Though Astro Boy may be an unknown entity to gamers in the US, what's not a mystery is the game design created for the character, at least for the Game Boy Advance. It's easy to see the old-school gaming influence in Astro Boy: Omega Factor
, as it's been created by a team that's been around since the days of Contra
. Japanese development studio Treasure has taken what it has learned in the past couple of decades creating NES, Super NES, and Genesis games and applying it into a Game Boy Advance game that, even with its old-school inspired gameplay mechanics, feels entirely fresh and new. It's a wonderful, challenging throwback on the handheld that shouldn't be missed...even with that cutsey, grinning mug on the box cover.
- Seven levels
- 32 stages
- Cartridge save (three slots)
The series may be unfamiliar to mainstream westerners, but "Astro Boy" is one of the more popular franchises to ever hit Japan. And Astro Boy: Omega Factor
's release coincides with the animated series that'll hit the airwaves this fall. So, while you may go into the Game Boy Advance game baffled by the cryptic story, goofy characters, and out-there dialogue, at least the GBA title will offer a preparation course for the cartoon series coming soon.
While it may be hard to form a bond with the characters in Astro Boy: Omega Factor, it's hard to ignore just how awesomely constructed the game is. Treasure has placed the classic character in a fast-paced and energetic action environment that builds off of the combo mechanics the team created for the little seen Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Bad Dream GBA title published by Conspiracy. But for Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Treasure fleshed out the character's abilities with far more attacks that require a lot more skill than simply mashing down on the attack button. By utilizing the D-pad with the attack button, players can assault enemies with a graceful offensive flurry of powerful punches, or kicks that will send the bad guys flying in the other direction, more often than not knocking them back into other enemies for a skillful combination.
The level designs also focus on special attacks that are more integrated in the game design, less as supplemental and more as essential. Games like Contra III, for example, give players a few optional WMD-like superbombs as a last-ditch response when the going gets too rough. Astro Boy's super attacks are so required in the action that it's impossible to succeed in the action without using them. A lot. Treasure rewards players' ability to pull off normal attack combinations by refilling the special attack powers, which gives the game's action a fantastic balance of standard and super attacks all the way through the end.
Astro Boy also puts special attention on customization, allowing players to level-up their character and balance him for the way they play the game. Every character players meet along the way nets a point that can be assigned to any one of several attributes, from standard attacks to the speed of Astro Boy rocket boost. This also opens up the exploration element, which increases the game's lasting value since it encourages players to find the different routes that'll locate hidden characters along the way. And even when the game's over, it's not -- Astro Boy: Omega Factor requires at least a second play through to get the ultimate ending. But this repeat performance isn't a cheap ploy like in the Ghost 'n Goblins series; the cutscenes and dialogue change to fit the reason why players are heading through the adventure a second time.
But as satisfying and fun as the game is, it's not the end-all be-all GBA action game. There are a handful of level designs that are the absolute pits and feel completely out of place because of their slapped-together feel. For example, one challenge forces players to zip up a series of pyramids while avoiding gigantic rolling blades, but the restriction of vertical scrolling makes the feat damn near confusing the first dozen times through. Astro Boy is definitely among the most challenging games on the Game Boy Advance system, but much of that challenge comes from simple and slightly annoying trial-and-error designs that almost force players to die simply to figure out that level's weakness.
The game is definitely a technical marvel, with the skillful Treasure programmers pulling off some of the most impressive sprite tricks ever seen on the Game Boy Advance. Bosses grow and move with incredible fluidity thanks to a lot of clever art manipulation tricks, and all of the hyperactive action is accompanied by appropriate tunes and vibrant stereo audio effects. But all of this intensity comes at a cost: there are several instances of action slowdown throughout Astro Boy: Omega Factor. We can definitely look the other way most of the time, but some enemies require precision button-timing to pull off powerful combos, and the slowdown definitely affects this important timing.
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