Innovated But Inconvenient
Boktai, while being the first game to use solar power, can be difficult to play because the player has to use extra effort. While physically playing this game can be a pain, the game play is above average. The same man who created the popular Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima, created this game and he uses many of the same game play elements in Boktai.
The player takes control of a boy named Django who is the son of an undead vampire hunter. Django’s father was killed in action and only his son can finish the job because only he can wield the Gun Del Sol. This special gun harnesses the sun’s power. It’s up to Django to rid the world of undead creatures and vampires.
The game takes place in an overhead isometric view but the uniqueness lies in solar power. The GBA cartridge itself is slightly bigger than your normal GBA cart. On the backside of the cart is a small black chip. This is the solar sensor. When natural sunlight (florescent light will not work) hits the sensor, a meter on the bottom right of the screen will fill up according to how powerful the sun’s rays are. The sun is used as ammo for your solar gun. When your ammo gets low, the player can recharge it by standing out in the sun light. Sunlight is always available outside as long as the sun sensor is picking up rays. However, when inside caves or dungeons, sunlight can peek through cracks in the ceiling. These skylights will be used to power up your gun while inside closed quarters.
Not only does sunlight influence how you shoot your gun, it also affects game play. For example, if the sun is strong enough, puddles will evaporate so footsteps cannot be heard. Also, the more sunlight available, the slower enemies will walk. The skylights can also be used to harm enemies by luring them to walk into it. Even though sunlight is your friend for most of the game, there are times when it is best to play in shadow. Only some enemies can be seen from the darkness. The game even has a real time clock. There is a difference in background color and setting when the time changes from night into day. Before entering an enemy infested dungeon, the game tells you the current time and how much longer the sun will be out. Plus, before you start your adventure, you must select a popular city in which you live close to. The sun senor will make adjustments according on the city that is selected. For example, there is going to be a difference in the amount of sun Hawaii sees as compared to the raining environment of Seattle.
Because this game is made by the same man who made Metal Gear, many of the same gameplay elements were included. Besides from seeing the “!” and “Zzz” above enemy’s heads, the only way to survive in this game is to employ stealth tactics. Hiding instead of fighting is strongly encouraged, especially if there is little or no sun available. The player can flatten himself against a wall to travel silently. Once against the wall, the player can knock to create a noise to distract enemies. Fighting enemies should be used as a last resort. Taking control of the camera is important was well. When the “R” button is held down, the camera will pan in the desired direction. It is best to survey the surrounding area and plan a coarse of action.
Django is equipped with the Gun Del Sol, but many upgrades can be found. Different lenses, batteries, and frames can be equipped in any combination to create the best gun for each given situation. For example, the flame lens should be used when traveling through the ice cavern. Each lens can be powered up over time to make it stronger. Different types of shots are also available. These frames can allow the gun to shoot bullets, create a shield type barrier, shoot rapid fire, or even swing a sword type blade. There are many different types and each one will be used best in a given situation.
Levels are linked together by a map. The map can be accessed through the menu screen. It is important to check the map often to see if any areas were overlooked. A map will automatically be drawn when each room is entered in a dungeon. Dungeons can be several floors high so your map will be your best friend.
Hitching along for the ride to help Django is a sunflower who is a messenger from the sun. This character is to Django as Navi was to Link in the first Zelda for N64. The sunflower, Otenko, will help by surrendering clues and directions throughout the adventure. Within time, the player will encounter the solar tree. It is also Django’s mission to revive this dying tree. As the game progresses, the tree will sprout new branches, leaves, and roots. In the roots, items can be planted and harvested. This can be thought of as a mini game. Planting items in different combinations will create new and exotic items. However, to sprout items, sunlight will be needed. The stronger the sunlight, the faster they will grow.
The graphics and sound are well done for a GBA game. Since the game is isometric, it is easy to see the 3D platforms of each level due to shading. The player will always be able to tell where a ledge is or if a platform is higher up then another. However, since the screen is on an angle, moving in one direction can be confusing. For example, if you press “up” on the D-pad, your character will move up and to the right. Luckily, the game has an option to change the control to your preference (Up will move the character Up).
The sound is your typical sneaking around music but it fits the mood of the game. Many sound effects are present as well. Depending on the surface you are walking on, a new sound will play. One surprising aspect of this game is the use of voice. Characters speak often, and with shocking clarity. Even without headphones, the voices are very well done. Instead of the enemy zombies moaning like in Resident Evil, they squeak like mice. This may sound strange, but it fits the emotion of the game.
Despite being a very unique game, I still have some problems with Boktai. My first problem deals with the sun issue. The bottom line is if you don’t play in the sun, you will probably get slaughtered. Needless to say, this game needs to be played in the outside. As one may suspect, working with the sun can be a pain. I first played this game using the silver colored GBA SP. This is a mistake. The glare is so bright you won’t be able to see the screen. It is tolerable for a few minutes, but a headache will soon kick in. I decided that my silver SP wasn’t the best idea, so I switched to my clear blue original GBA. Although this worked better, I still received an unwelcomed glare off the screen. Plus my own shadow was getting in the way. Third party GBA peripherals such as the Light Shield (by Pelican) cannot be used because it will block the solar sensor.
After finding a position where I could see the screen and have sunlight hit the sensor, a cramp soon set in my neck due to my uncomfortable position. After playing under a blinding sun, a headache inducing light, and dealing with a massive cramp in my neck, I was soon attacked by a pack of killer bees and butterflies. After nearly getting stung, my patience was nonexistent. Giving up, I went inside to play lying down in my air-conditioned house. I opened the curtains, welcomed the soft pillow under my creaking neck, and turned on my front-lit GBA SP screen. Lying by the window seemed like a good idea, but I didn’t pick up any sunlight. I quickly died because I ran out of ammo and couldn’t defend myself. Angry, I turned it off and walked away.
Within time, I had a chance to cool off. I decided to play the game again, but this time, I popped it in my GameBoy Player. I figured out that sunlight was not completely necessary, but it will make the game a lot easier. The only part in this game when sunlight is absolutely necessary is when fighting a boss battle. There are two parts to each boss battle. First, you must venture through the dungeon and defeat the boss. After defeating the boss, a coffin must be dragged out of the dungeon to a special spot outside in the open sunlight. This special spot is called the Pile Driver. Inside the coffin are the remains of the boss. When the coffin is dragged to the Pile Driver, sunlight is needed to start the machine. This is the only time when sunlight is needed. The Pile Driver is used to finish off the boss completely.
Sure, sunlight charges your gun, so it is needed in that way, but there are other ways to charge up the Gun Del Sol. Solar nuts can be used or you can find firefly type creatures that restore your power. These items are in limited quantity and should only be used when desperate. Spread throughout the land are Solar Banks. Here, solar energy can be deposited and interest can be gained. Hence the name, Solar Bank. These Solar Banks can be used by both of the game’s save files. Since the game has two save slots, you and a friend can play this game and share stored up solar power. It is good to see developers trading and sharing something between save slots and not just through another game cartridge through link cable.
Besides from the problem of working with the sun, I found many of the puzzles to be very difficult and just plain stupid. Most of them don’t even make sense. For example, early in the game the player has to enter a number according to the bushes outside. No other clues are given. Since these bushes are in the shape of gigantic blobs with absolutely no pattern at all, I have no idea what the puzzle is asking for. Many of the games puzzles don’t give you many clues and are very difficult to understand. Most will be answered by inputting random numbers.
Another aspect of the puzzle solving that I didn’t like was the repetitive use of blocks. Many blocks will be constantly used throughout the quest. Besides repetitive block pushing, math equations must be solved. That’s right, math. Who wants to make a math equation, then solve it to open a door? Let me tell you – nobody. Kids mostly play games to escape the pressures of school topics. Not only is Hideo Kojima subliminally telling people to go outside and enjoy the sun by putting a solar sensor in this game, but is he also suggesting that our math skills need to be improved on? Many puzzles involve algebra and some younger kids will not be able to solve them because they have not gotten that far in math class yet. I’d say that kids in fifth grade and below will have some difficultly solving these math problems.
The game does offer replay value in two to four player death match modes. Each player will need his or her own game pak to play though. There are several modes to choose from. Two people can also swap items through link cable. This is a nice welcomed addition to this fine one player game and it gives off a fair amount of replay value.
Even though this game has some major set backs in the puzzle solving department, I cannot give this game enough credit for being the first to of its kind. Programming a game that works in conjunction with the sun deserves an award for being most innovated. Inside the game instruction book, a coupon for Langers juice can be found. This is also the first time I’ve seen a coupon in an instruction book. Because this game works with the sun, this is the greatest flaw and well as its strength. Players will get frustrated from playing under a glaring sun for a number of reasons. When the game first boots up, a warning message appears that tells not to play under sunlight for too long. This is the game’s kind way of telling you to avoid sunburn. Your gun will even over heat if you play under a strong sunlight for too long. If you can ignore the physical problems that occur while playing this game, you will be treated to a unique adventure. If you want to experience a new way to game or want Metal Gear type action on your GBA, then I encourage a purchase of this game. Just be warned that this game has a retail price of $35.00. This is five dollars over the usual price because of the solar chip. However, if you are a vampire yourself and don’t like to work by sunlight, then you may want to look elsewhere.