Review - Gundam SD Battle Alliance
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4|5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PC
Review Console: PlayStation 5
ROBOTS NOT IN DISGUISE! - Introduction
Gundam Wing is a franchise from the 90s spanning many entertainment mediums, including an animated show, manga, and video games. There are even toys and models that you can build and display. My initial exposure wouldn’t be until it debuted on tv during the late hours. You see, it had a few themes that weren’t exactly appropriate for children. I was a rebellious tyke, though, and had to watch. Seeing these giant robots entwined in combat while zooming through space captivated me. Something about the story gripped me with a firm grasp. Perhaps it was due to being a nerd of sci-fi, but given this dynasty’s decades of existence, yeah, I reckon quality had a crucial part. As I’ve gotten older, my only interaction with the series was passing glances I’d give to the DVD box sets on store shelves. That changes with SD Gundam Battle Alliance.
QUITE A SURPRISE! - Writing
I’m amazed by the range of emotions exhibited through the literary prowess. It does a superb job of having everyone emulate the proper reactions to a situation. However, there’s quite the sizable asterisk beside that statement. See, it should come as no surprise that SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a love letter to hardcore fans. Anyone that understands the profound lore and is familiar with the relationships and backstories of characters will benefit most from the proceedings. That’s not to say casual onlookers won’t be enjoying it, too. As one myself, I remained soundly engrossed. I was especially delighted by the conversations between Sakura and Juno. The meta references I came across also took me back. What impresses me is that despite having a large cast, their individual vibes retain uniqueness. Still, there’s going to be a semblance of alienation for anyone that isn’t diehard.
The gimmick of SD Gundam Battle Alliance is amalgamating various series into one grand journey. Despite my atrociously limited experience, when I saw someone I recognized, my ears perked. There was already a pre-established connection there, which is why I believe fanatics will be chuffed to bits. Now, the method utilized to link the converging eras together is, well, time travel. Timeline canon has seen an interference, and breaks have begun popping up. You’re tasked with attempting to fix their derailed trajectory by manipulating events. You see, Gundams that play no role in particular historical happenings have replaced those with an essential purpose, causing chaos. As progression is made, a mystery slowly steps into the limelight. It was intriguing, leaving me to question some odd appearances. As further eeriness transpired, adding to the plotline, I was compelled to continue.
SLOW YOUR ROLL! - Gameplay
Combat is fast-paced and sublime, demanding you keep your wits - reflexes are crucial to survival. Waver, and death is assuredly on your doorstep. Fortunately, the combo system is simple to grasp, requiring single prompts instead of overcomplicated inputs. One facet I adore is the destructibility of the environment. While trees are impervious to strikes, buildings aren’t. Watching these gigantic Gundams battle and then crash into structures, turning them to rubble, was weirdly satisfying. The devastation as these hulking machinery duel it out amidst civilization tickled me. I couldn’t help but feel I had summoned a Megazord to fend off a super-sized threat.
As mentioned, the maneuvers at my disposal are standard fare, with melee and ranged weaponry. There’s a guard function, as well, although it doesn’t wholly nullify damage. A minuscule amount manages to bust through - be vigilant to prolong your life.
DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! - Gameplay
Precision is the act of lowering the chance for error and performing attacks for optimal results. SD Battle Alliance embraces that notion, taking it further with two techniques in Perfect Guard and Perfect Sidestep. If I may be brutish for a moment, these are egregious. The timing is so exact, down to the millisecond. The window is slim, and as a result, I was rarely successful in pulling it off. When I was partaking in the tutorial and learning, I consistently had no problem. During a rapid, in-your-face full-on assault, well, my fortunes turned on their head. It’s damn near impossible. Even when, for example, a slowed-down missile was about to make contact, the stress of the situation left me eating the explosion. Straight up, it needs widening to become strategically viable. As is, executing these tactics was usually done by accident, not consciously.
Look, I understand the mention of tutorials likely drums up a feeling of dread. Never fear as they aren’t mandatory. I must say, though, they prove vital to stand a chance against the more advanced enemy Gundams. Without the knowledge of those tricks, fending them off wasn’t a leisurely jaunt through the park. It was thanks to those tips that I was capable of moving on. The caveat here is it isn’t efficient against hostile tanks. There’s a particular encounter that slaughtered me repeatedly with annoying homing rockets. That and it was overpowered. This difficulty spike comes out of nowhere, forcing me to switch to Easy Mode. It remains a rigorous confrontation, but the difference is I won. What’s a shame is finishing the entire game on Normal grants a special something. Luckily, I could return after becoming a proper juggernaut and obliterate this menace.
I HAVE HICCUPS! - Gameplay
For as much of a pleasure as this action romp is, there are a handful of hiccups. The first is while levels may appear open, that’s not necessarily the case. Invisible walls circle the whole area. Even if it seems like there should be freedom of movement in a certain direction, there won’t be. Thankfully, a red outline tries to communicate where it starts, but in the heat of things, it’s easily missed. It can get very annoying, very fast. Unsurprisingly, a gripe lies here, too. As projectiles hurtle toward me, I focused primarily on dodging. Since my attention was elsewhere and not on my surroundings, there were a plethora of instances that saw me colliding with the barrier. Unbeknownst to that, I’d continue sidestepping, going nowhere, and becoming vulnerable. With an already limited supply of restoration items, it’s not ideal. It removes their tactful usage.
The second is probably going to garner a couple of groans. That said, prepare yourself for a good amount of grinding. I did it frequently, but thanks to the short duration of levels, it was a brisk activity and never tedious - repetitive, maybe, but never tedious. It isn’t going to be for collecting Experience Points, though. Cash, or in this case, Capital, is what strengthens the Gundams. However, it isn’t rewarded to you after a mission. No, they act as drops, and I must physically gather them. Nitpick or not, using this method breaks up the momentum I had built up to that point. I had to discontinue my reign of terror to backtrack, which got obnoxious. It baffled me why it wasn’t absorbed automatically as it touched the battlefield. Repeating levels does give you another valuable item.
I NEED INSTRUCTIONS! - Gameplay
Blueprints are also found within the loot pool but are acquired only through specific means. It might be from a boss or by demolishing random crates found on the battlefield. Their functionality then unlocks a generous amount of Gundams spanning the franchise and its many series. Sadly, at first, you, the player, are tied to a predetermined avatar. It makes sense since it assumes an integral part of the narrative. Until then, these Gundam are A.I. controlled, and, I have to say, they’re relatively adequate fighters. See, before encounters, you get to pick two partners. Not just any, however, because there’s a feature known as Alliance Effect. Before I choose, perks, such as speeding up repair kit usage, are listed. The goal is to match those with bonuses that synergize. The notion behind it is fantastic. It grants layers to this mechanic, which I appreciate.
BE MY FRIEND?! - Gameplay
Enthusiasts of farming simulators will feel right at home with this next feature. See, it’s feasible and frankly encouraged to erect a sturdy friendship with the other pilots within your platoon. It just so happens that the aforementioned Alliance Effect encompasses that ideology, too, using it to stellar effect. By default, the merits tied to each partner NPC are filled with preset values. As their bond to you is heightened, those increase, changing the tide of combat. Do be aware that to level your comrades, it takes Capital. Yes, that means grinding is effectively tripled because you’re slaughtering for three instead of yourself. Again, the short length does mitigate the slog it could become. The gameplay loop being a bloody good romp doesn’t hurt either. Honestly, anyone smitten with RPG elements will have a field day with SD Gundam Battle Alliance.
RUNNING OUT OF STEAM! - Gameplay
To soothe any fears about the Stamina System, its implementation is well-done. It was never bothersome or impeded things. Sure, there were moments I’d enter into a full kamikaze-type rage, draining the wheel dry, but that’s due to my bloodlust more than ineptness. It does what such a mechanic should; adding strategy and keeping combat from devolving into a brainless mess of button mashing. It may retain a small degree, but nothing compared to what it could be - actions such as going on the offensive cost the most, with dodging taking only a sliver. That saves it because the safety net for losing track of how much is left is huge, and I would seldom run out. The rejuvenation is instantaneous but takes a second or two to fill. It just so happens those Alliance Effects can speed that up - it becomes even better.
SMOOTH RIDE! - Performance & Presentation
The animations are incredible, giving a solid sense of weight to the Gundams. The amount of detail in their designs blew me away. A lot of effort was put into assuring that the fluency of movement was up to snuff. Frame-rate is rock hard and won’t struggle to keep 60fps. There was an issue with the camera, but it’s ridiculously circumstantial. Essentially, if I leapt while under a bridge, it freaked out, displeased by my antics. The environments are alright, and I found relative pleasure in the miniature trees and structures, but especially the water - it looks great on PS5. It fully highlights the size differential between them and the robots of death. Sure, an argument could be made that the locales are barren. My rebuttal to that is thanks to the compactness of the levels, the emptiness doesn’t register. My only complaint is they could have been more varied.
GUNDAMS BATTLE TO HIP HOP!? - Sound Design
I’ve gone on record to state that I prefer dubs over subs. I know that such a substantially controversial proclamation might demand snickers, but SD Gundam Battle Alliance does a spectacular job backing my claim. For a title excelling in fast-paced action, having dialogue play out amid it is my biggest pet peeve. I completely understand it’s meant to mimic an authentic Anime feel, but having to split your concentration between hacking up the enemy and reading, is outrageous. If what was said was pointless drivel, then perhaps, but it isn’t that. Some details are pivotal to the grander plotline. Sure, having Japanese voices is authentic to the cartoon, but continuously bouncing my vision up and down strained my eyes. It renders initial runs of areas an effort to beat because multitasking made me susceptible to damage.
Frankly speaking, the structure of SD Gundam Battle Alliance is begging for English voice localization. Like, I need to hide behind crates if I wish to keep up with current events. It’s the only way I won’t perish, and that’s an issue. For a title lusting for speed, it’s counterintuitive to that. I don’t want to pause progression because I’m curious about what's happening. Even introducing a simple fix like moving the text box towards the top would be an upgrade. I understand why it’s situated at the bottom. That way, it doesn’t obstruct your view of cutscenes. I get it, but that won’t change the fact that shifting my eyes is a pain to do. One night, I even got a headache. It’s such a Goddamn travesty, too, because I’m relishing my session. Admittedly, this is a complaint targeted exclusively at those that care for narrative.
AND THE ROBOTIC VERDICT IS…
SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a break-your-neck, speed-hungry romp of carnage that offers up ample fun. Various ideas, such as the stamina system, are employed perfectly. It injects a nice bit of strategy into encounters and never manages to get frustrating. I was thoroughly engaged in what was on screen. The ability to throw in some of your MP3s from a USB Drive is an excellent addition. Sure, maps may not be as robust as first thought, but the linear nature does lend itself to being hammered out quickly. What ends up being the saving grace from being deemed a title best grabbed on sale is that the missteps I mention above are fixable with a mere patch. Something I failed to talk about is enemies do telegraph their attacks, but when entrenched in a clash of swords, it’s hard to notice - too subtle.
When all is said, I can recommend SD Gundam Battle Alliance. I have faith Bandai Namco is committed to offering patches.
Special thanks to Bandai Namco for providing the code used for this coverage.