Retro Review: Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes
Giant robot games are making a comeback, and I couldn’t be happier. As someone who was a fan of the genre since playing Mech Warrior 2 on PC, it’s a real joy to see titles such as Mech Warrior Online, Hawken, and the upcoming Titanfall embrace the big, lumbering mechs that I have grown to enjoy since my childhood.
Mech games were a little more frequent back in the day, before the FPS and cover-based TPS became popular. Xbox had Mech Assault titles which were extremely popular, while the PS2 had acclaimed titles such as the Zone of the Enders series as well as niche titles like Front Mission and Armored Corp that didn’t shy away from the mech-on-mech action combined with rpg customization and strategy elements.
To go back even further in time, one game that received frequent playtime from me was Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes, a fairly early title for the ultimately failed Sega Dreamcast.
Set in the Universal Century timeline of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, one plays the game as the leader of “White Dingo,” a squad of elite mech pilots sent to Australia to prevent the invasion and deployment of a super weapon by the enemy forces known as The Principality of Zeon. While those outside of the Gundam fandom may find the story a bit pedestrian and average, fear not! You don’t need to be versed in the expansive lore of the Gundam series to have fun with this game. Despite the story, the game does not dive too deeply into the background of the series, but instead focuses on more basic aspects not seen in many of the current action games.
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Along with the cut scenes, in between each mission you have the option to talk with the different members of your squad, from your co-pilots to your mobile suit mechanic. Each character usually has a mission briefing to share with you. There were many times I was shocked at how in-depth and introspective some of these conversations could be. Squad mates sometimes reminisce about missing home, the desire to stop fighting in the war, and the anger and frustration that comes from fighting in a war from years on end. When the majority of the game involves shooting waves of enemy mechs, the unexpected depth of these interactions makes everything feel more meaningful.
The gameplay for Gundam Side Story requires moving your mobile suit from a first-person cockpit view and using the Dreamcast’s face buttons to control your weapons and aiming. Along with the moving and shooting controls, you have the option to command your three additional squad mates by assigning commands that either have them initiate a specific combat command or give them a location on the map to position themselves.
Along with your two additional mobile suit pilots, you can also command a recon vehicle to scout ahead and discover enemy locations. These team members are not invincible, however, and this is where your placement of commands plays an important role. Early on in the game, the commands almost seem useless, however in later missions, strategic placement of your comrades is essential to surviving missions. The number of strong enemies toward the end of the game means that finishing the mission on your own, without help, is a very unlikely task.
Besides giving commands, you’ll be committing many acts of mechanical manslaughter through the variety of mobile suits and weapons available to you. You start the game with your default mobile suit, and as you progress you’ll slowly unlock more powerful suits and weapons along the way. Before each mission you can access a load-out screen and choose which mobile suit you will take into battle, along with which shield and weapon combination you will take. You can also outfit your squad, choosing their weapon and shield load-outs. This makes the game even more interesting as you can decide to create a team that can wipe the floor with the Zeon forces or severely handicap yourself to give the game an extra challenge.
If there are any flaws from this title, it’s the length of the game. This game is incredibly short. Even new players will only take a day at most to finish the story mode to completion. While you can tailor your mobile suit and go back with different combinations and new cheats and configurations, the replay value is still very low. The truth is that I played it much as I did only because it was Gundam branded and looked incredible at the time of its release.
In fact, even now the game has held up pretty well in the visuals department. While the characters are a bit stiff and cartoonish, common for most human characters in that era, the mechs and environments themselves look great. Everything has a gritty, war torn look to it that makes the world seem incredibly lived in. While most interpretations of Gundam wanted to go for a more anime look, Gundam Side Story wanted a more realistic look from the eyes of the grunts on the front lines, not the big eyed heroes featured in the anime series. While this may be an over done visual style now, at the time it was mind blowing that Gundam could be taken and grounded on such a realistic level.
If you’re a Gundam fan, it goes without saying that you’ll want to track this game down. But even if Gundam isn’t your thing, track it down and give it a shot. Gundam Side Story may be stuck in the limbo of modern action flash and older more methodical action titles, but playing it gives perspective on just how far we have come, while at the same time makes you miss what we have lost from modern titles. Slower pace and emotions have been traded for bigger explosions and streamlined gameplay. It’s a look at the movement from the cartoonish to the more realistic and the wish to portray the gritty and dirty environments that have become abundant today. It’s not a game you play to enjoy with modern eyes, but rather as a reminder of yesteryear. It provides a reminder of how everything seemed bright and new and a glimpse of just how far gaming has taken us today.