Friday, September 08, 2006

a valentine for Astro Boy

I bought Astro Boy: The Omega Factor a long time ago. One of my first GBA titles, Freddy's clearance rack. I knew nothing about it. I didn't know about its ecstatic reviews. I didn't know it'd been made by the guys who made Contra, I didn't know that those guys were deified by the sort of game-players who write longwinded appreciations of video games on the internet. Alls I knew was I liked Astro Boy(1), and I figured the charm of the license would help me through a potentially mediocre game.(2)

I can't say my play experiences have been as shattering as half the internet's. I can say that the game is as engaging as the source manga, and thoroughly faithful to the license.(3) It's a great time, playing this game. A very videogamy great time. When the play mechanics change--say a stage is a side-scrolling flying shooter, or there's a level that's a pure platformer(4)--it doesn't feel like there's a story, with a character, who's just been put into a new situation. It feels like there's been a change in play mechanic, for you to play with. Play, as in fun.

Boss battles offer a similarly classical feel, with a two-part experience. First, you scramble around, trying to stay alive while you figure out the boss' pattern. Second, if you're as lame as me, there's a seriously lengthy period of struggling to execute against that pattern. Challenging and a heck of a lot of fun. I can't imagine it's like anything other than playing a video game.(5)

Even if playing the game wasn't a high-fun endeavor, I think I would've gotten $25 worth of enjoyment just out of the graphics. Falling into stage 1-1, you see a gorgeous cityscape. 10 minutes later, you get a lovely sky-and-cloud stage, and besides the backgrounds, almost all the bosses look great. The colors are incredibly appealing throughout. They add a wonderful feel to the b&w Tezuka style, which is reproduced both well and beautifully. Just pure eye candy, on a platform that's not really supposed to be able to pull that off.

Also appreciated is the game's optimization for portable play. All but one or two of the stages feel like full-fledged challenges, real chunks of both story and play. Which is surprising, since they're all well under five minutes long.

It's not all good, mind. There's a lot of slowdown, and the you-just-died music is intensely annoying. A sort of mocking death-spiral, it made me want to punt my DS more than a few times. You're beating me over and over again, Treasure, do you have to be dicks about it? You will hear this death music a bunch, too: this game is hard.

Astro Boy redefines nothing. It breaks no ground, and it won't make you think. Nevertheless, the game is a triumph. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, with polish and precision. I like video games. That's why I like this one.


(1)At last count, I had 11 of those Dark Horse reprints. The Astro-repudiates-humanity arcs DDT mentioned earlier to-day are "Blue Knight" and "the Melanin Tribe" in 19 and 20, respectively. The cover of 20 features the shirtless, childish Astro struggling against thick metal chains. A couple summers ago, I was reading this issue on a flight to Oakland. Looked up to see some woman frowning at me. After a minute of confusion, I realized that, as far as she knew, I was reading some delicious Japanese child bondage porn. What the fuck do you say in this situation? "It's okay, he's a robot"? "Robots were built to help humans"? "Mind your own fucking business"?
(2)This works for half of a game, anyway. I'll never finish Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt or Robotech: Battlecry, but the license kept me going far longer than the mediocre games alone would've.
(3)I love the premise of the game: Astro has to meet people so that he can learn from and about them, to become more human. Lovely sentiment, for a game where you mostly shoot and punch things. All the people you meet get categorized on a matrix with two axes. These axes run between (a) justice and evil and (b) tender and brave. It's this good-natured element that I love about Tezuka, and Treasure nails it here.
(4)A tex from DDT:

How the fuck, in Mu, do you get past the rolling discs?

Answer: with prolonged, aggressive boosting. The game calls it "dashing", but that's crap.
(5)Both the gameplay and boss battle feels are similar in the more recent Drill Dozer. That title has a more standardized level design, though, with a very clear enemy-stage/platform-stage/boss-stage form throughout. One major difference is that Astro Boy has a surfeit of moves and techniques, whereas Jill's Drill Dozer has two: jumping and drilling. I vaguely remember a guy on Kotaku claiming you could beat Astro Boy using only the kick-attack. I know you can beat it without ever using the EX Dash, because I did. (Forgot it existed.) Drill Dozer, though, has many platforming sections where there is only one solution to get from point A to point B. Both games offer a different brilliant solution to one problem: how to give super-good gameplay.

0 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Post a Comment

<< Home