- Original Platform: Super Famicom
- Developer: Natsume
- Publisher: Bandai
- Release Date: March, 1996
Back in the mid 90’s, before the advent of internet, anime was quite an exotic thing to behold on local television. Shows such as Dragonball, Sailormoon, and Pokémon helped bring Japanese culture into the mainstream, with their stylish presentation in combination with their more violent subject matter, offered something unique compared to American contemporary cartoons. At initial viewing they may have seemed strange, unusual, or outright stupid, but to impressionable kids, there contained an alluring power that made them addicting to watch.
Gundam Wing was another localized anime series that showed up in the later years, much more mature than most animated shows seen at the time. It had political intrigue, an overarching story line with multiple sub-plots, a futuristic setting that involved space colonization, and a cast of characters that resembled a boy band, who pilot giant cool robots that blow stuff up. It may not have been as popular as the aforementioned shows, but it did gain quite the following – ironically more so than in Japan, despite its oddball programming schedule, and limited advertising.
The story line may be a bit convoluted, and some of the characters – especially the female ones – may not be as dimensional compared to other shows, but still to this day Gundam Wing remains enjoyable to watch. It’s animation is top notch, paired with well choreographed action, which really, is all that matters where large fighting robots are concerned.
Following the show’s broadcast in 1996, Bandai released a video game exclusively in Japan on the Super Famicom based on the characters and setting. A fighting game inspired heavily by popular arcade games, including the Street Fighter franchise by Capcom.
Just like in typical fighting games, two characters fight against each other in a small environment – or stage – until one is defeated. Each character has their own distinct play style with unique special moves, executed with quarter or half circle motions on the control pad, followed with a punch or kick button. Unlike most fighters however, special moves have somewhat limited use, as characters have an energy gauge beneath their life meter, which depletes, based on the type of move executed. This forces players to mix up their attack strategy during a match, while discouraging overuse of the more powerful moves over and over, ad nauseam. However, it is pretty easy to replenish energy, either by successfully blocking, or successfully inflicting damage with an attack – including special moves, which refunds a portion of energy used to execute it.
Characters can also super jump, air dash, or even hover. While airborne they can perform the majority of their moves like they would on the ground, while certain characters have exclusive moves that can only be performed in the air. All levels in the game have been designed to be vertically expansive, to allow battles to seamlessly shift from the ground to the air, or vice versa. It really adds another fun dynamic to gameplay, while giving a sense of depth to the level design.
Relena Darlian – The main female protagonist. Hopelessly infatuated with Heero Yuy, who she questionably remains devoted to, despite his cruel behavior towards her, including attempts made on her life. She is the very definition of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. She appears in the opening credits of the game, but is not a playable character.
Heero Yuy – The main protagonist. Dark, brooding, condescending, and cynical, made all the more irresistible to women with his feminine features and stylish hair. Unfortunately, his personality changes little through out the series, lacking redeemable qualities to make him likable in any way. He pilots both Wing and Wing Zero, which play like Ryu and Akuma respectively.
Duo Maxwell – The most flamboyant of the Gundam pilots, usually the one making wise cracks in bad situations. His Gundam is arguably the coolest, named DeathScythe, a mech that wields a giant scythe made of energy. In terms of play style he is very similar to Ken, including a shoryuken type move that can hit multiple times when it fully connects.
Zechs Merquise – The Anti-hero counterpart to Heero. He is at constant odds with himself as he masquerades under a false identity, unable to resist his thirst for battle, which opposes the philanthropic ways of his family’s creed. The elegantly named Talgese are for players who like the technical character. Like Zangief, the majority of his moves have horrible reach, but they can do tremendous damage when connected.
Quatre Raberba Winner – The pacifist archetype. He reluctantly fights as a Gundam pilot, weary of the suffering war inflicts on humanity. He pilots the Sandrock, the shotel wielding Gundam that specializes in hit and run tactics.
Trowa Barton – Quiet and introverted, sharing similar qualities to Heero, but with less sociopathic tendencies. He pilots Heavy Arms, a Gundam armed to the teeth with ballistic weaponry. He is very deadly at long range, able to obliterate opponents before they get the chance to close in and attack.
Chang Wufei – The most morally neutral character out of the Gundam pilots. Essentially the Samurai archetype, who’s motivated by honor and duty. His Gundam is the Shenlong, a name based on a spiritual dragon from Chinese mythology. He excels at medium range, able to unleash barrages of quick strikes with his glaive, while keeping distance from the enemy. He also has a ranged grapple move that is difficult to connect, but potentially can do massive damage.
Lucrezia Noin – Probably the most realized female character in the series, who possesses actual dimension to her personality. She honorably serves under Zechs Merquise as a loyal soldier, but her actions suggest that her admiration and respect may be more than just professional. She pilots the Mercurius, a defensive type mech that creates barriers and shields that damage opponents within close range.
Lady Une – She serves the OZ organization – a sub faction of the United Earth Military, that specializes in Covert Operations. She pilots the deadly Vayeate, a range type character that excels at controlling space on the battlefield. With multiple range attacks that can be fired at different trajectories, both in air and on the ground, she can be severely punishing to over aggressive players.
The single player is pretty bare bones, with a story mode, and a trial mode. Both modes are practically similar, as you fight through the entirety of the game’s cast with a progressively more aggressive computer opponent. The only difference between them is that story mode eventually ends with an uninspired cut-scene, were trial mode keeps going endlessly until you die. Unsurprisingly, the 2 player versus mode is where owners will get the most mileage.
Despite the somewhat lack of content, however, the actual gameplay does have a lot to offer. The fighting mechanics are quite robust and refined, having implemented a lot of features from fighting games that came before it. Aside from unique special moves, characters can do combos, enhanced special moves, supers, throws, cancels, as well as the already mentioned air combat. Fighting enthusiasts will find a lot to like, while casual players with any experience will still be able to pick up and play.
Having been developed natively on the console, the game doesn’t suffer from the technical shortcomings or omitted features like most arcade ports. It runs quite optimally on the console’s hardware, with very solid framerates, and tight responsive controls.
The game’s visuals have also aged very well. They may not be artistically unique in any way, but the anime style still remains attractive, with large animated sprites and detailed backgrounds, all rendered in vibrant colours. It’s obvious there was great care taken to capture the look and feel of the show, and in that regard, the developers nailed it perfectly.
The music also boasts high production values, with memorable rock, synth and trance songs, which synchronize perfectly with its intense gameplay. Every track has a distinct feel, with elaborate compositions that sound rich and energetic. It also includes a faithful rendition of the show’s second opening title theme, Rhythm Emotion. It’s as good as 16-bit music can get, and you will likely find yourself humming its beats long after you’ve stopped playing.
Overall Gundam Wing: Endless Duel is an excellent package that fighting game enthusiasts and anime fans will enjoy. It’s somewhat of a tragedy that it never saw the light of day outside of Japan, especially considering how popular the show managed to become in North America. It’s another lost gem. Arguably one of the best fighters released on a 16-bit console. If any retro game collector happens to stumble upon an original Japanese copy or even a reproduction cart, they will not regret including it as a part of their collection.