Like all licensed products, Japanese anime has something a spotty record when it comes to video games. The style fits perfectly, but there’s always something keeping the product from being as interesting as the television show or movie it’s based on. Fans of importing will remember the horror of the Dragon Ball Z or Ghost in the Shell titles, and I’ll never understand why they decided to turn Akira into a video pinball game. But even though there have been misfires in the past, Sega’s newest anime-inspired shooter, Astro Boy, should be enough to help you forget about that God-awful Cowboy Beebop game.
Based on the Osamu Tezuka’s 1951 creation, Astro Boy is a brand new adventure that builds upon everything you love about the 2D arcade era. It’s an action game that plays out like an homage to classic Capcom titles like Mega Man, Strider, and Ghosts ‘N Goblins; yet, in a lot of ways Astro Boy feels fresh and brand new. This is one of the few GameBoy Advance games that doesn’t feel like a retread of something you’ve already played, it’s more like a museum of everything you love about the 2D action genre.
But not all 2D side-scrollers have withstood the test of time. Some were just too simple, others, like the Mega Man series, ran out of ideas and could never adequately upgrade the theme. In the first few minutes of Astro Boy it’s easy to see how the developers could have slacked off and turned it into nothing more than an anime-licensed Mega Man rip-off. But Astro Boy is much more than a Rockman-in-disguise; it’s actually one of the best action games to hit the screens in a long time.
Still, there is more than a passing resemblance to Capcom’s overworked blue robot. Like Mega Man, Astro Boy is unable to duck to avoid oncoming fire. He’s also unable to shoot straight up, and in diagonal directions. Although he was built for action, Astro is not the most resourceful robot to grace the screens. To compensate for the lack of maneuverability the programmers have given Astro a number of cool little Street Fighter-esque moves. Not only can he kick and punch, but he’s fully equipped with a finger cannon, butt gun, and other weapons that are a lot more effective than they sound.
At first the simplicity seems shallow, but as you fight through the seven worlds (with an eighth world as a bonus) you’ll grow to understand how each of these attacks has a time and a place. Furthermore, thanks to a strange, but effective RPG-style leveling up system you will be able to upgrade your weapons throughout the game. Not only will you be able to fiddle with your weaponry, but also your speed, flying ability, and more. It’s not an element that’s technically new, but it’s rarely seen in arcade-style action games like Astro Boy.
You’re ultimate goal in Astro Boy is to collect the various characters, all 46 of them. You do this by completing tasks or finding them in secret areas of the levels. About half of them are out in the open, but it will take you quite a long time to sniff out every last characters, especially towards the end. Collecting them all will not only help you turn Astro Boy into an unstoppable fighting machine, but with reveal the mysteries of story, as well. You could beat the entire game without worrying about this collection, but you will never see everything the game has to offer and cheat yourself out of one of the most rewarding experiences on a handheld.
If there’s one thing you should expect from a Treasure game, it’s a huge amount of strange boss battles. And Astro Boy doesn’t disappoint, it has literally dozens of bosses in all shapes and sizes, each with their own attacks and patters. In some parts of the game the bosses outnumber the regular bad guys, yet you never feel overwhelmed or frustrated. These bosses never quite hit the highs set in Gunstar Heroes, but they definitely shine with creativity. You never know what you’ll see next, and you can’t wait to find out.
Astro Boy isn’t especially short, either. A dedicated gamer probably won’t have much trouble blasting through all eight worlds in a couple days, but there’s quite a bit to do and see in each of the areas. It’s the kind of game that demands more than one time through, it even allows you to jump to any level you want to so you can pick up all of the things you might have missed the first time through.
The game looks stunning, full of busy backgrounds and large characters. There aren’t a lot of enemies, but those that do show up tend to come in all colors and sizes. It’s common to be fighting one sized character on one side, only to have to contend with much larger versions of those characters on the other side. It would have been nice to see more variety in the enemies, but when they are darting at your one after another, you don’t have much time to complain about the small details.
We’ve all seen great looking GameBoy Advance games, but most are dogged down by the fact that we’ve seen them and have already been wowed by their graphics on other systems, like the Super NES. Astro Boy is different, it’s the type of game where you never know what will come next, and you can’t wait to find out. The visuals aren’t just interesting; they are filled with small details and plenty of moving parts. It’s clear that there was a lot of attention given to making the levels look just right, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Gamers who grew up playing 3D action games may not see the pure genius that radiates in Astro Boy; but those old enough to remember U.N. Squadron, Midnight Resistance, and other mindless, but completely addictive, arcade shooters will have no problem falling in love with this cute little robot kid. What we have here is the first great GameBoy Advance game of 2004, a game every 2D fan should own.
Astro Boy exceeded my expectations in every possible sense; giving me optimism for the future. This is what Mega Man should be, an imaginative, engrossing, surprising adventure chock full of bosses and lots of secrets to uncover. If Sega is able to make the sequels bigger and better, we may have one great franchise on our hands. But until those days come, we should just be happy that we have one great game on our hands.
More On:Astro Boy
For some reason that I havenâ€™t been able to figure out yet, Sega and Treasure have given us an Astro Boy game far better than we deserve. If you need an action game that isnâ€™t a port or remake, this should be on the top of your list.