Review by FFM
"A bad review of a good game"
Astal probably wasn't ever meant to be a hero.
A long time ago, there was once was a great goddess, Antowas, who ruled over a utopia she created. Alongside with the creation of this world, she created two crystals. Out of the green crystal spawned a petite, young lady named Leda, who was abducted by the evil warlord Jerado. Jerado came to power through equally as evil deeds: the hostile take over of the universe and the imprisonment of Leda probably didn't go over too well with the folk that inhabited this aforementioned utopia. The only bit of hope left was encapsulated in this other ruby-colored crystal. What was held in it was the supposed protector of the young lady (he obviously didn't do his job well); what was held in this crystal was Astal.
How frequently we hear the grand tale of a damsel in distress ruthlessly kidnapped by malevolent forces, and held hostage only to be gloriously saved at the last minute by a valiant hero. There is a problem, though: Astal could care less. He is a rather obstinate fellow, never really wanting to do things that aren't required of him. Therefore, when duty calls, you can bet he was the last one to lace up his boots and charge in.
Maybe by whim alone, Astal finally decides it is time to rescue Leda from her dark confinement. Enter a beautiful world composed of jetting crystals and seamless blue skies. The world is so utterly breathtaking in its presentation that one might be prone to stop and simply gaze at it for a few minutes. However, none of the beauty impresses our arrogant hero, Astal. He finds this fancy landscape nothing more than an annoyance; after all, it's he who must traverse fourteen vibrantly colored levels filled to the brim with diverse monsters, whether they are falling from ceilings of dank mines or charging at him from midair. Do not worry; he will have his own repertoire of attacks capable of dealing out enough pain to keep these fiends at bay.
As for most beasts, they will eat his fist rather than being thrown first. If multiple monstrosities appear from nowhere, Astal is able suck in air and blow it all out, destroying all the enemies that it hits (talk about bad breath). Pincer attacks offer him the ability to slam the earth with tremendous force, shaking everything on the screen and killing all ground-based enemies with ease. While it may sound like it, this is no RPG; this is a side-scrolling action game (read: mega man) where our hero jets from left to right working to eradicate everything unfortunate enough to stand in his way.
Soon, a new pal will show his face after being rescued from the confines of a cage. A bird will lend its aid to Astal whenever he has enough karma to do so. Certain monsters, usually ones with spinning white balls around them and certain bosses, will leave some karma for Astal to pick up. After he collects five karma, he'll be able to send the bird off to do a medial tasks, like pick up health or attack every enemy on the screen. Astal has limited health, so using the bird strategically will be in one's best interest. It's knowing when to use certain abilities and when not to that really makes Astal stand out among other platformers that graced the Saturn. It makes the player have to think of when to use the bird to gather nutritious fruit, or when to use him as a primary attacker. When to use a standard ground smash or when to blow breath upon all enemies. When to time that jump, because the ground you're landing on might just be slippery.
What adds even more to the experience are the bosses. Exquisitely designed carnivorous plants spit out seeds that blossom and create the only means of attack. Large eyeballs flock during dismal nights only to swoop down and attack our hero when he least expects it. Behemoths guard bridges while blue lightning swirls in the background. Dragons attempt to torch us before their fiery innards are blown out by our large gust of wind. Some bosses even make us have to utilize the bird as means of attacking, since Astal will be immobile. Each one is elegantly animated with a wide variety of colors, and each boss requires a different strategy to beat. Or, if you have a second controller, have your best friend (or girlfriend if you're lucky) join in on the adventure.
Essentially, Astal is a rare type of platformer that manages to bring life back into an otherwise mundane genre. Smaller things, like the subtle music, create a joyful tone for the game and can only add to the experience. Sega created Astal exclusively for the Sega Saturn, so you'll probably have to pick one of those up first.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/11/05
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