Genre: Turn-based strategy
Developer: CODO Games
Release Date: September 6, 2005
Buy 'REBELSTAR TACTICAL COMMAND': GBA
A platform like the Game Boy Advance lends itself quite well to action and platformer games, and most of the countless titles released on the GBA probably belong to one of those two genres. Where the GBA really shines, however, is in its ability to handle games normally not seen on a handheld device and turn them into real gems that have a lot to offer. When you think of turn-based strategy, you probably don't think of the GBA, but it's had a fair share of good ones, like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. Now, there's one more to add to that list: Rebelstar Tactical Command is a fun, engaging, and deep strategy game that any fan of the genre should check out immediately.
Anyone who has been a PC gamer has probably played what is widely considered to be one of the best titles of all time, X-Com: UFO Defense. Rebelstar can be viewed as a direct offspring of X-Com, and although the general feel and gameplay is a bit limited by its appearance on the GBA, the game retains a lot of the fun and excitement that made X-Com such a success. The only thing that could have pushed Rebelstar to stratospheric heights was if it went a step further and added alien tech research and a world map with home bases to the equation, features that really pushed X-Com above all of its peers. Still, fans of turn-based gameplay will find much to enjoy with this title.
Rebelstar eases you into the storyline and core gameplay with a few tutorial missions at the beginning. Actions such as movement, shooting, throwing grenades, and stalking your enemies are all thrown at you and integrated in a way that will have you familiar with the basics in no time.
From here, you'll pick up some more squad members, and the story starts in earnest; while the dialog and characters sometimes seem a bit cheesy, they are interesting and serve their purpose well. There are two main modes of play, campaign mode and skirmish mode. Campaign mode revolves around the storyline, which deviates slightly from the standard sci-fi fare, and manages to stay interesting throughout. The other mode is the skirmish mode, which throws you into a map (taken from the campaign) and lets you fight it out as one of the four different races introduced in the campaign.
Your squad will each have a certain amount of action points that determine what they can accomplish each round. Different types of weapons take up different amounts of action points, adding strategy to your equipment decisions. You can have your squad stalk the map and attack as they see the enemy, or you can take a laidback approach and save their action points for when the enemy makes their move, utilizing the "overwatch" option to fire if an unsuspecting enemy wanders across your line of sight. Certain parts of the environment are destructible, opening up movement options that would otherwise be unavailable, and there are also smoke grenades that can hide your movements, to some extent. Strategic options abound, and how you make use of them will decide your success and failure in Rebelstar.
The main campaign will last you for around 15-20 hours – far from an easy little romp – and there is a lot of strategic depth and gameplay with which you'll find yourself deeply involved. As you play through the game with your various squad members, you can take them in any direction you want. Your characters gain levels as they complete missions and kill enemies, and upon gaining a level, you can choose to increase their skill in one of several areas. If you want them to be stealthy and experts at close combat, you can add their skill points into those areas. If you'd prefer them to be snipers and wait across the map for an enemy to enter their crosshairs, you also have that option. Of course, you can also train an army of chaingun-toting behemoths if that's your cup of tea, but it's a great feature that can add a challenge and give you a lot of control over how your experience with the game advances.
The gameplay isn't all perfect, however. There are some annoying quirks to the way the title plays, such as the way the camera doesn't seem to follow your squad members around as they move, and how you have to continuously scroll your cursor back to your characters after performing certain actions. There are some nice shortcuts using the shoulder buttons which negate this annoyance to some extent, but it's worth noting. It's also pretty hard to determine when you or the enemy has been hit, and the blast radius of explosions is vaguely determinable at best. The menuing system is also a bit cumbersome, but after a few rounds, you'll get the hang of it and be an old pro by the time you finish the game.
After you've finished with the campaign, or you've tired of playing against the AI in skirmish mode, you can find a friend and compete in a multiplayer match. You'll have to take turns on the same Game Boy, as there is no option for linking up multiple copies of the title. It would've been a real treat to have a four-player match up with each player playing as one of the four different races, but maybe a future iteration of the franchise will add this feature. As it stands, the multiplayer can be a fun diversion on occasion, but you won't find yourself getting caught up in it for too long.
The game has a great graphical style that is very similar to the original X-Com. Of course, it's limited by the GBA's screen, but the general look isn't lost in translation. The playing field is viewed from a pseudo-3D isometric angle, which allows you to view just about everything on the map. There are moments when things get lost behind walls or other objects, but it's not a problem in terms of gameplay. The characters, scenery, and effects are well done and look great, but the animations leave much to be desired; movement, explosions, and other animations are extremely choppy and don't have enough frames to look smooth. That's really the only complaint on the visual front, as the character portraits and storyline panels are well drawn and add a lot to the experience.
The sound is another mixed experience. The music fits well with the science-fiction feel of the game, but frequently sounds tinny and repeats a little too often. There aren't very many sound effects to hear either, but the ones that do pop up do the job nicely. After listening to the music for a few rounds and after you've heard the various sound effects a few times, you'll probably want to shut it off and listen to a few mp3 tracks. You won't be missing out on all that much.
The presentation, storyline, and gameplay are what make this title one to own for your GBA. If you love turn-based strategy games, or have fond memories of X-Com, you've probably already picked up this title. If you haven't, it's definitely a game to check out. Minor issues don't detract from the overall experience enough to annoy, and are nearly stifled completely underneath the positive points. With a budget price and big-budget gameplay, Rebelstar Tactical Command is a fantastic addition to any gamer's library.