Thanks to the popularity of the anime series in North America, games based on Mobile Suit Gundam continue to trickle in. The latest game, which was originally developed for arcades by Capcom, highlights the battle for independence between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon in the year 0079. The Principality of Zeon uses enormous humanoid mechs called mobile suits, while the Earth Federation counters with mobile suits its own--called Gundams. You'll get to play on either side of the conflict as you travel to new worlds and locations to fight battles with varying types of mechs. Along the way, you'll find that the gameplay and most of the mission designs in Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon are quite good, so fans of the cartoon series as well as fans of mech games in general will find in it something that appeals to them.
There are several different gameplay modes to choose from in Federation vs. Zeon. The first is the arcade mode, where you can choose from several Federation or Zeonic mobile suits, which have different types of armor, weaponry, and maneuvering skills. It's important that you know which mobile suits are better equipped for handling each type of battle, because you'll have to select one mobile suit for ground battles and another for space battles. Even weapon selection can have a profound impact on the outcome of a battle, as machine guns and similar rapid-fire weapons aren't quite as effective as the rifles because they don't inflict as much damage against the more maneuverable mobile suits. Of course, each mobile suit can always fall back on a melee weapon such as a sword or just its plain old fists, but obviously, you might have trouble getting close enough to connect for a solid hit--or even have trouble just judging how far away you are. Once you've selected a mobile suit, you then select the level where you'll fight over the course of several missions.
The campaign mode in Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon is structured a little differently than the arcade mode. Instead of choosing a mobile suit right off the bat, you'll be presented with a map screen with dozens of dots--representing mission areas--all over it. When one or two of these dots start flashing, it indicates that you can undertake that mission, but you'll also want to pay attention to the colored box next to the mission, as it reveals the relative level of difficulty involved for completing it. No matter which side you're on, you'll start with one of the weakest mobile suits, which lacks both significant offensive and defensive capabilities, but as you start to win missions, you'll gain access to bigger and better mobile suits.
The missions in the campaign mode range from basic battles where the main objective is to kill every enemy in sight, to escort missions where you have to protect your forces from an enemy onslaught--these missions can be particularly difficult since the vehicle or ships that you're trying to protect generally don't have much armor and can be destroyed rather quickly. Fortunately, a certain number of friendly units can usually be sacrificed before the mission is deemed a failure. At any rate, most of the missions in the game are quite entertaining, especially those that take place in the deeper reaches of space, because Federation vs. Zeon is one of the few games that does an adequate job of re-creating those space battles that occur so often in giant-robot cartoons. Your mobile suit can fly in any direction while fighting in space, and since there's no horizon, you'll often find yourself engaging enemies while upside down. It can be a little disorienting at first since the control scheme changes slightly to accommodate the fact that you can move in any direction, but after a few missions, you should be able to compete with the best of the mobile suit pilots and have fun flying everywhere in deep space.
The controls in the game are fairly intuitive, but it does take some time to become completely adjusted. On the ground, your mobile suit can soar into the air for a set period of time using the booster rockets located on its feet and back--in space these boosters become the method for movement since you can no longer walk. You can also perform little side steps by pressing twice on the analog stick or the D-pad. As previously mentioned, each mobile suit also has access to a variety of primary weapons, including machine guns, rocket launchers, and rifles. But they also have a few secondary weapons ranging from swords and grenades to less powerful guns located on the mobile suit itself. Part of becoming proficient at controlling a mobile suit is being able to switch between these weapons promptly when the situation calls for it, especially when you're given a limited amount of ammunition. Once you learn how to do that well, the gameplay mechanics click together effectively, making for an enjoyable experience. The only real significant problem occurs during the space battles because it's difficult to gauge where enemies are based on the radar located in the upper right-hand side of the screen, but it's another one of those things that seemingly becomes less of a problem as you become more experienced.
While most of the mobile suits look quite good, the environments in the game are a little too bland and generic. Most of the cities look the same, the outdoor environments use the same textures repeatedly, and secondary objects such as trees and water just don't look that great. But the mobile suit models do look like their animated counterparts, and they animate well. The frame rate remains consistent throughout the entire game, even when there are three or four other mobile suits on the screen, but then again, the frame rate isn't all that smooth to begin with.
The sound isn't all that memorable either. Though there is one track that sounds as though it comes from some J-pop band, most of the music in the game is quiet and doesn't really enhance or detract from the action. However, in the space battles, you'll have to repeatedly listen to a track that sounds like it's ripped straight from a 1950s B movie, and while it's amusing at first, it quickly becomes irritating. Of further note, there's some voice acting to be found in the game, and it's about as good as what you'd find in the cartoon.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon is easily one of the most enjoyable Gundam games to date. The gameplay mechanics are sound, and there's enough variety in the missions that you won't become bored with either the arcade or campaign mode too quickly. Even after you've completed those two options, there's still a versus mode where you can go head-to-head with a human opponent as well as two other computer opponents. Gundam fans will probably get the most enjoyment out of this game, but fans of giant robots fighting each other will undoubtedly have some fun with it as well.