Sadly, I’m old enough to have played more than my fair share of absolutely terrible video games, from dodgy movie tie-ins to shareware abominations that were never meant for mass consumption. Some of these I played because I enjoyed the source material — you’ll never convince me that my time with Darkman or Robocop 2 on the NES was completely and utterly wasted — while others simply satisfied my morbid curiosity. I haven’t encountered anything like the NES version of Total Recall since my childhood (Deadly Premonition doesn’t count), but then I had the misfortune of playing Bandai Namco’s New Gundam Breaker, one of the most busted and broken titles I’ve played in decades. It’s the type of product that makes you hang your head and sigh at the state of our current “patch culture,” where games can ship broken as long as the developers devote time and effort to fixing the product post-release.
Full disclosure: I haven’t played any of the previous Gundam titles, and if New Breaker is any indication of the franchise as a whole, I don’t plan to delve any deeper. Granted, I probably shouldn’t judge an entire franchise on one impossibly wonky entry alone, but Bandai Namco isn’t exactly inspiring confidence here. While I’ve gladly sunk several paycheck’s worth of cash into the developer’s other titles, the fact that they let something this unplayable hit retail shelves makes me question the publisher’s judgment. No joke: The game feels like the alpha build of a Steam Early Access game that the developers abandoned halfway through the project. That might sound overly harsh, but once you’ve spent even a few minutes with New Gundam Breaker, you’ll probably get the same impression.
Storywise, players assume the role of a transfer student at a private Gundam-based high school in Japan, an institution teeming with archetypes and light “fanservice.” Long story short: You team up with a few outcasts to take down the evil Student Council, a group of talented Gundam fighters who have essentially taken control of the school. On your first day, you’ll team up with your childhood friend and a former member of the Student Council to square off against a bully and his goons, which soon balloons into a school-wide battle for supremacy. Oh, and if you’re feeling lonely, you can spend some time getting to know a handful of female students and woo them as you see fit. Doing so will grant you a few perks and rewards, but it’s all pretty superficial. Besides, I haven’t gotten used to the idea of stuffing half-baked dating simulations into everything from action games to JRPGs, and New Gundam Breaker didn’t exactly change my opinion on that matter. Besides, in a game about building badass robots, trying to win the affections of girls seems a little ridiculous, to say the least.
When you’re not watching the story unfold in boring visual novel-style cutscenes featuring static images of forgettable, stockpile characters, you’ll spend a fair amount of time building “Gunplas” and battling your fellow classmates on the battlefield. For the uninitiated, Gunpla stands for “Gundam plastic model,” which are model kits centered around the robots from the late 70s Japanese television series Mobile Suit Gundam. They’re similar to model kits for airplanes, trains, or anything that requires assembly, paint, skill, a very steady hand, and meticulous attention to detail. In New Gundam Breaker, you build functional versions of Gunplas (complete with weaponry) and challenge your peers to battles in order to increase your class rank. In theory, it sounds like a ton of fun — who doesn’t want to build small robots, run around a room, and blast other miniature robots and collect the pieces that fall off? Unfortunately, New Breaker fumbles the basics. Big time.
The gameplay fails on a basic level. The controls seem completely unresponsive and sluggish; pressing the attack button sometimes felt pointless, as my Gunpla didn’t pay any attention to my commands. And whenever I smashed the jump button in utter frustration, I’d trigger my robot’s jetpack, causing it to hover momentarily and opening it up to attacks from the enemy Gunplas swarming me. And don’t get me started on the camera, which often seems to have a mind of its own, especially when you’re locked onto an opponent who decides to blast off for the skies. The camera will suddenly tilt way back, giving you a pretty good look at the bottom of your foe’s feet — and not much else. I managed to win these battles thanks to old-fashioned button mashing and a fair amount of luck. Most of the time, I didn’t have a clue who I was fighting or what quests I needed to complete to finish the mission, creating a sense of chaos that permeated the entire experience. It’s amazing that the latest entry in a long-running video game franchise can’t get the core mechanics right. It really boggles the mind.
The visuals, which appear dull, muted, and fuzzy, are easily the worst aspect of New Gundam Breaker. Trying to decipher what, precisely, takes place during skirmishes can make your head spin. Halfway through my playthrough, I honestly gave up trying to make sense of the utter chaos that takes place when you’re battling other Gunplas. Instead of developing a strategy or a play-style, I just kept pressing the attack button and hoping for the best. And while the controls contributed to this madness, the lackluster graphics (which have an alpha-build quality to them) trumped all. This doesn’t look like a PlayStation 4 title — it seems more like a low-budget PlayStation 2 game released during the early days of the console’s release. It’s inexcusably unpolished, and it’s sad that Bandai Namco released such a subpar product on unsuspecting fans of the series. There’s absolutely nothing worse than getting a game in your hands and discovering it’s a complete waste of time and, more importantly, your money, especially when there are tons of other games competing for your hard-earned cash.
If there’s one selling point I can dig out of this trash fire, it’s the ability to make a pretty decent Gunpla using bits and pieces you collect during your frenetic confrontations. Despite the lame graphics, I managed to piece together a fairly competent machine that laid waste to a host of ill-fated Gunplas during my time with the game. Although I didn’t put a lot of effort into creating my weapon of mass destruction, dedicated players can add all sorts of cosmetics to their Gunpla, allowing them to make something wholly unique. I’m not sure how this system compares to other games in the series — I’ve read that it’s not so hot — I’ll admit that messing around with my Gunpla felt satisfying. It’s a small glimmer of positivity in an otherwise negative experience. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
As it stands, New Gundam Breaker is broken. The game feels unfinished, and it’s crippled by a busted battle system, a pointless visual novel, and a dating sim that feels completely out-of-place and dated. I love a good cheesy visual novel as much as the next person, but stuffing goofy, poorly written romance into a video game about small robots fighting other small robots seems misguided and downright silly. Thankfully, Bandai Namco has laid out a game plan to fix a lot of New Breaker’s problems over the next few months, but honestly, Gundam fails on a fundamental level that the developers can’t fix. You can hammer out the bugs, tweak the battle system, and enhance the graphics all you want, but at the end of the day, the latest installment of this long-running series just isn’t any fun to play.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, and was played on a PlayStation 4 Pro. A review copy was provided by Bandai Namco.
New Gundam Breaker feels unfinished. The combat system doesn't work, the visual novel is stale and uninspired, and the dating sim doesn't fit. In short: It's a pretty terrible game.