Gundam is a long-lived franchise. Having begun in 1979, it has become synonymous with giant mech combat and features a wide array of storylines that have captured fans throughout the decades across a variety of media. SD Gundam Battle Alliance aims to capture the best of it all in a light action-RPG setting that has players jumping between timelines to right anomalies and set the correct canon of various series in accurate order. However, while SD Gundam Battle Alliance features a ton of mecha to play and famous moments from throughout the franchise, the grind, spikes in difficulty, and a few other flaws might leave fans looking elsewhere for a nostalgia trip.
A Gundam historian’s nightmare
SD Gundam Battle Alliance follows a certain spinoff formula in the Gundam franchise where iconic mobile suits are “super deformed” (SD) to be made cute. However, you’re not going to find a lighthearted kids show here as some SD Gundam series have been. The mobile suits are cute, but Battle Alliance plays it straight beyond the aesthetic, which I’m not sure I understand.
The story goes that characters from the Universal Century arc of Gundam find themselves warped through time when rips in the continuity occur. They are enlisted by an AI program known as Sakura Slash, who claims their purpose is to ensure the timelines remain correct. It turns out that anomalies are occurring throughout various Gundam story arcs running all the way from the original Mobile Suit Gundam up to the likes of Iron-Blooded Orphans. For instance, you might see Zechs Merquise from Gundam Wing appear in a conflict in Edmonton from Iron-Blooded Orphans. Just as well, you might see the Apsaras Mobile Armor from 8th MS Team engage in combat with the Archangel battle carrier from Gundam Seed. With the help of the AI, the programmer Juno, and the little robot Haro, players will engage in missions in these broken timelines to set them right.
I think the premise of SD Gundam Battle Alliance is admirable. It’s not often a nostalgia trip through the Gundam franchise features a reasonable narrative beyond seeing what would win between Wing Zero and Gundam Barbatos. Moreover, the game takes players to a wide variety of battlefields and pits them against various “what if” situations as they set things right.
I was also fairly impressed with the looks and sounds of the game. ARTDINK did quite a good job of crafting iconic mobile suits into their SD forms while also giving them a reasonable grime, dirt, and scuff of battle. The battlefields themselves are also quite vast and destructible. Whether fighting in canyons or dense urban sprawls, the levels are pretty, and on more than a few occasions, my battles with enemy mobile suits reduced the surrounding area to complete rubble. All of this is accompanied by iconic pilots from across the franchises which are well-voiced for the most part, as well as solid remixes of memorable music like Gallant Char from the original Gundam, Just Communication from Gundam Wing, the final battle theme from 8th MS Team, and so much more.
I just wonder if this needed to be an SD Gundam game. Nothing about the story, the characters, or even the gameplay really matches the cutesy and lighthearted fun of proper SD Gundam spinoffs. Even so, put that aside and it’s a competent presentation in terms of sound, story, and visuals.
Gundam grind fest
In terms of gameplay, SD Gundam Battle Alliance is fun, but some notable points of contention drag it down a bit. As you engage in missions, you face off against various mobile suits from across the entire Gundam franchise. Completing missions or performing specific tasks in those missions often results in you unlocking one or more new mobile suits for play, as well as pilots to aid you via AI companions (more on that later).
Missions are usually a romp through waves of fodder mobile suits on your way to an objective where the timeline is breaking. At these points, usually a mobile suit or pilot that doesn’t belong in that scene arrives to do battle with you and you must defeat them to clear the mission. Enemies range from other Gundams to iconic Zeon, Earth Federation, OZ, and further affiliation mobile suits and mobile armors. Seeing huge military carriers like White Base and formidable mobile armors like Big Zam in action was nearly always a treat. Defeating a preliminary “Break” mission in which the timeline is going wrong also grants you access to a “True” mission in which you set the timeline right.
Gameplay between the mecha is also quite fun. Every mobile suit is sorted into three categories: Sharpshooter, In-Fighter, or All-Around. Sharpshooters excel at ranged combat, In-Fighters are big on close-range attacks, and All-Around feature balance somewhere in between. Meanwhile, every single mobile suit has a different melee style, ranged attack, two sub weapon/abilities, and a super move. Bringing two other AI-controlled pilots also means you can vary up your squad between long-range and close-up any way you like. The suits are mostly fun to play and have a wide variety capabilities, and you can even invite friends online to take up the partner roles in three-way co-op action on each mission. Missions also have enough variety that bringing a good composition can actually make the difference between success and failure.
This would be all well and good, but SD Gundam Battle Alliance has ARPG mechanics built into its progress and they are grindy. It doesn’t take long before missions start to spike hard in difficulty. To counter that, you must use currency to upgrade your mobile suits’ stats, as well as leveling up your personal pilot and companion pilots. That said, you can only take two pilots with you to level up, and completing a mission gives you about enough currency to pump up one of your collected mobile suits by a few levels. There’s also the fact that sometimes you have to replay levels to unlock certain mobile suits. This game is built from the ground up to make you retread levels multiple times if you’re going to make your roster of available mobile suits and pilots capable enough to survive.
If that wasn’t enough, there are a few other gripes I have about the way SD Gundam Battle Alliance plays. The camera goes between competent to difficult to outright zany on a regular basis. Locking onto targets keeps them in your sight, but sometimes the vertical yaw of the camera doesn’t follow the way it should, making you look at the ground or too far up in the sky until you adjust. And heaven forbid you fight an enemy under a bridge or by other intimate obstacles. The camera will go wild between rapid zoom-ins and zoom-outs trying to figure out what to do. Add this to a mean spike in difficulty when I didn’t grind enough and the fact that you can’t even pause when in single-player mode on a mission and SD Gundam Battle Alliance’s progression began to grate on me past the third series of missions despite wanting to see where the story went and what series of the franchise the game would visit.
A shaky alliance
SD Gundam Battle Alliance has me at odds because there’s a lot of things I like about it and a lot of things I don’t, both as a Gundam fan and just a general player. The mobile suits and pilots are fun to collect and explore. The story and missions are also fairly well-done and I like the look of the super deformed versions of a lot of my favorite mobile suits from across the series. My big miff is that the difficulty spike between series of missions makes repeatedly playing the same scenarios to level up your pilots and mobile suits a near-mandatory chore. I also just don’t think it makes good use of the SD spinoff formula. Mix in some annoying inconveniences in camera and other gameplay design and while SD Gundam Battle Alliance may be fun at first, the luster will likely fade for many after a few hours.
This review is based on a digital PS5 copy supplied by the publisher. SD Gundam Battle Alliance came out on August 24, 2022, and is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance
- Wide variety of SD mobile suits from across the franchise
- Levels are pretty and very destructible
- Solo and multiplayer co-op for up to three
- Decent story to go with nostalgia trip
- Mobile suits play notably different from each other
- A lot of memorable music from the franchise
- Intense grinding throughout the game
- Camera is troublesome
- Misses the lighthearted mood of SD Gundam
- Huge difficulty spikes throughout
- No pausing in single player