Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Xbox 360 Review

Big stompy robots. Massive laser swords and really really big guns. More corny dialogue and cheesy kung-fu posing than you could shake an 18 metre tall warfare exoskeleton at. The Gundam suit apparently has it all, and what appeals to Japanese anime fans across the globe also appeals to gamers.

*shies away from obligatory tentacle joke*

Ahem. I don’t think I’d be alone in admitting the pull of owning a colossal war robot, capable of interstellar travel and jumping up and down on the tiny, insignificant specks of scum and villainy beneath your armoured feet. It could just be that I’m maladjusted, but I’m pretty sure the 14 year old Saturday morning cartoon fan inside you just nodded along in sympathy. And possibly hummed its own theme tune.

Yup, gamers like big robots. A large number of gamers also like Dynasty Warriors. So it was that a marketing chimp somewhere in the depths of franchise hell came up with the idea of cramming both franchises into the one box. Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is the result, and what an interesting little mutant it turned out to be. Whether it thrives more or less than the 97 other official Gundam-related games that have been released remains to be seen.

(Yes, 97. I wikipediaed it.)

Like all Warriors games, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam doesn’t try to hide its pedigree. Gameplay involves running around a battlefield capturing territory, pulling off repetitive combos on the hoards of faceless enemies and duelling against the challenging enemy hero-type characters at the appropriate moment. Levels revolve solely around this – there are no contrived puzzles and no mini-games – the only way to progress is by killing literally hundreds of enemies in each level.

Driving the whole thing along is the traditional thread-bare storyline, of interest only to the most obsessive of Gundam fans. For everyone else (me included), it’s merely a blizzard of technical terms and obscure character references – Dynasty Warriors: Gundam assumes you’ve either watched the anime or read the manga and gives very little sense of the background to the characters or the Gundam universe. It’s inevitably a bad sign for a game’s widespread appeal when I have to look up details and backstory online rather than have it explained to me in-game. There are actually two separate singleplayer campaigns to follow. Official Mode follows the canonical story of the Gundam anime, whereas Original is an entirely new plotline. Of course, to the rank Gundam beginner, the difference between the two is marginal – us mere mortals aren’t really going to know what’s going on either way.

However, with great gameplay, the plot mightn’t actually matter all that much. After all, I can have fun stamping about as a giant robot, beating up similarly stampy robots without having to care about my motives too much – what else are stampy robots aside from fighting when you get down to it? Initially, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam doesn’t disappoint. Your enemies are satisfying to defeat, despite the fact that the average grunt doesn’t put up must resistance. Charging into a knot of enemy mobile suits, twin laser swords flashing never gets old. Coupled with the way defeated foes break up into little bits and either fall to the ground or float off into space, wanton destruction is rarely this gratifying. A nice touch when you send an enemy flying – if he hits another enemy, they’ll fall to the ground. Somewhat underwhelming when it’s just one enemy, but send twenty airborne into a crowd of a hundred and chaos is sure to follow.

Unfortunately, the combat mechanics themselves are somewhat limited – the melee attacks are controlled by just one button, as are ranged attacks. Unlike the majority of Warriors games, you can’t unlock new combos – skills can be unlocked which add bonus modifiers to your actions, but the combo is still pulled off by hammering just one button. There has been no attempt to include even marginal depth, for instance in timing your attacks or in mixing up combos of fast and slow attacks.

A degree of depth is added by the ability to switch between different Mobile Suits before each level. Different characters perform better in different suits, so finding the right combination is an interesting challenge. The various suits are quite nicely diverse in terms of mixing melee with range and speed and armour, but after a while they generally meld into one. It may just be my cack-handedness, but the ranged shots were very hard to target, with the auto-aim unreliable and the absence of a lock-on frustrating.

Graphically, the game is prettier than the last Warriors title to appear on the 360, namely Warriors Orochi, with detailed (if somewhat same-y) enemies and some very pretty slow-motion special effects kicking in when you land a killing blow on an enemy hero unit. The space battles in particular are compelling, with battles taking place in asteroid bases and between giant satellites dangling in mid-air. Disappointingly, the space battles all occur on a flat plane, suggesting the developers either couldn’t manage to give them more of a sense of 3-d combat, or didn’t care to. The in-game music isn’t as tacky as that in most other Warriors games, with less of the cheesy techno than was expected. The characters are as poorly voiced as ever, and the squeaky female voices are sure to grate after a while.

If you are a long-time fan of either Dynasty Warriors or Gundam (though preferably both), you’ll find plenty to entertain you in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. For everyone else, the game is still interesting in its own way, and the arcade-style mass carnage is sure to bring a smile to the face of any gamer of a certain age. Sure, the longevity mightn’t be there, but for a weekend blast of giant robot craziness, you’d find it hard to name a better alternative.

(An entire review of a robot-based game without a Craig Charles/Robot Wars reference. My inner-geek is weeping as you read…)