|System: Wii, PS2, PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Art Co.||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 20, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Andrew Groen
Astro Boy has historically had a great presence in video gaming. The anime series has spawned a number of very good games, including true classics on the GBA developed by one of the greatest 2D game developers of all-time, Treasure. So it was with great excitement that we learned that Astro Boy was making a return to the Nintendo DS. After all, even though Treasure wouldn't be developing the game, whoever took on the project would have a nearly perfect blueprint for how to make a great game based on this venerable license.
On the other hand, we had no choice but to retain a large amount of skepticism that the new games would do justice to the legacy considering that this is a movie tie-in. Movie games have a long history of rushed production and minuscule budgets. In the end, I'm sorry to say that the DS version of Astro Boy: The Video Game is nothing more than a typical movie tie-in plagued by a lack of imagination, repetitive gameplay, and some poor design decisions.
Let me begin by stating that I understand that the main objective of a kid's game based on a hit movie is simply to allow players to feel cool about being able to play as their favorite character. However, even in this modest task, Astro Boy has failed. While having the ability to use Astro's rocket boots (in limited amounts) is cool, the character has no agility or maneuverability, making him a frustrating tank to control. He doesn't even have the ability to crouch down to avoid incoming bullets. Jumping is particularly bad, because there is no control over how high the character jumps. The problem arises when you're standing underneath some spikes and need to jump to advance, but there is no way to avoid slamming your head into them and losing life. Controlling a super robot-boy should feel empowering, but instead it's actually quite frustrating.
This is Astro Boy's chief problem. The game is pretty difficult (considering its target audience), but it's never difficult because the enemies outwit you or are more skilled than the player. Instead, Astro Boy feels difficult because the developers have placed artificial weights around the ankles of the player - slowing them down and making Astro Boy less powerful and agile than he should be.
One of the prime examples of this problem is in the way the game handles the player's health. Every time a new level begins the player starts that level with the same amount of health they had when the last level ended. If you die, you start the level over again with the same amount of health, not a full health bar. It doesn't sound so awful in theory, but imagine that you've just finished a level by having an incredibly awesome, down-to-the-wire boss fight and barely made it out alive with just a sliver of health left. The next level will be almost impossible because you'll have to kill about fifteen enemies in a row without taking a hit in order to collect enough orbs to buy a health upgrade.
Normally it would be bad enough that a game sends you all the way back to the beginning of the level after every single death (even if you died just before finishing a boss battle), but Astro Boy actually sends you all the way back, and cuts down your health. Not even Mega Man is that punishing. That's not to say that Astro Boy is necessarily difficult on a moment to moment basis, though. Individual fights are easy to the point the you don't usually even need to be looking at the screen to succeed. Just mash the punch button as fast as possible and everything in front of you is going to die.
However, it ends up being a tough game to complete because it's only a matter of time in each level until you get caught up in a never-ending stream of bullets or a mob of enemies that takes turns hitting you one at a time while you're still stunned from the last hit. This happens with alarming frequency, and no matter how much health you had when it starts, death is assured. Sometimes it will take upwards of 30 seconds to finally whittle down the last of your health, but slowly the hits keep coming, and you have no ability to move or defend yourself. That's frustrating enough on its own, but then the frustration multiplies when you're sent back to the beginning of the level with no health as discussed previously.