it’s been a while since i’d played a GBA game, so i picked up astro boy: omega factor, a game that seems to have gotten a lot of great reviews. the game is also noteworthy for being co-developed by treasure, a company that has a great reputation but that i haven’t spent much time with, not surprising since they’re most known for their shmups, a genre that doesn’t grab my attention that much in general.
anyway, like most americans my exposure to the astro boy universe was pretty minimal. the game is packed with cameos from astro boy-creator osamu tezuka’s entire career, and the game does full justice to his broad range of colorful characters, so much so that i’ve been motivated to explore some of the astro boy anime series and manga.
in terms of the game itself, i’m not a huge fan of beat ’em ups either, mostly because i find them to be oftentimes mind-numbingly repetitive. astro boy: omega factor does a nice job of providing just enough enemy and scenic variety to keep things interesting, and it also achieves a good balance of requiring the player to alternate between regular attacks (required for filling up a power meter) and special attacks. the gradual RPG-like upgrade of stats such as health and special attacks also helps make it feel like you’re making continual progress. regular stages are interspersed with basic shooter-like stages, and there’s a generous number of boss battles, which again provide a good amount of variety to keep you engaged, helped in no small part by tezuka’s great character designs. the story is fairly nonsensical, and there is a drawback to having so many cameos which is that you don’t get much exposure to any one character other than our eponymous hero. another point worth mentioning is that although the visuals are great and feature tons of explosions and fireworks, the tradeoff is an excessive amount of slowdown that in my opinion is just not worth the cost to the gameplay.
as for other downsides, i’d read that the game was short but i hadn’t realized how incredibly short it actually is. each section of the levels is fairly short, and the game provides unlimited continues; on the default difficulty level you can easily breeze through the game in one sitting. the game incorporates a second playthrough in its storyline which requires you to replay all the levels, some several times because certain story events are only triggered when you play a sequence of stages in a certain order. this is definitely a cheap tactic, and i ended up spending way too much time wandering around trying to figure out the correct order so i could just finish the game. at that point the limitations of the game (and more generally the genre) became more and more oppressive and i was incredibly bored, but in the end i gave in, consulted a FAQ, and quickly finished the game. i tried out the harder difficulty level a bit but didn’t find it made the game any more interesting to me, although i suppose it’ll be somewhat worth getting more into next time i pick up the game.
despite the shortness and repetitiveness (a strange combination) this was definitely one of the better beat ’em ups i’ve played and has a lot of personality. it points to possibilities within the genre, but for now beat ’em ups are still going to remain low on my list of favorites.