Mobile Suit Gundam is a series that has been with us... well, the Japanese portion of us, since 1979. It started out as a history-making anime TV series about the trials of Amuro Ray and his rival Char Aznable during the One Year War between the Duchy of Zeon and the Earth Federation. That show launched twenty years of anime, models, manga, models, and more anime. Of course, there are also video games aplenty, all published by Bandai or one of its subsidiaries.
In Universal Century 0079, an empty space colony is dropped on Sydney, Australia, causing untold deaths. The Antarctic treaty is signed, colony drops are outlawed, but the fighting continues. The original series picks up with the introduction of the experimental Mobile Suit Gundam - a devastatingly powerful mecha - much more so than Zeon's standard Zaku mecha. The groundbreaking story of Amuro Ray is full of valor, compassion, and angst, and it has set the tone for all serious mecha anime to follow. Unfortunately, this game is not based on that story.
The game opens with a rendered cinema (for those of you hoping for anime, you're not going to be satisfied with this game) of the battle on the Australian front. It's pretty mediocre stuff; soldiers march jerkily and mechs act like mechs. Where are my depressed and/or determined teenage heroes? They're not in this game. The characters are all rendered too, and they look kind of disturbing - like plastic dolls left out in all kinds of weather to rot and molder for a few seasons and then given some sort of unholy life and a pile of expensive military equipment. Their eyes are troubling black crevices, and the way they are jointed is just plain wrong. Well, you didn't buy this to hear any yammering, did you? It's supposed to be a battle game! But let's not forget that Gundam is all about plot, and one of the draws of this game is that it has a completely original one, just like the successful Side Stories for the Saturn. This story follows the White Dingo unit - a corps of fighters without a single Gundam in their ranks - on what remains of the Australian continent. They instead have GMs - the substandard mass-produced version of Gundam the federation came up with. Yes, your heroes can't even lay claim to the mecha that the game is named after.
Be that as it may, you land and proceed to scout Zakus and Doms and pick them off. If you were expecting the action that goes with the romantic image of Mobile Suit Gundam, tough luck. This is a down-and-dirty mech simulation. It's a good one, but it's not for action fans. First off, your mech walks at the speed a large hunk of metal on two legs in Earth's atmosphere at 1G would. Slowly. You have boosters for jumps and dashes, but use them for more than a few seconds and you overheat. What the game loses in action, it makes up for in total control; each button, the pad, and the stick perform different functions. You can tilt your cockpit view with the analogue stick, and it will stay - walk with the digital pad and you'll see in the direction your cockpit is pointing, not in the direction your legs are walking. When the mission starts, you're outfitted with a shield, a machine gun, grenades, your cute little head-vulcan (which never runs out, unlike your other munitions) and your beam saber - the staple of all dramatic battles in Gundam anime and the cause of all missed swipes in Gundam video games. Down you go, onto the cold ground, and walk around with your White Dingo teammates until the enemy is sighted. Destroy all targets and the mission ends - although the first time that happened, the game crashed. Let's hope this is not something that occurs often, because the missions take prudence, thought, planning, and time.
The graphics are OK - this is the Dreamcast, after all, and it's still hard to make something that isn't somewhat impressive, even after nearly a year of games. The music does a reasonably good job of just being there - barely. It's nothing you'd ever consider listening to. It all has a suitably militaristic feel to make the whole thing seem like a war. The characters are just plain creepy, and even the illustrations in the manual look pretty cheesy. The mech design is nothing revolutionary; while it may be the very beginning of the saga - and there's no way we could reasonably expect to see something ornate as Gundam Deathscythe or Wing Gundam Zero out there - one has to wonder why we should give a crap about sub-Gundam machinery like the GM.
Bandai can always be counted on to flood a new system with Gundam games. Some are hits, and some are misses. This is mostly a miss - unless you are a serious realism enthusiast. Although action-game fans will find it plodding, this game will feel just right to those who want an actual mecha simulation.