Review by Chaotic_Fusion

"Not the Treasure we hoped it would be"

Astro Boy: The Videogame (DS)

Pros:
+ Clearly inspired by Omega Factor, right down to the artwork.

Cons
- Astro controls like a greasy eel
- Levels are bland and uninspired
- Bosses and enemies have poor AI and cheap attacks
- It's simply nothing more than your standard movie game experience

Alas, Astro Boy. For anyone who owned a GBA, the name may conjure fond memories. Where once there was waning interest in our underwear clad hero, Treasure proved to be the savior GBA owners needed. Borrowing an age old anime character and catapulting him into an original story, complete with some of the best action/adventure gaming on the platform, Astro Boy: Omega Factor was a fine example of handheld action gaming done right.

And then, on a completely unrelated note, some movie company decided to make an Astro Boy film several years later.

Astro Boy: The Video Game is not based on the Astro Boy most are familiar with. It's based on the newly Americanized movie based on the Japanese franchise. According to the developer, it's also based on the template Treasure used for their game on the GBA. That's about three "based on" events in a row. I'm sure by this point you've already determined just how disastrous this whole sequence is likely to turn out.

Anyone who has played a 2D action game before should know what to expect from Astro Boy. Our hero basically spends the better part of entire stages jumping across platforms and beating up bad guys with his bare fists (only now in more clothing!). To keep this formula from getting too stale, Astro will engage in the occasional boss fight or flying stage. Despite the cut and dry gameplay, the problems with Astro Boy stem less from its predictable formula and more from the game's execution. Hampering the experience farther, the game's plot is inevitably tied to the film's. This means the quality of the narrative hinges almost entirely on the movie itself. And boy is that not a good thing...

Astro Boy's story begins similar to the standard mythos, but quickly strays onto a path mostly uninspired. Dr.Tenma's son, Toby, is accidentally killed during a secret weapons test. Wallowing in depression, Dr.Tenma decides to secretly build himself a robot replica of Toby using advanced military technology. When both Toby and the military figure out what Dr.Tenma has done, his actions have unintended consequences for everybody, ultimately alienating his formerly beloved robot. Taking the name of Astro, our hero decides to find a new life. Unknown to Astro, however, there are less moralistic individuals who require his powers elsewhere...

While this premise may sound interesting, possibly because I hesitate to detail the story farther, it ultimately becomes a predictable clash of good and evil. Unlike Omega Factor which had a brilliantly colorful cast of hidden villains and motives, Astro Boy carries nothing so inspired. The main villains are made quite clear in the very first story blurb of the game and their motives are hardly a secret. A bigger problem, facing the game in particular though, is just how abridged and poorly told this story is. There's very little description as to what is going on and events just seem taped together with glue and macaroni. Diluting the plot even more are the simple text blurbs that show up between levels. Although the fact they aren't voiced isn't a big disappointment, the cheap, static movie portraits the game uses are. Nothing is more perplexing than reading Astro unveil some obviously distressing emotions while his static portrait continues to smile at us undaunted. Frustratingly, you're not allowed skip over these awkward story portions ether. Astro Boy doesn't just fail because the movie's story needed work. It fails because the game can't execute the narrative in anything other than a driveling, text-based mess.

It's between these unfortunate story boards that our game really takes place though. Astro Boy follows an almost Sonic inspired level layout. Levels happen in stages which are split into three acts. Act one is typically always a straight forward action stage where you simply need to reach the end of the level, Act two is an Omega Factor inspired flying stage where you shoot down evil robots, and, finally, Act three is another simple action stage only now sporting a boss at the end of the level. Generally this format works for the game, and I could see where a slightly more solid adventure could have been had using this formula. It's disappointing then that Astro boy delivers only the standard movie game experience in every single act.

Starting the first level, you'll notice within the first press of the D-pad something's gone wrong. And no, it's not Astro Boy deciding to finally wear some clothes. Astro Boy controls with all the efficiency of trying to push a box over a lake of ice. I'm not exaggerating either. Anyone who has ever played a videogame with an ice stage knows the slippery effect I mean, only in Astro Boy it applies to every level. I simply cannot describe in anything but frustrated gurgling noises how infuriatingly clumsy this is. Whether a side effect of sloppy programming or a strange, but intentional, design, I'm not sure. Either way, it's terrible... And that's not where it ends unfortunately. Astro's basic move set includes a double jump of sorts (you can fly vertically or horizontally once, but not in a diagonal), and a kick and punch button. Both kicking and punching do the same thing, meaning one of them is basically a waste of a button. The only part of Astro that makes him interesting is his power bar. When you defeat foes you collect blue core energy. Filling it up allows you to walk faster, punch harder, shoot a laser, shoot butt machine guns, become invincible for several seconds, or refill your health. None of these are exceptionally useful except for the health regeneration because there's no other way of refilling your health. I would constantly find myself hoarding energy simply because the power ups were all so useless, but I always needed to refill my health during the cumbersome action stages.

Fans of Omega Factor will generally know what to expect during these action levels as the idea is generally the same... Generally. Action stages in Astro boy are a boring, generic endeavor. Between small bouts of uninspired platforming, and avoiding these annoying spikes that are plastered everywhere, the screen will lock in position and you'll be forced to pummel wave after wave of foes to progress. Not only does this break up the flow of each stage, but it also forces you to engage lengthy waves of foes who do nothing but move from left to right repeatedly until they die. There's only two kinds of enemies here too: The kind that walk on the ground, and the kind that fly. Both of them do the same thing. Both are also entirely unfazed by your attacks. You can punch and kick them as much as you want, but to no avail. They just continue to randomly punch you or spew out bullets in your general direction. Farther hampering the experience is the terrible camera work. Thought you could only complain about cameras in 3D? Astro Boy will break new barriers for you! Camera positioning is often terrible, forcing you to complete blind jumps on a regular basis. It also hides enemies and likes to pan restlessly in odd directions. Usually these are directions you're not moving in! How this is possible I'm not sure, but somehow Art found a way to create a drunken 2D camera. They also managed to forget checkpoints. Whoops! Outside of the boss fights, this means if you die you need to repeat the ENTIRE stage again. For some this may not be a huge punishment, but the levels are so grudgingly dull that it'll quickly become one.

I would like to say the flying stages make up for all this, as they're the most fun you'll find in the entire experience. Sadly, the flying stages are just a minor distraction. They're not critically flawed, yet they don't amount to much either. During them you'll control Astro the same way you would in any Shump while mowing down various waves of flying enemies. The bad guys don't pull of any interesting maneuvers though, and the amount of bullets they spew out is ridiculous. There's often so many flying around on screen that it's impossible to fly through scripted flight paths without getting damaged. Once again, enemy variety leaves something to be desired too. Astro's laser must also be constantly fired. This makes for some mean thumb cramps as you endlessly mash that fire button. Maybe Art thought we had electronic thumbs like our cow-licked hero?

Right about now some people might be wondering if the boss fights provide a fun challenge. Judging from the rest of the review, I'll imagine you pulled a Sherlock and figured the answer out yourself. While definitely Treasure inspired yet again, the boss battles are depressingly flawed. They attempt to be massive on scale but end up being a massive annoyance. Once again, these enemies are entirely unfazed by your assault. They don't even flicker when hit. It's difficult to determine if your attacks are having any effect most times, especially when your only indication is a tiny little puff of dust animation that may appear near the place you punched. None of this would be a big problem if Art had provided the simple courtesy of a health bar. But hey! Of course they didn't. Even on Normal the bosses have far too much health and take way too long to defeat. And while they may follow a general pattern, most of these battles simply come down to the boss spamming ridiculously over powered attacks with nary a pause. Unless you really hammer down these guys patterns later in the game, you will die. Heck, you're likely to die even if you do in some cases. This is all thanks to a few of the bosses who enjoy spewing out random bullets everywhere while also attacking. Tough love? More like shoddy design.

Actually, shoddy may as well describe Astro's presentation as a whole. Do not let the artwork on the back of the box fool you. It's pretty clear Art tried to imitate Omega Factor's sprite work as best as possible, and to some level they succeed. Well... Enough to make you think you're buying a game that looks like Omega Factor anyways. Once you begin playing you'll see just how bland the graphics really are. Enemy sprites are recycled over and over and often only contain a couple frames of animation (yes, even the bosses). Entire stages are sometimes mere pallete swaps, but even the original ones look cheap and dreary. I've already gone into the story panels but I'll say it again: The story presentation couldn't be any more lackluster thanks in part to lame, static images and plain text. Astro Boy's game music is atrocious, and I imagine most people will simply turn the sound right off. Combining midi's (which sound like they came through a cheese grater) with the muddled gameplay is likely result in some bizarre psychological trauma anyways. There's nary a voice or sound bite from the film to be heard anywhere. The entire presentation just reeks of shortcuts and deadlines, and I really think that single observation sums up the overall experience.

Before we close, I want to make something clear. Astro Boy admittedly had a lot to live up to. A movie game with a tight budget, small time frame, and minimal staff, would have difficulty comparing to an original title developed by the likes of Treasure. I really, REALLY, don't want to hold that up as the best comparison for this game, but it unfortunately is. It's virtually impossible to do otherwise, and even more so when the developers themselves said they based the experience on Treasure's title. The homage shows through too. Everything from the boss fights, to Astro's sprite and animations, to even the flying stages, is clearly intended to mimic Omega Factor. The game fails miserably at trying to imitate the experience though. Yet Astro Boy's faults lie deeper than simply being a poor imitation. Even when standing alone, outside of Treasure's shadow, the game has the typical movie and action game faults that would have ruined any other experience as well. Everything from the incredibly poor camera to the "move left and right" enemies, or hell, the lack of checkpoints, makes this game a never ending chore.

I know this is all probably disappointing to anyone who was hoping to relive an experience similar to the one they had on the GBA. I know I was. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have to wait longer. While I'm sure Art gave the game the best stab they could in the time available, they unfortunately blew it. Astro Boy simply isn't a good game, and you'll notice it even if you've never played Omega Factor.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/27/09

Game Release: Astro Boy: The Video Game (US, 10/20/09)


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