When the main character of any video game shoots bullets out his ass, he immediately scores points in my book.
Let me make it clear; I do not know anything about Astro Boy. However, after doing a little bit of homework, I found out that Astro Boy is one of the first Japanese Manga Anime characters. Japan has welcomed this little robot for quite sometime and the U.S. is going to be experiencing this underpants wearing phenomenon in the coming months as a cartoon series has been rumored to be released in the U.S. soon.
The GBA version of Astro Boy can be compared to some classic NES shooters and beat’em ups. Thanks to the development team that gave us the GC cult classic, Ikaruga, the action never stops in this 2D handheld game. Players will travel through two types of levels: beat’em style action or shooter. Even though these are the two types of levels, each one goes hand in hand and are closely related.
The action never lets up in this game thanks to Astro Boy’s huge gamut of moves and unforgiving amount of enemies. Punching is your basic form of attack but rapid button presses will lead to a string of combos. If Down and the attack button are pressed, Astro Boy will kick his enemies and send them flying across the screen. Once airborne, enemies will fly into other enemies starting a domino effect. This is a great way to clear one side of the screen. If Up is combined with the attack button, then Astro Boy will unleash a long-range finger laser. Although weaker, this is a great way to attack enemies from a distance.
Jumping is a skill that immediately needs to be mastered. After a single jump, Astro Boy can use his rocket feet to propel him in another direction. During this boost, the player becomes invincible. This move must be used during many of the game’s boss battles and will have players constantly darting across the screen. After leveling up, the player will be able to double, triple, and quadruple jump.
Once enough power has been stored up, each shoulder button can be pressed to display a flailing super move. To clear out an entire string of enemies, use the power shot. This move is just like the finger shot, only a lot more powerful. If there are numerous enemies placed throughout the whole screen, the Astro Boy can set free a bullet filled fart. Cannons protrude from the behind of this adorable hero while he spins in place, killing anything that is moving. Each type of move at the players disposal is well balanced and a necessary part of the game. Movement and combat are the heart of this game and luckily, it never grows boring.
Astro Boy has a unique style of powering up and energy consumption. At the top middle of the screen is the Super bar. This bar grows by attacking enemies and can be filled up five times over. In order to use a super move, at least one bar must be completely filled. This helps generate balance in the game as you have to work to unleash a power move. However, it also does not bog the game down because the player does not exactly have to use them sparingly thanks to the bar’s five levels of storage. Just like this Super Bar, the Life meter also is unique. Each time you get hit, you lose points. If you lose all your points, you die. However, the more energy you have at the end of the level, the more points you will receive. Not only does the game reward you for completing each level, it rewards on how well you performed.
Astro Boy also has RPG features. Once a NPC in the game has been introduced to Astro Boy, he gains a level. While this is a rather strange way to level up, it works well in this game. This will force players to search every nook and cranny before finishing the level. The player can choose to power up any of Astro Boy’s abilities. Stronger punches, more jumps, increased Vitality, and even heightened senses are all available to make the robot Boy stronger. Astro Boy’s Senses feature is also quite cool. In some levels, the screen will be completely black except for the area directly around the player. However, if you powered up your Senses, the entire screen will be filled with color making it easier for the player to see. The player will desperately search for NPCs to become acquainted with them just to power up.
While the graphics are above average, they are marred by occasional pixelation. For example, early in the game the player will be fighting robots. To spice up the game play, the designers thought it would be cool to change the size of these already-made characters. Mini and giant versions of these characters are mixed with the normal sized ones. The giant versions however, are very pixilated as the same normal sized sprite is blown up. It is a shame that the artists did not take the time to re-render these characters. While it is not as noticeable when playing on your GBASP, it can be clearly seen on the Gameboy Player. Also, because Treasure likes to throw dozens of characters at you at once, the game will sometime experience hefty slow down. With different sized sprites, Astro Boy, particle effects, and bullets, the game has a hard time keeping track of everything. The backgrounds give the player the sense of a wide-open space thanks to multi layering. Giving off the feel of a wide-open area is quite difficult to pull off on the GBA so props must be given where they’re due. Particle effects stick the element of combat together with a fluid glue. Stars and sparks will fly off at each instance an enemy is hit giving off a comic book feel. The music in this game is catchy, but the “Agghh” sound Astro Boy makes after getting hit will quickly become annoying.
Without previously knowing anything about this game, Astro Boy is smash hit on the GBA. The action is intense and the combat is many steps above a classic brawler game. I fear that this game will not get the respect and recognition that it deserves simply because American gamers never heard of this character before. While there is no multiplayer, players will keep coming back to find the NPCs to increase Astro Boy’s stats. The boss battles are huge and the difficulty of the game is a bit on the hard side, but the game play and combat are wonderful. Astro Boy is one of the biggest surprises I’ve seen on the GBA this year. It is great to finally see a solid, action packed game on GBA unlike numerous other lacking titles that have been clogging up store shelves.