For a guy who has never watched the Gundam anime, and who has never played a Gundam video game I was oddly drawn into the short lived battles, and objective based scenarios of "Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS-Force". It's one of those attractive gaming experiences that borrows properly from it's origin sources while weaving a new tale, and drawing in a new crowd of gamers with a standalone experience that is polished in every way possible. Along with the returning Gundam from the ongoing series of the same name, and the enemies from said series are a handful of new ways to get involved in the worlds, and lore surrounding the Mobile Suit mythology. At story level you'll find that you are a computer construct which was awakened, and transformed into a Gundam by a couple of AI for the purpose of saving humanity. By "saving humanity" I mean you are battling it out in the virtual worlds, and historical timelines of said virtual worlds in order to change the history therein so that a better, and more evolved form of humans can inhabit the cyberspace through embedded personalities. It's an unusual pitch, but it is one that's good enough to keep newcomers, and MS Gundam lovers of old hooked long enough to learn the ropes of gameplay, and possibly even continue playing to perfection.
Past the cute, and satirical skit of the two AI gals known as 'Aire' and 'Tereno' there is proper gameplay to behold. As mankind's mechanical savior you will be piloting, and commanding various MS Gundam units from across the series' branching timelines. You will effectively be changing the path of self-destruction humans have so ignorantly tread upon through your combative actions against other Mobile Suits, and their respective pilots. It's a fast paced, and frantic arcade style battle for the ages. One that will either end in the evolution of mankind, or the downfall of the species entirely ...
Gameplay in "MS Gundam: Extreme VS-Force", as it were is ultimately divided up into three main modes of play which are then sub-divided further into more categories. This includes "Extreme Force", "VS Extend", and "Ad Hoc Multiplayer". In the "Extreme Force" mode you'll be playing through an objectively driven campaign which will reward you HARO medals for completing certain side objectives in accordance to the stage's main requirements. It is in this mode that you will be visiting "Areas" with a branching timeline of stages that house timeline specific battles. The stages are color coded with blue being standard stages, green being special stages, and orange being the enemy's POV (Point of View). Each stage, regardless of type harbors a win, and loss requirement as well as a specific difficulty setting rated by stars, and three HARO medals with side objectives that can be completed for the required HARO count needed to unlock more stages/areas. The battles of said mode come in both a "VS", and "FORCE" variety, accordingly. The "VS" stages being more akin to MS (Mobile Suit) to MS combat while the "FORCE" stages will have you capturing bases for FP (force point) farming in order to get your escorts, support units, and ships to an end battle effectively. Think of it as the strategic commanding of samurai that you'd be dealing with in a game like "Dynasty Warriors". You basically pull up a map (Left Shoulder), select units, direct them where to go, and apply FP to tasks that will aid in completing that stage's objective. These tasks will allow accompanying units to repair, farm for more resources, and focus on specific targets of interest among other helpful things.
When it comes to the "VS" battles you will be fighting off multiple enemy targets on a 3D battlefield with an unlocked Gundam of your choice. At your disposal is a primary gun, two special attacks, a sword option, and the ability to lock onto, and switch between moving targets on the fly. Surprisingly combat is kept simple, and is quite effective. I'd say maneuverability in this particular game is the best I've experienced in a game that requires such quick movements, and targeting in general. When it comes to the "Forces" counterpart however combat takes on an entirely different meaning, and has you taking on the role of a joining commander who is directing support units to do this or that as they take over bases for FP, and battle larger boss type creations. I should mention that equipping unlocked units at the start of each stage playthrough does require points. Points that are limited in distribution. Selecting which support units/escorts to accompany you when they aren't already chosen for you will be up to your discretion. Just know that some Gundam, or MS are definitely superior to others. Some even have unique play styles that may suit your favored brand of gameplay more.
After you've perfected your "Extreme Force" playthrough, and have collected all HARO medals along with all MS Gundams you can take your experience further into an AI versus mode known as, "VS Extend". In "VS Extend" there are two options for play. You can either do the "VS Free Battle", and battle it out with AI controlled Mobile Suits from different Gundam series in an arena style situations, or you can play "Course Battle" in which you complete sequential battles against MS for a high score. Both modes are slightly similar in build with the only real differences being the initial menu setup (difficulty, boost gauge, stage ...), and the end results of a won match. Within "VS Extend" you'll actually rack up some GP which is the game's currency, and can use it to play the paid for stages in "Extreme Force", or the assignment of escorts/support units among other things. In the case of "Course Battle" the end results are more about score standings though than anything else.
Lastly, the ad hoc, or local multiplayer was something I missed out on, and cannot rightfully judge. I do not have the luxury of friends or family to game with, and I certainly don't have anyone close by who owns this game. As such I cannot offer any opinions on it. All I can say is that like the rest of the game's modes you will be going head-to-head with other Gundams, but instead of being pitted against AI controlled bots the other Gundam will be controlled by a human opponent. I do know from checking the menu system out that you can setup a room for others to find, and join. Supposedly that's how matchmaking is done.
The Verdict ...
For a Gundam game released on the Vita this one was quite the polished experience. The developers kept the anime art faithful to the series, and also kept the spoken dialogue Japanese. They even created each available Gundam in a mirrored image of the source material. Fans of the various Gundam series will no doubt be able to spot their favorite pilots, and their favorite Gundams with ease. The Mobile Suits in particular look quite nice on the PS Vita screen, and are animated extremely well for what they are. They definitely keep up with the fast paced action that takes place. As far as gameplay is concerned the variety of objectives is a bit limited, and short lived, but at least there's replay value with the obtaining of HARO Medals, and the "VS Extend" modes if not the ad hoc multiplayer.
When it comes to controls, and mechanics things are also polished in that area of development. While you can perform a lot of different things as a commanding Gundam pilot it's made so that you can switch between menus, commands, and targeting on the fly. It's a brilliant setup that's highly commendable. The only time I had difficulty understanding controls was when I rushed past the AI twin's tutorial instructions. I highly recommend not doing this. As far as my recommendation goes I will say that the game is not all that bad without the ad hoc multiplayer, but if you want to get the most out of it you definitely need to be able to hook up with friends or family who also own the game. At $39.99 it's not a bad buy either way, especially for hardcore fans of the Mobile Suit Gundam series. Even those of you who've never seen Gundam anime like me might find it worth a buy. You should also know that buyers of the digital/physical version will get two PS Vita Gundam themes!