Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Boktai –
The sun has been in our hands for 10 years and you can read my original review from this 2003 release HERE.
Console gaming, specifically in the 90’s and earlier 2000’s, could be considered somewhat restricting in comparison to handheld gaming. Before the Wii’s motion control and the 360’s voice commands, console gaming was pretty much limited to a d-pad, an analog stick or two, some face buttons along with some shoulder or trigger buttons. Sure, the Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance where limited in this same sense but there were a few games that really broke the mold and could only be played via a handheld experience.
Back in the Gameboy Color era, Nintendo released Kirby Tilt’n Tumble. This pink cartridge had a built-in gyro sensor that forced players to control Kirby by tilting the GBC hardware in different directions. Motion control like the control found in this motion based Kirby game is something taken for granted in today’s current gaming age. The Vita, 3DS, and even the PS3 controller all use some form of gyro control in their hardware and motion based control will only grow when the PS4 and XBOX One is released. Later, Nintendo not only tied in new types of motion control into their handheld gaming experiences, but they made it the main attraction. Yoshi’s Topsy Turvy and WarioWare Twisted took motion control to a new level.
These motion controlled games just would not have worked with a console controller. Enthusiastic developers, like Nintendo, used the portability factor to an advantage. These risky games rewarded fans with unique experiences that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Outside of the Big N, Konami, specifically the highly detailed team at Kojima Productions, decided to take a risk of their own and explore a game concept that has never been done before – harness the power of the sun to directly influence gameplay. A ballsy move? You bet’cha.
Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind the extraordinary Metal Gear series, developed Boktai: The Sun is in your Hand for the Gameboy Advance. From an isometric point of view, Boktai is essentially the Metal Gear Solid of the GBA. Coming from a line of vampire hunters and the only heir to the Gun Del Sol, a gun capable of capturing the sun’s rays, the player is tasked with ridding the world of the supernatural, specifically bosses that must be bested, captured, and then finally, purified using the power of the Sun.
Boktai’s cartridge contains a solar sensor, a little black chip that directly detects the level of ambient sunlight. The amount of detected sunlight influences gameplay in many ways. The Gun Del Sol is solely powered by natural sunlight as it can contain and release light at will. Standing outside will store power while hitting the attack button will release it. In summary, sunlight is your ammo. If there is no sunlight, gameplay will be much more difficult as the ammo supply will be extremely limited forcing players to play with a higher emphasis on stealth. If you are without sunlight, for example, going in guns blazing will not be an option. Even the environment reacts differently depending on the amount of sunlight available. For example, when the sun is shining brightly puddles can dry up so footsteps cannot be heard or skylights in dungeons can be used as a weapon to lure the undead into harm.
Skilled players could still play through the game with little to no sunlight. Items, like sunlight nuts, could act as a temporary sunlight boost if perhaps it is raining outside or you like to play within the comfort of your air conditioned home. However, sunlight is absolutely required during the purification process of the game’s multiple bosses. Once defeated, the player has to drag each boss outside their dwelling via a coffin to a device called the Pile Driver. Here, the stronger the sunlight, the easier it will be to vanquish these dark beings once and for all.
Boktai had two save slots so two players could enjoy the quest without disturbing each other’s progress. Uniquely, both save slots are actually connected by sunlight. During the adventure, the player has the option of using the Solar Bank, a place to deposit extra solar power for a rainy day, literally. Even solar interest is earned. But this Solar Bank is linked with both save files so your buddy or sibling can withdraw solar energy that you deposited. It is an interesting concept that no other game really utilizes. And if the lengthy campaign wasn’t enough, players could battle each other via link cables through multi-cart link mode.
Despite being a good game, Boktai is not without its flaws. Even though this is a video game, it is suggesting to its players to be more active and go outside to enjoy the sun. But don’t get too much sun or the game will overheat, literally. This is the game’s subtle way to make sure you avoid sunburn when possible. Also, the GBA screen can generate a glare when in direct sunlight which can make physically playing the game a struggle. Sure, the game is playable via the Game Cube’s Gameboy Player but obtaining sunlight this way is practically impossible. The sunlight is also diminished when trying to play near a window; you really do need to go outside. Other natural elements can distract from the gaming experience too. Wind, heat, cold, bees… you never know what will happen when playing outside. It might sound a little silly until you actually try playing outdoors, away from the comfort of your recliner and a climate controlled environment.
Although sales figures of Boktai are hard to come by, the game must have been a success as three sequels followed. The third game in the franchise never made it stateside and Lunar Knights isn’t considered part of the same timeline although it takes place in the same world. However, these games actually had some very unique connectivity options with a popular CaPCom series. Without question it is interesting to see Konami playing nice with CaPCom.
Here are some quick summaries of each Boktai game:
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand (GBA) launched on July 16th 2003 in Japan and on September 16th 2003 in NA and on May 14th 2004 in EU. This isometric adventure game was the first of its kind to directly incorporate the sun’s rays into gameplay.
Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django (GBA) launched on July 22nd 2004 in Japan, October 19th 2004 in NA and on June 10th 2005 in EU. This sequel continued the adventure of Django and introduced a new weapon system. It also linked with Mega Man Battle Network 5 via inputting a long code at the Link Menu screen. Players were then treated to a fight with ShadeMan.EXE. If you insert Boktai 2 into the GBA Slot of a DS Lite with Mega Man Battle Network 5 players obtained the Sol Cross MegaMan.EXE/RockMan.EXE which provides the Gun Del Sol charge shot. This was also one of the few games to actually support Nintendo’s wireless link adapters for multiplayer gaming. These wireless links were included with Leaf Green and Fire Red Pokemon.
The 3rd game in the series was only released in Japan titled Shin Bokura no Taiyo: Gyakusku no Sabata (GBA) and launched on July 28th 2005. The main weapon is still the Gun Del Sol but only lenses and frames are changed. Hammers and spears were also removed to give a bigger opportunity for swordplay. The overworld map has been replaced by an easier stage select option and even multiple endings were available. Multiplayer through linking was still available and also featured additional compatibility with Rockman.EXE 6, aka Mega Man Battle Network 6.
Lunar Knights for the Nintendo DS, the 4th game in the series, made its way to North America after Kojima Productions skipped localizing the 3rd game. However, the main characters Django and Sabata were renamed Aaron and Lucian to distance itself from the previous games in the series due to the lack of a solar sensor. Lunar Knights launched on November 22nd 2006 in Japan, February 6th 2007 in NA, and on March 30th 2007 in EU.
Since the DS obviously cannot house a solar sensor, gameplay mostly revolved around playing at certain times of day via the system’s internal clock. Uniquely, if any of the original three Boktai titles are inserted into the GBA Slot of the DS Lite when playing Lunar Knights, the solar sensor from the GBA cart will directly tie into the gameplay of Lunar Knights! Playing with a previous version of Boktai allows the player additional in-game sunlight energy and lets the player play in sunny conditions regardless of the in-game world’s weather. The Solar Station will also grant additional charging capabilities depending on the amount of sunlight hitting the sensor. Lunar Knights is also unique as the ability to tap on a wall to distract an enemy has been replaced by whistling into the DS microphone. The developers have stated that Lunar Knights is not a direct sequel to Boktai even though the game takes place in the same world, just in a different time period. Known as Boktai DS in Japan, dedicated players can fight a hidden boss from Mega Man Star Force and collect his power. Exclusive items can also be obtained by linking game data from Mega Man Star Force into Boktai DS.
Unfortunately, the only way to play these original GBA games is to track down an original copy and corresponding hardware. Asking for a Virtual Console re-release will not work because there is no way to incorporate the solar sensor functionality into this modern hardware. Without question, Boktai is a labor of love and provides an experience unlike any other game. Boktai is really the first and last game of its kind; no other game has made use of this solar sensor technology. Thanks must be given to Mr. Kojima for having such a crazy idea and Konami and Kojima Productions to follow through and take a risk on something so creative.
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com