Following in its predecessor's path, Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS is the PSP port of the arcade hit Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs Gundam NEXT. While a solid game, Gundam vs Gundam had its fair share of problems that needed to be addressed. A slew of new gameplay options and an expanded mobile suit roster make Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS the best game Gundam fans can own for either portables or consoles.
Like most sequels, Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS keeps the formula that fans love while making tweaks to make the sequel fresh rather than a rehash. The basic gameplay remains unchanged: take down the enemy enough times to drain their cost meter and win. The two biggest changes, however, are the removal of the G-Crossover attack and the addition of the Next Dash system.
While G-Crossover attacks were impressive to watch, they were easily avoidable and superficial at best. Unlike G-Crossover attacks, which added little to the overall gameplay, Next Dash is an important addition to the Gundam vs series and adds a new dimension to the game that speeds it up significantly. Executed by holding a direction and pressing the boost button twice, Next Dash allows players to cancel any attack by dashing out of it towards the direction held. Defensively, this means that a missed beam rifle shot is no longer a free punish for the other player; offensively, this means that an on target beam rifle shot can lead to a full melee combo.
Although it provides many new options for players, the Next Dash system can't be abused. Every time it's executed, the dash will drain a big chunk from the player's boost meter, limiting movements afterward. Players will need to use it carefully as to not expend their boost meter and land defenseless right in front of an opponent. Also, while dashing will allow players to dodge most projectile moves, like beam rifle shots, melee attacks still home in and catch opponents during a dash. A reckless dash won't be able to maneuver players away, leaving them wide open for a full melee combo – most of which can easily take off half life if done correctly using the Next Dash system. Clearly, spacing still plays a big role in Gundam vs Gundam NEXT and the game by no means turns into a dash-fest.
While the previous game only had six different paths in arcade mode, all of which led to a showdown with Devil Gundam, Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS's arcade mode has 12 paths to choose from – all with different stages and bosses. If players are feeling brave, they can even try Path H, which has a route with boss battles only! However, arcade mode does lose its appeal after several playthroughs. Thankfully, Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS includes Next Plus mode, which is the much needed mission mode absent from the previous iteration.
The lack of grunt mobile suits like Leos and Zakus made the inclusion of a mission mode impossible in Gundam vs Gundam. While those grunt suits are still not selectable, they're included in this iteration solely for the sake of mission mode. As always, these grunts can be defeated easily with several hits. This lack of difficulty is hardly a concern because selectable units and bosses provide a challenge even for seasoned Gundam vs players. The objectives are also varied enough that make sure every other mission will be fresh; they can range from restricting players to a single point of armor, thereby turning the game to a death match, or entrusting the player to protect a squad of Zaku tanks.
Next Plus mode also includes a level and skill system. By clearing stages, mobile suits can gain experience points that can be put towards different attributes, such as armor, projectile attacks, melee attacks, boost meter, and AI. Mobile suits will also acquire skills as they level up. Skills help players in a variety of ways, ranging from boosting a mobile suit's attack power to providing more experience points after a battle. Aside from the various objectives, these RPG elements continue to keep Next Plus mode fun and fresh.
Multiplayer options changed little, allowing players to either team up against the AI or face off in various modes such as arcade, free battle, or Next Plus. Next Plus' multiplayer is particularly interesting. If two players choose to team up, those who are ahead can help their friends get through tough missions by replaying it with a stronger mobile suit while gaining more experience points. Another interesting aspect to Next Plus' multiplayer mode is that both players can use skills simultaneously, which will stack and lead to interesting outcomes like four times the experience points from a single battle or a really powered up mobile suit. The only downside to multiplayer is the developers did not adequately deal with lag. Even though I had placed two PSP systems side by side, I suffered a noticeable amount of lag. This led to missed dodges and combos, meaning the arcade is still the only place to go for a competitive Gundam vs Gundam NEXT experience.
Improved Mobile Suit Roster
Without taking out mobile suits from the previous game, the developers have supplemented the mobile suit roster generously. Some series, like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and and Mobile Fighter G Gundam have more than doubled their roster, while Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is making its first entry into this series. Some omissions, like Crossbone Gundam and Sentinel Gundam are disappointingly understandable – the game can only include a set number of mobile suits, so the decision to include the mainstream mobile suits that are known and loved was obvious. Hopefully, the Gundam vs series will eventually include these lesser known, yet interesting mobile suit designs.
Overall, things have not changed much since the last game. The last version's graphics were already pushing the PSP, a five year old system. If anything, it's disappointing that they only put this game on the PSP because the developers clearly had to cut corners to make the game fit; parts of mobile suits and buildings look blurry, while some animations are missing. The game still looks decent, but it would have been nice to see it hit a console where the graphics would have been arcade perfect.
Sound is another department that hasn't changed much. There are some track changes from the previous iteration, such as that of Mobile Suit Wing Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Fans can even consider the PSP version an improvement upon the arcade in the sound department because it features a pilot and voice actor for Banagher Links, pilot of Unicorn Gundam – a striking omission from the arcade version.
Bottom Line: Intended Audience Rating
Gundam fans will love the amount of fan service in Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS. The improved mobile suit roster and licensed Gundam music will satisfy all but the most picky and hardcore Gundam fans. Despite the fan service in this game, it brings more to the table than your average licensed anime game; it brings back the same tested, enjoyable game system from the Gundam vs series and brings in the Next Dash feature for a much faster paced experience. Plagued only by a subpar multiplayer experience, this is the best Gundam vs game yet and it continues the series' tradition of combining a quality gaming experience with a good mix of fan service to satisfy Gundam fans.
4.5 Out of 5 Haros
Bottom Line: Overall Rating
While fan service meant for Gundam fans may be a nuisance to casual gamers who are not Gundam fans, those who can tolerate the fan service will find a quality gaming experience. Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS's fast paced battle system will appeal to any gamer who is looking for a rush. However, like most arcade games and their ports, Gundam vs Gundam NEXT PLUS's improvements may be too trivial to warrant a purchase from casual players who already own previous iterations from this series.
3 Out of 5 Haros