Review: Astro Boy: Omega Factor (Game Boy Advance)

Astro Boy: Omega Factor
Genre: Side Scrolling Action
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Rating: E for Everyone
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Treasure

For this review I may have to end up eating my words (or at least for this one instance). It’s no secret that I feel that a majority of games based of Japanese animation, or anime, have an inferior and lazy feel to them. Rarely, if ever, do you see a game with a corresponding anime stand up and grab your attention in a good way. Well, now we have the model for what games based off of anime should be like. The paradigm of its class, Astro Boy: Omega Factor (OF) is as good as it gets on the GBA in 2004. I feel I should get that out in the open right now before I even start this review. It’s a revelation in terms of excellent design, faithfulness to its namesake, and everything else a good video game should be about. Every bad taste that games like Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu, Gundam Seed: Battle Assault, the hack series, etc. had left in my mouth has almost been washed away by the sheer goodness that is Astro Boy: OF. The developer, Treasure, really came through with a superb product, which should come as no surprise. These guys have been behind some of the greatest classics in video gaming history and their expertise is as apparent as ever. As we dissect Astro Boy: OF with the Inside Pulse Games review format I think the true extent of how much I enjoyed this title will come into focus. So let’s get right down to as I review Sega and Treasure’s latest title, Astro Boy: Omega Factor.

1. Story

You know what the best part about the story is? You don’t even need to know a single thing about the anime series to get into it, understand it, and ultimately enjoy the hell out of it. This dispels one of biggest barriers anime games face right off the bat: a storyline/arc that the casual fan may be too unfamiliar with to warrant spending their money on the title in question. Yet at the same time Treasure has remained loyal to the work and vision of Astro Boy’s creator, the legendary Osamu Tezuka. What I mean is that those diehard fans of the classic Astro Boy series will not come away disappointed. All the key characters are there, and Astro Boy himself remains true to what you have come to except for the character. It’s a true testament to Astro Boy: OF that regardless of whether you are person unfamiliar with the Astro Boy legacy or a huge fan of it, the game still retains something for everyone and rewards all kinds of gamers who will pick up this title.

The story revolves around Astro Boy obviously, who is (by far) the most advanced robot in the world. With amazing physical skills and an intellect that is unsurpassed it makes him a formidable force in the world. What sets him apart is the fact that he feels human feelings and thus he is a sort of “bridge” between the worlds of human and robot. The crux of the story is that both sides, human and robot, are feuding with the other. War seems imminent and almost inevitable. Astro Boy’s mission/goal is to avoid this war at all costs; with the obvious twist being that there are those who want to see this war happen for various motivations that reveal themselves as the story progresses. The story moves along at a decent pace, but you do need to pay attention so you stay with it as it progresses. Unsurprisingly, this Astro Boy story showcases a lot of interesting plot misdirections and double crosses that will keep you on your toes. The story works in a mystery like manner, and you’ll enjoy unraveling it piece by piece as the story moves along through each level. The more you do and complete the more you’ll know, and eventually it all makes sense and comes together as a very decent story.

Overall Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Gorgeous. I don’t know how else to describe it. Simply put, there are few games out on the GBA that can rival Astro Boy: OF in terms of visuals. Everything is smooth, crisp, vibrant, and visually pleasing. Using sprites for just about everything, Treasure has created one of the crowning graphical achievements on the GBA. Playing through the levels you will find your jaw dropping as enemies come out in wave after wave. Everything is so detailed and well done that it really staggers me because I am just not used to seeing this much effort and care being put into an anime based game. That being said, my favorite part about the graphics has to be the enemies and specifically the bosses. Some of them are absolutely huge, spanning multiple screens, while others are very small. Regardless, all of them are simply amazing in terms of detail. Astro Boy himself, and his attacks, also were spared no expense. As you fight everything you do looks great. Using his finger laser, firing the machine gun (…from his ass), the hand to hand punching you do, and of course the absolutely amazing “cannon” blasts that obliterate everything in your path dazzle each and every time you see them. Some of the best graphics in the game come via the flight stages. Fighting in mid-flight as Astro Boy just simply rocks out, and the accompanying visuals are equally pleasing as you slaughter hordes of enemies in your wake. This IS the GBA’s hidden gem in terms of. It has few rivals, and stands as a model for how a game should be done graphically. Developers should take notes, because this is how it should be done kids.

Overall Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

The sound to Astro Boy: OF is not as apparent as I would like. It; instead, plays subtly a lot of the time, only coming to life when a major event or battle is transpiring. I think that the sound of Astro Boy: OF is the only category I can find fault with. It’s not bad, far from it. It’s just simply not what I expected. A game that packs this much action into it, simply begs for a corresponding soundtrack that backs up a fast-paced and high impact gaming experience. And while we didn’t get this, it still remains a small fault in an otherwise amazing game. Perfection is hard to attain, and this is the achilles heel of Astro Boy: OF. The sound effects; however, are what you would expect. All the right sounds that you need for the destruction of hordes of robots are right where they need to be. Astro Boy’s attacks also have their own sounds, as well as enemy fire, and everything else you would expect. Ultimately, the sound is a bit disappointing when taken as a whole. It’s not disappointing in a sense that it’s horrible music. It’s disappointing because it’s the one missing link in an otherwise superb game.

Overall Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Controls

I would expect good controls from Treasure given their previous track-record (Ikaruga anyone?). Astro Boy: Omega Factor has nothing less then one of the most solid control schemes out there. While inherently simplistic, it lends itself to a huge fun factor that shines through after maybe ten minutes of a learning curve. So if you’re wondering if this game will frustrate you in terms of control, then let me alleviate those fears right now. Anyone who plays Astro Boy: OF will be able to enjoy the game almost immediately due to the nature of the control scheme. I’m a sucker for a control scheme that does just what it is supposed to do. You won’t be yelling obscenities because Astro Boy won’t do what he is supposed to do. Everything responds just as it should, leading to a funfest of gaming goodness. The A button serves as the jump button, while the B button functions as the punch button. Holding both together serves as his dash attack, while the R button is for the arm cannon and the L button controls the infamous ass machine gun. Seriously folks it doesn’t get much simpler then that.

Also you can allocate certain stats and what not to certain abilities after levels. Things like your sensor abilities, laser power, and so on and so forth. It’s important to keep a balance though. While increasing the sensor ability will allow you to meet new characters and potentially understand more of the story as it unfolds, keeping your other stats upgraded is key to being able to deal with the bosses and enemies of the later stages once you complete them. It’s a nice little RPG-like edition to a game with a lot to offer already.

Overall Control Rating: 8/10

5. Balance

While Treasure has made such insanely difficult (in a good way) games like Ikaruga in the past, Astro Boy: OF doesn’t quite reach those heights of challenge. Still, that doesn’t mean the game is a cakewalk. It can get hectic on the screen as enemies swarm all over the place, and some levels are; obviously, much harder than others. If you play straight through, without taking the time to meet the “secret” characters or collect any of the other things that reveal more of the story the actual game itself can be completed in probably three to four hours. However that’s not how it’s meant to be played, and if you do choose to do things that way I believe your doing yourself a huge disservice. The challenge factor of the game raises when you set yourself to the task of completing the game to the highest extent possible. The game is good for any walk of gamer though. New gamers, middle of the roaders, and experts alike can find enjoyment in Astro Boy: OF, and when that is the case the excuses for not owning this game go right out the window.

Overall Balance Rating: 7/10

6. Replayability

Like I said before, if you play for speed only this game can be completed relatively quickly. The replay value comes in only when you go back and collect what you missed (characters, etc) to have a more complete game, which for once actually means something besides bragging rights. And with fifty or so secret characters out there and a few other added surprises Astro Boy: OF has the goods to keep you coming back time and again. But, honestly, I can’t see anyone getting tired of this game no matter the circumstances. It is a testament to what the GBA can be used for, and as the system enters its twilight months I can think of no better game to represent what the GBA has meant for handheld gaming for an entire generation of gamers. I guarantee this is a game I’ll find myself coming back to not just in the next few months, but I’ll still be coming back to it every now and again years from now to relive this experience. Yes, it really did make that big of an impression on me.

Overall Replayability Rating: 9/10

7. Originality

Side scrolling shooters aren’t new, but rarely are they done this well. Astro Boy takes a time tested method and showcases it for everything its worth. It’s just as good as all the old Nintendo classics we enjoy, and it gives anything out there on the market a run for its money. Still, despite all of that, it doesn’t institute anything that stands out as new or original. Astro Boy: OF’s strengths lie not in revolutionary new schematics and designs, but instead within the methods it improves to a high level of excellence. However, while the game may not scream originality, Astro Boy himself does. Astro Boy is a pioneer in terms of the anime scene, and was the model for many anime you may watch today, as well as certain video games characters that have become legends in their own right (Megaman’s creators pay homage to Astro Boy in a huge way). I think, in terms of originality, things balance out here. Regardless none of this takes away from the key important fact about Astro Boy: OF. That fact being that it simply is an amazing game.

Overall Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Appeal

This game is a contender for best GBA of the year, so needless to say the appeal factor of Astro Boy: OF is set at a high level. Like I stated earlier, Astro Boy: OF appeals to all kinds of gamers, and transcends genre tastes with its great design and flow. While I’m sure someone out there will not enjoy this game, it’s really hard for me to fathom how someone could come to this conclusion. This game, to me, is right up there with some of my other GBA favorites like Shining Force, the Pokemon games, and the Metriods, among others. It’s a game that makes owning a GBA worthwhile (as if we even needed a reason to own one at this juncture anyways).

So what are you still doing reading this anyway? Go buy it, enjoy the pure gaming ecstasy within, and then come back and finish this review. Playing this game it definitely vital to your gaming health people.

Overall Appeal Rating: 10/10

9. Addictiveness

Astro Boy: OF is so addicting for me that it almost makes me regret the fact that Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green are now hitting the streets. Because that means I’m going to have to put this marvel of what a game should always be about down and move on to something else. It’s pushed all other games out of my life, and has monopolized what little free (and sane) time I have outside of my course work. There should be a warning on this game, because if you buy it, then sorry my friend but you’re already one of the converted. It’s going to seduce you into making it your obsession for as long as it possibly can, and you’ll love each and every moment of it.

Overall Addictiveness Rating: 9/10

10. Miscellaneous

If your not sitting there, keys in hand, ready to get out and throw some money down then you haven’t been reading. This is a must own for all GBA owners. With superb graphics, an excellent and simple control design, a good story, and an overall level of excellence Astro Boy: OF has my vote thus far for best game on the GBA this year to date. It’s just a shame more anime games could not be this damn good. Hopefully people will take notice of Astro Boy: OF and begin to expect better from developers who hold anime licenses. Treasure has come through as they always seem to do, and once again they give a game to the gaming world that will stand the test of time.

Story Rating: 7/10
Graphics Rating: 10/10
Sound Rating: 5/10
Controls Rating: 8/10
Balance Rating: 7/10
Replayability Rating: 9/10
Originality Rating: 6/10
Appeal Rating: 10/10
Addictiveness Rating: 9/10
Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

Overall Score: 8.0