid who was forced to wear one of these robot suits. And somehow, I was thrown into this war and forced to fight for something. I wasn’t sure whom I was fighting against, I didn’t know friend from foe. And somehow through the mindless mashing of controller buttons I won this war, but I didn’t feel good about it…just confused, and sad and depressed.
And now you know my story…
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Never Ending Tomorrow
For years, I have been interested in the checking out a Gundam game. Heck, there’s dozens of them out there – they’ve been around forever. You know, the great anime styling, the powerful Voltron-looking robots from the TV show? Yeah, that stuff looks great, right? Oh yeah, after playing Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Never Ending Tomorrow, I’m cursing myself for not trying a Gundam game long ago. Because if I had, I would have surely passed on this review and saved myself five hours of utter confusion.
If you think I’m kidding about the whole “what did I just do” rant at the beginning of the article, you would be wrong. Dead wrong. I have played some perplexing games in my time, but Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Never Ending Tomorrow (henceforth to be called Gundam) takes the cake for confusing gameplay. The story, the movies, and the gameplay – nothing made much sense at all.
I like to believe that I am a halfway intelligent guy, but this whole convoluted story of the “Naturals” versus the “Coordinators” and the war, and who was who, and what side I was on, had me scratching my head in bewilderment. The movies themselves looked great, and I was absolutely amazed by the imagery, but storywise, they made no sense.
Basically, it’s just a bunch of robots shooting each other and these boys yelping “No!” and “Stop!” and gosh…I don’t even know… When I see something and can’t understand it, I get frustrated, and aggravated. As you can probably tell – I’m still frustrated over this one. And the fact that there are so many of these movies – over 40 minutes of movies ripped from the show – made it all the worse.
But then when I finally got tossed into battle, I almost wished I were back watching one of those confusing movies, because at least then I didn’t have to stumble around trying to figure out how (or if) the controls worked, or try to make sense of the constantly flipping camera.
I mean, when it comes down to brass tacks, Gundam is basically a blatant rip-off of Hideo Kojima’s classic Zone of the Enders games – in particular the first title in the series. To a tee, Gundam’s visual styling, cityscapes, robot suits, gameplay and control scheme are all ripped straight out of Zone of the Enders. The only thing is, nothing in Gundam looks even half as good, or works even a third as well as its equivalent did in Kojima’s title.
Controls? I don’t know how many times I checked my controllers to make sure they were plugged in and functioning correctly, before I simply decided that the controls are just plain terrible. The jerky movement and the constant fighting to overcome the self-centering reticle were bad enough, but given that there appeared to be a substantial delay before the game responded to the controller made it nearly impossible to master, much less understand. I have conquered many difficult control schemes (anyone play Gunvalkyrie on the Xbox?) but this one was by far the most stubborn I have ever tried to tackle. I eventually did get it, but by then the game was over.
Each battle is nearly identical – you are thrown into a world and approached by a foe. You can target lock the foe using L1 – but only as long as you have the target locking option toggled to “on” with L2. Why the L2? I don’t know. From a ranged position you can pellet the foe with light projectiles using the square button. For the most part, a few dozen of these unimpressive bullets will drop a foe.
If you want to employ a little style, you have the option of calling up a special attack with the circle button. The special attacks will generally shift the camera to a disorienting point of view to show a mediocre clip of a specialized beam attack or something equally less noteworthy.
If by chance the opponent comes within a predefined range, then you have the option to use a melee attack with the triangle button. The melee attacks may be quite effective at finishing off a foe, but they certainly are unimpressive when the game literally drops the melee animations and you are left with these motionless characters clinking and clanking, grunting and groaning. Kojima’s game really made you feel like you were in a swordfight – Gundam makes it seem almost like a turn-based affair. If you think I’m kidding, check it out for yourself.
And the camera...oh the camera. When a fighting a camera becomes more of a battle than fighting the enemy, you know you are in for trouble. I don’t know how many times the camera shifted from back to side to back to side to above to below and back, all during battle. Talk about confusing, especially with two similar-looking, similarly colored suits on screen, it was hard to tell who was you and who was the opponent – one minute you would be squared off with your character on the left and moments later the camera would flip and he was on the right. Talk about disorienting.
More often than not I just blindly mashed onto the attack buttons (ranged or melee) and just let the game play itself. This method actually won me more battles than it lost, and I was able to somehow breeze through the game in a single evening and not know what in the heck I was doing.
Really, I cannot say many good things about the gameplay. Thankfully the difficulty level was set so that the game could be completed quickly.
I’ve already discussed the awful and unwieldy camera, but have I discussed the lackluster graphic quality overall? I guess I can’t knock the Gundam suits themselves – they look pretty cool – but as far as the backgrounds and environments are concerned, they are strictly bargain basement PSone quality work.
Ground-based missions feature large vacuous spaces with flat, bland texture mapping with a few scattered buildings seeded around to give the empty illusion that one is in a city setting. The developers went as far as to allow their cookie-cutter buildings to collapse and crumble, but otherwise the environments look completely phony and uninspired. The space-based missions are even less appealing.
Probably the most impressive aspect of Gundam is the sound quality. The movies and cutscenes feature all of the music and sounds directly from the show, so you know they are of good production value.
All characters are portrayed with voiceovers – which is always nicer than reading – and other than the irritating yelps and cries, they all do a pretty good job.
As I mentioned earlier, with a bit of mindless mashing one can complete the game in its entirety in about four or five hours. I cannot believe that many people are going to feel like they got their money’s worth out of Gundam.
Gundam does include a two-player versus mode, but given unmanageable camera and lack of melee animations, it really doesn’t play out very well. To Gundam’s defense, Kojima also took a stab at including a two-player battle mode in Zone of the Enders, and that played out miserably as well.
Only the most diehard Gundam fanboys would enjoy Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Never Ending Tomorrow – and that enjoyment would derive more from CGI clips and cartoon snippets than it would from the gameplay. I hate trashing any game, but Gundam was just so confusing, unwieldy, and mentally frustrating, I cannot be kind.
If you are looking for a television-based robot game, might I suggest D.I.C.E.: DNA Integrated Cybernetic Enterprises – another Bandai game I recently reviewed. D.I.C.E. will run you about $10 less and plays significantly better than Gundam. In fact, if you consider the scores – D.I.C.E. is 100% better than Gundam. Then again, any statistician will tell you that 100% better than 2.5 doesn’t mean a whole lot.