Based on the popular mecha anime franchise, SD Gundam Dimension War is a turn-based strategy game where you are place in command of a small task force as you travel across the galaxy aiming to wipe out the opposing units you encounter. Gameplay is split in to two parts - a map screen where you manoeuvre your troops and a close up view for battles.
Both sides mainly consist of the Mobile-Suit fighters but also feature a couple of ships too. You start in the lower half of the battlefield and your opponent starts in the top half. As the “SD” in the game title suggests, the characters are drawn in the 'Super Deformed' style, giving the powerful war machines an amusingly cute and squat design. Though they're well designed your troops look very similar even though you gain new types as you progress; luckily the enemy forces are more varied bunch. The orientation of the troops and ships of both sides never change (yours face up, theirs down) and whilst this helps you to tell them apart, it does look a bit strange when you sneak up behind the enemy as you appear to be reversing in to them.
You don’t have to destroy every enemy unit to win a battle. To start off with you can win by taking out their battle cruisers, but starting with the third level there is also a heavily armoured foe that you are required to defeat in order to proceed.
On the map everything has a quite simple design and the 3D is only used to show troops, ships and the many asteroids (these act as a hiding place or obstacle) floating at different heights. Though always taking place in space, the battles do provide a variety of backdrops so you may see a planet in the distance on one level and then a distant armada in the next.
Music in the game is a mixed bag. One stage has a quite chilled out track that plays, another a rather good mysterious sounding piece. The upbeat music that plays between stages as your forces advance through the galaxy is also catchy but other stages feature repetitive and whiny music that quickly gets irritating. Sound effects are very basic - comprising mainly of simple popping and scratching noises - but they work quite well regardless.
The controls are straightforward; you simply click on one of your units and then choose one of the available options. You have two options relating to movement: ‘Ambush’ makes the troop/ship stay where it is whilst picking ‘Move’ allows you to plot a course. You can only move a few spaces at a time in any of the four expected directions as well as adjusting your altitude up and down which can come in handy for working your way around obstacles.
When you are in range of enemies your two combat options become available. ‘Indirect’ allows you to fire on your opponent from safe distance and ‘Attack’ allows you to get in close to cause more damage – but also face a beating yourself.
Mobile Suit combat is comprised of two parts. To begin with you and your opponent fly towards each other in a cool animated sequence which makes good use of the Virtual Boy's 3D display, although the stars that fly into the screen are very distracting. You can fire at your approaching foe though they don’t seem particularly bothered with firing back. Once you meet the main battle begins.
The action is viewed side on with the left d-pad controlling movement and the right used for attacks: there are three projectile attacks (of varying speed and power) and a sword attack for when you get in close. Though the characters have very little animation the fights still look quite good due to the 3D effect. Taking place on three plains (switched between by using L and R) you both swoop further away and closer to the screen firing away at each other. However firing at each other is actually quite pointless: your foe easily avoids your blasts and you can easily step out of the way of theirs, so really you are just flying around looking for an opportunity to use your sword.
Aside from larger energy meters as you progress there is no increase in the challenge posed by enemies in the game. The must defeat one-off characters have more weaponry and some battles feature small floating objects that fire at you but most of the other fights are indentical.
Combat situations that involve enemy cruisers are different. Send a Mobile-Suit against a cruiser and you hurtle towards each other just like before - though here it lasts longer and there is no second part to the fight. Unlike the single troops the cruisers are more willing to fire back and you can end up taking a lot of damage or even be destroyed. Consequently it’s far more sensible to set cruiser against cruiser rather than risk your Mobile Suits. Sadly you can’t control the ships, even if you select ‘attack’. Also the auto pilot option is rubbish, only managing to get in as many shots as if you’d done a indirect attack, meaning you might as well stick to that as at least then you avoid damage to your own ship.
Playing the game can be time-consuming as you plan on where to send your troops but thankfully there are three save files on the cartridge so you can come back to a game later. There are however only 8 levels so it can be cleared in just a few sessions. It would take longer if the difficulty increased as you played but it doesn’t. Enemy tactics do change in the later levels as lower-ranking foes will protect the others but this just means you have to take them out first.
Whilst this does mean you may lose a few of your own troops along the way you never seem in danger of losing the battle especially with the remedial behaviour of your opponent’s battle cruisers. Faced with your troops on multiple sides their dilemma should be deciding if they retreat or to try and take out some of your forces; instead they just sit there and do nothing allowing you to launch attack after attack whilst they opt to skip their go each time, hoping you’ll get bored and leave them alone.
There are a couple of issues with the graphics in this game - such as the limited animation and lack of variety of your troops - but the characters are well designed and there is some good use of 3D. However, presentation is the key issue here. Combat can be fun but quickly gets repetitive whilst not giving you control of your valuable capital ships is very strange. Combine all this with just 8 levels - all of which can be beaten with ease - and SD Gundam Dimension War is really not worth bothering with, even for hardcore fans of the popular Gundam universe.