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.
One of the aspects of Astro Boy that I found to be the most contemptible is also one of the least noticeable. In most platforming sections there are sets of spikes (or pointy stalactites) that stun the player if touched. The problem I have with this is that the spikes do next to zero damage. So… why are they there? If all they do is stun the player and make platforming a more frustrating experience, shouldn’t they have been taken out entirely? The developers have gone out of their way to frustrate the player and negatively impact gameplay at the same time.
At least Astro Boy is a decent-looking game. The main character is well defined and looks relatively good, and there are some unique enemy designs and boss monsters. However, the stages are pretty weak and uninspired. Most of them are made up of a series of tiles that repeat endlessly, but as a backdrop for punching robots they do their job sufficiently.
The same cannot be said for the audio in this game. Considering that most of the potential consumers of this game will be buying it because they love the characters from the movie and want more of that experience, it is a glaring fault that the game doesn’t include voice acting of any kind. In fact, even the typed dialogue between characters is weak and often nonsensical. In one scene Astro Boy is alone in his room and all of a sudden starts talking to a spray bottle. The bottle is apparently a robot. In the very next frame, with no explanation, Astro is clutching the bottle while falling out the window.
Fans of the movie version of Astro Boy who are looking for more Astro should stay away from this game. The Wii version is a bit better, so if you’re desperate for more Astro Boy, that would be a better pick. However, the best Astro Boy experience you’re going to find is easily Astro Boy Omega Factor for the GBA (which can also be played on your DS).
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
2D side-scrollers don’t demand much in terms of graphics. However, Astro Boy definitely could have looked a lot better. Characters and enemies look decent, but the backgrounds and level designs are boring. 3.5 Control
The controls are very simple and work pretty well. The touch screen is even used well, with Astro Boy’s many powers lined up for simple one-touch access. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There are some pretty catchy songs on display here, but Astro Boy’s sound effects are relatively lacking. Punches and lasers all lack impact and intensity. 2.0
Considering there’s nothing else to do in this game besides the single-player, that mode needed to be really good. Unfortunately, what we have instead is a missed opportunity that only frustrates and angers.
2.2 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.