Hey there's an Astro Boy movie coming out. Hey there's an Astro Boy video game coming out at the same time. Funny how that works. I could prattle on about licensed games, or Osamu Tezuka, or I could just skip to the chase and say: Astro Boy: The Video Game is a mediocre brawler with some pretty good shooter levels.
Astro Boy follows the same basic story of the film, told through narration and cutscenes, both of which are terrible in their own special ways. The game actually has clips from the film, but they're all silent. Kristin Bell, who plays Cora in the film, explains the plot during the silent clips, making it feel more like an Entertainment Tonight preview than a cutscene. The in-game cutscenes are hilariously bad. It could arguably be called an homage to early anime to have the character models move their mouths when they're not actually saying anything, but realistically it's just lazy programming. Watching Astro flap his gums for three full seconds just to say "No!" is funny in all the wrong ways. Thankfully the cutscenes can be skipped, since the humor quickly wears thin and it becomes annoying and boring.
There are two parts to the game: a platformer/brawler and a flying shooter. The game alternates between them, but most of the time it's the brawling levels. High Voltage Software has said they designed the game with inspiration from Treasure's Astro Boy: The Omega factor for the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately it doesn't quite have the style and fun that the previous game did.
For a highly sophisticated robot, Astro sure is clunky. The fighting combos are short and not flashy. Annoyingly, Astro has a shorter reach than his enemies, which leads to lots of instances where you get punched in the head before you get a chance to do something. Nothing reacts the way it should. Enemies and projectiles can continue to advance when you're shooting lasers, and the only way to repel things is to use one of the super attacks. Fighting large groups of enemies gets tedious after a few levels, and the platforming sections aren't anything special. Basic floating platforms and bottomless pits, with a few cool wall jumping sections, but that's it.
It all comes off as bland. The super powers are fairly cool. Machine guns shoot out of his butt, he has a huge laser, and punches robots in the nuts-and-bolts, but nothing is ever really exciting. Later in the game the danger gets ramped up a bit with factory levels, but for much of the game it's all dull.
By contrast the flying levels are fun and energetic. Astro flies through the air, shooting his lasers at incoming enemies and avoiding attacks. It's fast paced, there's a lot more going on, and it's way more satisfying to watch things explode in the air than fall over and blink away.
Most of the game, from the character models, to the enemies, to the environment, is ugly. Not all of it is bad. The flying levels have a constantly moving background that turns and twists, giving the illusion that Astro is weaving through buildings.
The option for drop-in/drop-out co-op play on the Wii and PS2 is nice. The game isn't hard at all, but some of the bosses can be a pain in the machinegun-loaded-butt and having a friend instantly makes the fight a cakewalk. Trouble is you're both Astro, and amid all the chaos, it gets a little hard to tell who is who.
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