Not many Japanese developed games are released only in the West, but this was the case with Gundam: Battle Assault 2 – at least before it was re-released as two separate budget titles in its homeland. Much like its predecessor, Gundam: Battle Assault, the follow-up was launched in an attempt to capitalise on the franchise's overseas audience, which, at the time, had mostly been assembled thanks to the popularity of the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing anime.
Battle Assault 2 released about one or two years – depending on region – after the first title, and it remains a great example of what a sequel should strive to be. Keeping the core gameplay intact while either building upon or improving everything else, this is a fighter that almost makes its predecessor irrelevant. A larger character roster, improved visuals, individual story modes, and positive gameplay tweaks expand the established formula far beyond what was essentially a very basic brawler.
The somewhat technical combat remains, as titular mobile suits from across the property duke it out in one-on-one duels. Simple, single-button attacks are used alongside special and super moves, while a thruster gauge lets you boost upwards or across the screen for some added mobility. Each suit features its own range of powerful techniques which are activated with Street Fighter-like button inputs, and the real core of combat revolves around concepts such as spacing and timing.
Like the previous release, it can take some time to fully understand the ebb and flow of a fight, but the larger character roster makes room for a few suits that are ideal starting points for beginners. Burning Gundam, for example, is fast, quite powerful, and brings some flexible special moves to the table, while the original Gundam sports a powerful moveset that's particularly easy to grasp. Overall, there's a nice amount of variety on offer, although it's worth mentioning that the Z Gundam suits, namely Quebeley, The O, and the Zeta Gundam itself, have been annoyingly removed from the release altogether.
Perhaps fittingly, Battle Assault 2 features numerous Mobile Fighter G Gundam mechs. A departure from the usual militaristic storyline of other Gundam animations, G Gundam follows a plot that involves an international Gundam fighting tournament, in which suits generally punch and kick the snot out of each other rather than blow one another to bits with large beam rifles while navigating the depths of space. As you can imagine, then, the martial arts-based mechs are a near prefect fit, especially when you've got protagonist Domon screaming "burning finger" every three seconds.
It's a bit of a shame, however, that arenas are still slightly claustrophobic. The cramped spaces don't allow for too much movement or traversal, and all but force you to get stuck into your opponent. As mentioned, correctly spacing yourself is crucial because of this, and more advanced players will be able to pick out and punish mistakes relatively easily since you're usually so close to your enemy. That said, battles always promise to be enjoyably tense because there's no real way to escape to a safe distance, and the game once again does a good job of branding itself with a unique identity thanks to its weighty feel. Meanwhile, aesthetically, stages have been given a significant overhaul, with 3D backdrops changing and moving around as fights rage on. There aren't too many to choose from, but they're all lovingly made and look great in motion.
Likewise, the sprite fighters themselves look equally good, and real-time damage makes a return as suits get smashed up as they take an increasing amount of punishment. All in all, it's a satisfyingly tight and polished package as far as art direction and presentation are concerned, although, perhaps predictably, the story mode – or Street Mode, as it's called here – will likely make no sense whatsoever unless you're familiar with the respective animations.
A total of eight personalities from the roster have their own storyline which takes place over a sequence of different fights. The narratives are loosely based upon events that occur in the relevant source material, but it's all just flung together in a rather haphazard manner, with characters from different timelines jumping into proceedings with next to no explanation. Needless to say, each plot is basically just a way to tie a series of battles together, and while there's nothing particularly wrong with that in a fighting game, it's made worse by some terrible voice acting. If you're anything like us, though, the dialogue will amuse rather than annoy, and we dare say that it even adds some charm to what is otherwise a fairly bog standard arcade run.
Fortunately, the rest of the audio fares better. There are some fantastically catchy little tunes to listen to, and in the sound effects department, everything's just about as Gundam as you can get, from the 'psheew' of beam rifles to the stomping of giant mech feet and the clashing of massive mobile suit fists.
A sequel that improves upon just about everything that Gundam: Battle Assault did right to begin with, Gundam: Battle Assault 2 is a somewhat overlooked PSone fighter. It still lacks the depth of the more established fighting franchises, but it's managed to retain its unique feel and sense of style even after all of these years. It remains a product meant mostly for fans, but a decent character roster coupled with plenty of Gundam flair should keep nostalgic mech-heads thoroughly entertained.