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Picture it: You’re in the middle of the Civil War. The Union Navy has just rolled out the USS Monitor, an ironclad battleship, to face off against… a Nazi U-boat?! That’s the basic premise of SD Gundam Battle Alliance, but replace boring real-world history with the byzantine mythology of the entire Mobile Suit Gundam brand—dozens of TV shows, movies, video games, manga, novels, and stage plays. (I’m just assuming there are Gundam plays, and if there aren’t, there should be.) [Editor’s somewhat shocked note: There are absolutely Gundam stage plays, for some reason.]
Frankly, the premise might even be too clever for the game it’s tied to, which is a relatively straightforward (if competent and pleasantly satisfying) action game. But after putting a few hours into SD Gundam Battle Alliance, it’s that narrative hook that makes me—an unabashed Gundam nerd with maybe a dozen model kits within reach at this moment—want to play more. The game is broken up into chapters, with each chapter having a few levels based on a big moment from a Gundam thing (for example—assuming this means anything to you—the Gouf battle from The 08th MS Team), but with at least one big historical inaccuracy that is tied to a different level in that chapter (like a villain from a completely different Gundam show that takes place in a different universe joining the battle).
These are called “Break Missions,” and once you finish those, it frees whatever inaccurate thing was stuck there and sends it to what’s called a “True Mission.” In those, you play through the same events in the way they’re supposed to happen, which adds an extra challenge or a new gameplay quirk. In one Break Mission, an escaping ship is destroyed by a bad guy that isn’t supposed to be there, kicking off a boss fight, but in the True Mission, you have to defend the ship to make sure it successfully escapes like it did in the anime that the level is based on.
It’s a fantastically neat gimmick to hang the game on, especially for a franchise with as many interconnected (and not interconnected!) characters and storylines as Gundam. It feels like playing through a history textbook, fighting off any incorrect facts so you can pass a test… but in a cool way, because it has Gundams. I also love the fact that, for a game that’s partially about collecting robots and making them fight, it’s distinctly reverential toward Gundam storylines and characters—a nice change of pace from the annoyingly consumerist leanings of most Gundam tie-ins.
The problem here is that I’m not entirely sure if there’d be any appeal whatsoever for someone who isn’t at least vaguely aware of a majority of the various Gundam properties involved in the game. (Gundam has one canonical main timeline, which consists of tons of stories, as well as alternate universes that use the events and aesthetics of that main timeline to tell different kinds of stories. You can read more about it here.) If you don’t know who Mikazuki Augus, Allelujah Haptism, or Milliardo Peacecraft are even in their regular stories and timelines, why would you care if they suddenly showed up in a different place, doing a different thing?
I guess the answer is that you’d ideally be motivated to go seek out Iron-Blooded Orphans, Gundam 00, and Gundam Wing so you can learn about those characters beyond the little primer videos that Battle Alliance offers, but if the fact that it has Gundams in it didn’t already convince you to watch Gundam Wing, I don’t know if this will do it. If it does, though? Great! Gundam rules, more people should watch Gundam, and—from what I’ve played—Battle Alliance is a neat way to run through Gundam history.