Hey all! Last week, we took to the skies in a pirate ship. Yeah, really!
This week, I decided to go pretty obscure, and replay another Dreamcast title. This is one of the first games I owned for that most wonderful of consoles. Plus, it's about time I did a Gundam game...using "WingZero" as an online handle and all.
(Apologies for the somewhat blurry box art)
Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise From the Ashes (which I'll be referring to here as just "Gundam" because that title is too long) was released in April of 2000. (I got a Dreamcast for my birthday in June of 2000, hence why this was one of my first games for it.) Developed by Bandai, Gundam cast you as Lt. Pierce Rayer, Mobile Suit pilot, as you battle across Australia in a bid to stop the Zeon forces from launching a super weapon capable of accelerating plant growth throughout the Earth.
I mean, that's the story proper, but really, this is different from virtually every other form of Gundam media out there. In case you're not familiar, Gundam anime and manga usually consist of giant robot action, with a heavy dose of melodrama and (generally) solid character development. This being a long running franchise centered around war, nothing about most Gundam series comes off as pro-war. Most of them are in fact anti-war, really.
So it struck me as pretty jarring that this Gundam game takes on such a heavy militaristic tone. Gone is the drama, the symbolism, the heart of the numerous anime series. Here you romp through nine missions, taking out tanks, a big bomber jet, and of course, Zaku II's, Zeon's flagship Mobile Suit, here in all it's green glory. Oh, the last boss tries to make a dramatic speech at the end, but it's pretty forced and forgettable.
Story issues aside, I actually kind of love plating this game. See, you're not playing as a graceful, elegant, impossibly agile Gundam. There are, in fact, no Gundams in the game at all. (In a game called Gundam, no less.) (Actually, you can fight Amuro Ray and his RX-78 in the Japanese version.) No, here you play as clunky, realistic moving Mobile Suits. The other cool part: you play in first person. In a world of endless Gundam games of wildly varying quality, this is the only one that puts you in the suit.
Your Mobile Suit has real weight to it; it feels like you're really piloting one of these mechanical monstrosities...at first. What you quickly discover is that Gundam quickly devolves into a standard FPS despite the mecha roaming about. A mission generally becomes all about fighting Zakus, which are more or less the only real enemy you come across. You have a light but healthy selection of weapons to deal with them, like machine guns and beam rifles, but going in close for a beam sword fight is just too much fun to pass up.
Get in close to a Zaku, and you automatically deploy the famous beam sword; the Zaku obligingly equips that glowing axe they always use. And now you're darting around, dashing, withdrawing, and trying to circle around to get a critical hit in the back. While blocking and dodging axe swings.
It's pretty exciting.
But really, you end up with a pretty basic shooter at the end of the day. There's a couple of wrinkles, like being able to bowl over Zakus by charging at them with a shield equipped. (It's so fun to do.) You can also choose between three different Mobile Suit variants, with a fourth to use in the final mission. But it ends up being largely a "one-and-done" kind of game.
What struck me, though, is how good this game looks. It's 14 years old, but it's held up pretty well as far as raw, technical graphics go. The Mobile Suits are nice and large, but the environments are a little light, even for a game of it's time. You're gonna spend most of your time looking at the mecha anyway.
But...where this game loses me today is the art style and soundtrack. Because, 1. Time and time again, I've pointed out how great and important art is in a video game (two random examples linked). Readers of this series know how much I like my art. And 2. this game has no real art style. And it hurts to say that in regards to a Gundam game, which is known for increasingly elaborate mecha designs. It all hearkens back to the overt military theme the game runs on. I mean, the human characters aren't even drawn in an anime style here. They're drawn realistically. It's pretty dull.
Similarly, the soundtrack opts for a military feel, with the same horn-filled theme playing throughout each mission except the last, where a different generic-action theme takes over. It's all in stark contrast to the mostly over-the-top anime series it's based on. Very surprising, and not in a good way.
Gundam Side Story is a game I loved back in the day. But it's tough to get behind it these days. I still enjoyed playing it again, but nowadays, compared to almost any Gundam series, it feels a little cold. Hence my title for this article. It's kind of like playing the campaign for COD: Modern Warfare 3. It's technically impressive, there's a bunch of cool moments, nothing wrong with how it plays...
...but no art style, no soundtrack, no character development?
Still, it's an interesting take on the Gundam universe, if a somewhat lifeless one. Watch a playthrough of this one if you can.
Or, if you have a Dreamcast, and are interested in mech combat...play Virtual On instead.
Thanks for reading! Hit me with comments, questions, and future article suggestions! Also, catch up with me on Twitter!
Also, something I've never really asked over the course of this long-running series I'd like to ask: What do you think of my Game of The Week series so far? Is there something you'd like to see done differently? Is it everything you've ever dreamed of? Let me know; I'd love some feedback on the series as a whole.
Next week-I tackle the first Sega Genesis title in this weekly series. This is a tough one; make sure you have plenty of paper ready.