Over the course of its opening five hours, Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS Full Boost had this particular Gundam-crazed author shouting and swearing worse than a generic Zeon pilot who's about to be blown to bits by an opposing Feddie protagonist. In layman's terms, this ridiculously named title plays host to an absolutely brutal learning curve that'll be more than enough to put off anyone who isn't a super-fan of the source material. But overcome the daunting task of learning to pilot a mobile suit, and the arena based brawler proves to be an immensely rewarding mecha experience.
It's no surprise that the release has solidified its place as one of Japan's most competitive properties, whether its in an arcade or on a PlayStation 3. To even rack up consecutive victories over the artificial intelligence, you'll need to wrap your head around countless gameplay nuances and techniques that'll have you tapping away at just about every button on the DualShock 3, and even then, going up against human opposition is a whole different ballgame, as counter moves and subtle exploits that computer controlled opponents would never dream of using come into play. For the first few hours, the title is an exercise in patience and adaptability — and that's only when you've finally got used to working your way around Japanese menus and pressing circle to confirm rather and X.
For the Gundam faithful, the lure of the game is laid bare for all to see. It's drenched in details and cameos from the various animations and mangas that act as the franchise's source material. From the original Mobile Suit Gundam to the more modern Gundam 00 and everything in between, fans of Japan's astoundingly popular property simply won't know where to look. Your first battle, regardless of which mode of play you decide to sample, will quickly become a memorable moment for any enthusiast thanks to lovingly crafted mech models and nicely drawn pilot portraits. And that's before one of the title's music tracks from the shows kicks in – giving the experience an instant hit of nostalgia.
Indeed, the soundtrack turns out to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the release. Everything from opening sequence tunes to beats made especially for one of the animations will send the hairs on the back of a fan's neck shooting up, and duelling an opponent as the familiar musical score booms from your television makes for an event that any die-hard pilot will appreciate immensely.
As alluded, the title is swamped in nods, both big and small, to the source material. The brawler sports a huge character roster and an impressively diverse selection of mobile suits, so there's plenty to see and experiment with, and oh, how you'll be experimenting. With so many units to choose from, it helps to pick out a select few and begin your training with those machines alone. Each mech has a surprisingly vast array of moves and subtleties to discover and get used to, and it's safe to say that if you feel the urge to play online, you'll usually have no choice but to select your very best.
Not all mobile suits are created equal, however. Matches revolve around a cost system, with more powerful, and perhaps more recognisable units costing increased points in battle. To win a fight, you'll need to bring the opposing team's cost meter down to zero by taking out your foes numerous times. Primarily, the release is a two versus two brawler, so you'll have to be aware of your partner's cost as well as your own. Ultimately, the choice is yours – do you pick a low cost, but weaker machine so that you can afford a few more respawns if you're smashed to pieces? Or do you go all-out and select a destructive 3000 point beast that'll likely only be able to return to the battlefield once after being downed?
Of course, it'll all come down to which units you feel comfortable with. As with the source material, some suits specialise in long range gunfights, while others are better suited to getting in close and hacking things up with a beam saber. That said, you'll be staying at a distance and firing off shots with your rifle or cannons for the majority of every match. Essentially, the game is all about zoning: keeping track of how much space there is between you and your foe so that you can perform the most optimal offensives without running out of ammo or placing yourself in a perilous position. Like a more traditional fighting game, movement and timing is paramount to success, and this is where one of combat's most important elements comes into play: the boost gauge.
This blue bar that sits near the bottom of the screen can be both your best friend and your arch nemesis. One minute you'll have just enough boost left to allow you to sidestep an incoming shot, and the next you'll run out when you need it most, usually as you get enveloped by a nuclear blast. Needless to say, keeping an eye on the amount of boost that you have left is something you'll need to be doing constantly, as it not only acts as the currency for dashing, sidestepping, and jumping, but also for blocking. Together with the need to keep moving, the limited boost gauge means that Gundam: Extreme Versus can either play host to relatively cautious fights that stretch over minutes, or rapid exchanges that seem to be over in a flash, depending on how well you can avoid and counter your opponent's actions.
As you can probably imagine, the combat system is a very reactive one. Reading errors in the enemy's tactics and then striking at the right moment is usually the key to victory — especially when it comes to all-or-nothing melee blows — and the concept is reinforced by specialised attacks that fare better in different situations. Again, getting to know the ins and outs of your favourite unit is a must, but once you've got a grip on the game, there's thankfully a hefty amount of content to chew through.
If you don't fancy taking the fight online, there are plenty of single player modes to enjoy. Versus allows you to alter all of the usual aspects of a match, such as your ally, the opposing team, the map, the backing music, and the total amount of cost points available, while Arcade is probably the title's biggest time sink if you want to see everything that it has to offer. Branching off into multiple paths, you can battle your way through different themed arcade runs that are based upon the numerous animated shows. Along with high scores and leaderboards, there's a lot to see and do, especially if you're willing to take the plunge and choose to fight tougher foes when the opportunity arises.
Meanwhile, testing your piloting skills online can be a bit of a mixed bag, There are no doubt plenty of players who are incredibly talented, but you'll come across a large number who simply pick certain machines purely so that they can spam their exploitable attacks. It's not something that well-versed warriors can't overcome, but it will sour the competitive experience for anyone who's recently just got their head around the release's many mechanics. Still, when you're able to find a good game with a helpful partner and respectable opposition, the title can be brilliantly entertaining, featuring some ecstatic highs, crushing lows, and heart-stopping do-or-die moments.
For the Gundam maniac, Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS Full Boost provides more than enough reason to bask in the game's representation of the glorious Japanese franchise. Its immensely steep learning curve is bound to force at least a few naughty words out of most gamer's mouths, but overcoming everything that the title throws at you is just about as rewarding as our favourite hobby gets. Perseverance is key, then, but if Amuro Ray hadn't sat in his room and cried until someone slapped some sense into him, he wouldn't be the legend that he is today, would he?