In 2007, I discovered a little arcade game named Gundam Seed Destiny: Federation vs ZAFT 2. The name was a mouthful, but it was by far the most popular game in the venue. During the day, high school kids would team up for long sessions; by night, office workers would smoke like chimneys as they squeezed in a few sessions before heading home.
Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On, which is somehow even more awkwardly named than before, is a direct continuation of that decades long tradition. Virtually unknown in North America, the Gundam Versus series has been a fixture in Japanese arcades since Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon debuted back in 2001. Its secret is the two-versus-two format, which encourages strategy and teamwork. Its absolutely enormous list of mobile suits encompasses basically every Gundam show to date.
In heading to PlayStation 4, Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On is necessarily a bit of an anachronism. It feels very strange to play a game that's obviously designed from the ground up for arcades, with the single-player mode and unlockables only being added after the fact. It feels like a game out of time?—a mix of elements better suited for the PlayStation 3 or Dreamcast than a modern console. Still, its core strengths as one of the best Gundam games remain evident. Unlike the somewhat stripped down Gundam Versus, Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On is the real deal; a full port of the original arcade with a host of additioanl features.
In Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On (it's getting exhausting to write this), you can choose from a roster encompassing some 183 mobile suits across 36 different series?—from the mighty Unicorn Gundam to Char's humble Zaku. The sheer amount of choice on offer is overwhelming, even for a longtime Gundam nut like myself, but also kind of cool. Your favorite mobile suit is almost certainly in Gundam Extreme Vs., even if it happens to be a weirdo obscurity like Victory Gundam's Gedlav, which is basically just a big tire with guns.
The game itself plays like a mix between Sega's classic Virtual-On series and Konami's Zone of the Enders, with action that tilts toward the competitive end of the scale. Mobile suits boost around 3D fields at incredible speed, firing laser blasts and stringing together lengthy beam saber combos that can remove more than half of a life gauge. A newcomer is apt to struggle to even hit an experienced player, who can literally fly circles around them.
Its only real weakness is the very poor camera, which simply can't keep up with the, ahem, extreme pace of play. Learning to compensate for the god-awful camera is a huge part of achieving any kind of success in Gundam Extreme Vs., and even then it will still defeat you more often than not. The needlessly tight angles afforded by the locked camera make it very hard to keep track of your teammate, and it's very easy to get turned around at odd angles that create awkward firing animations.
The poor camera combined with the complex mechanics makes for a deceptively steep learning curve. Even after a decade with this series, I still feel like I lose more often than not. But as with all competitive games, mastery is its own reward, which at least partly explains its longstanding dominance of Japanese arcades. Indeed, there's a lot to dig into with Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On, from the unique quirks of the individual Gundams to the complex boost mechanics that govern movement around the stage.
The last few days have seen me getting back into the flow of Gundam Extreme Vs., exploring the roster and coming to grips with its many systems. There have been nights where I've played well past midnight, fully in the thrall of "just one more game" syndrome. It can unfortunately take a bit to get a game going?—ranked matchmaking is very hit or miss, and it's usually better to just find a match in one of the lobbies?—but my online experience has otherwise been surprisingly smooth, with relatively little lag. It took until 2020, but the Gundam Versus series finally has online play that kind of works.
As for the offline portion, Gundam Extreme Vs. does have a single-player component, and it's not terrible. Whether you choose the legacy arcade mode or the "Maxi" missions, you will be confronted with an escalating series of challenges occasionally capped off with a boss fight. There's no story to speak of, and the missions mainly exist to add some "Capital C" Content, but they're a decent enough timewaster between online bouts. It's topped off by a host of cosmetic unlockables, as well as the ability to import your own music so you can listen to Drake instead of the hundredth round of "Fly, Gundam." (Admittedly, I'd probably take the Gundam music.)
It all makes for one giant throwback to the days when arcade ports still mattered, and a "story" meant chewing through individual fights against the A.I.. Even the graphics are straight out of the PlayStation 3, as Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On is basically the final evolution of a game that was initially released all the way back in 2010. The units themselves still look pretty good, but those arenas really haven't aged well.
In that respect, Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On is a curiosity in this day and age. There are no seasonal updates or Battle Passes, nor any cosmetics to purchase. All of the unlockables are there on the proverbial disc?—Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On is digital-only?—and available via in-game currency. It's a very straightforward arcade experience, one that's apt to elicit cheers from series fans like myself, and raised eyebrows from everyone else.
Its greatest strength remains the core of its multiplayer, which manages to infuse the tactical intensity of Street Fighter with pure nostalgia for Gundam. It brings me to those nights jostling for space in crowded Japanese arcades, hoping to grab a turn with a human partner and show everyone that I knew what I was doing. I wouldn't say that Gundam Vs. made me a fan, but long evenings spent battling chainsmoking office workers with the Deathscythe Hell certainly helped. It's certainly good to be back.
Gundam Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost On brings the venerable arcade series to PlayStation 4 with a huge roster mobile suits, an expanded single-player component, and plenty of cosmetic unlockables. It feels like an odd anachronism in this day and age, but its strengths as a multiplayer game are real, even if it suffers a bit from its poor camera. If you like Gundam even a little bit, you owe it to yourself to at least give this game a shot.