The life of a secret super-spy is hard. There's the constant life-threatening danger, the evil insane villains who trap you in a tank with a killer jellyfish, and the freak chance that you accidentally grab the laser toothbrush instead of the regular one and end up frying your cranium to a crispy brown. The hardest part, however, may indeed be dealing with poor game after poor game made in your image.
James Bond has fought with this demon innumerable times but has prevailed over the lure of the cash-cow on more than one occasion. GoldenEye, for example, is still hailed as one of the best multiplayer games on the Nintendo 64, and Everything or Nothing, while not a classic, is certainly far from a bad game.
However, a new spy has stepped into the gaming world. Alex Rider has already shown success in the teen book and movie market, and now he's attempting to take the handheld market by storm. Will he revitalize the GBA, a handheld on its last legs due to the phenomenal success of its successor, the Nintendo DS?
Or will his game be another stinker, like James Bond: The Duel or Agent Under Fire?
For those who don't know (and it's likely many people reading this don't), Alex Rider: Stormbreaker is a game based on the movie adaptation of a book series. Alex Rider is a normal, run-of-the-mill kid with a normal, run-of-the-mill uncle who spent his life teaching his nephew things such as scuba diving and mountain climbing. See, behind that run-of-the-mill life, Alex's uncle is a secret agent for MI6, the secret government agency du jour, and he's training young Alex to be his successor. That day comes sooner than expected, though, as Alex's uncle dies a mysterious, unexplained death while on a mission. Out of nowhere, Alex is pulled — rather against his will — into the world of the super-spy as a new recruit into MI6.
Screenshots truly tell the tale in how the game plays; all in all, Stormbreaker is like an overhyped, glorified version of the original NES Metal Gear. It's Alex's job to infiltrate the manor of billionaire Darius Sayle, who plans on sending out virus-ridden, Stormbreaker-brand computers to all of the schools in Britain. It sounds like more of an annoyance, until one realizes that the viruses are in fact real viruses intending to strike down the world's children with a deadly disease. Thus, it's up to Alex to "out-spy, outwit, and out-cool evil," or so states the box.
It turns out that "out-cooling" evil apparently involves a lot of standing around, punching as if you're trying to stir molasses. The controls in the game are truly a low note, with Alex performing very sluggishly in all areas. From gadget usage and combat to even his basic walking from point A to point B, all of it is slow enough that you could knit a sweater in the time it takes to accomplish an objective. Surprisingly, this doesn't add any length to the game in the slightest. If one were truly devoted, they could play through the entire Stormbreaker game in one sitting.
However, true devotion to Alex Rider: Stormbreaker would be the sort of thing that would inspire interventions. Sluggish controls aside, the game is simply boring. Combat is restricted to one button for punching, one for kicking, and both for a special knockdown move (throw or leg-sweep). However, fighting enemies is never anything less than a chore, as it takes five or six hits to kill many of the game's enemies, and each attack seems to take hours to connect. In addition, the game's primary foes consist of the following:
- Security guard
- Security guard with gun
- Security guard with different-colored vest
Yep. That's it. You'll be fighting the same security guard, who will occasionally shoot or punch you, approximately 900 times. Of course, the game suggests that you avoid fighting enemies right from the beginning, perhaps to give the game a slightly stealthy feel so that it would resemble a spy game. However, trying to be stealthy is an exercise in futility, as guards will spot you from over a screen's breadth away, and will turn and rush after you even if their backs are turned. Granted, you have gadgets to help you — a pen full of knockout gas and a Nintendo DS that works as a makeshift smoke grenade — but using them is just as clunky as the combat itself, requiring you to use the R shoulder button to cycle various gadgets and use the L shoulder button to activate them.
Unfortunately, the game flows less like Metal Gear, and more like a badly coded version of Doom. Find a red keycard, open a red door, find a green keycard behind the red door to open the green door and get the blue keycard, etc., etc. It's due to this mindless gameplay that the title can be beaten in little or no time at all if you simply ignore enemies and go from one area to the next.
In addition, the game isn't even a pretty package to admire. The graphics scream "late 1990s" like an old Super Nintendo licensed game, and during dialogue, the character portraits resemble art from the old NES title, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in their atrocity and utter brownness. As far as the sound, it consists of a dull thud, a guy grunting in pain, and music that is simply the same two notes over and over in a vaguely "spy infiltration" fashion.
Thankfully, not everything is bad. There are a few levels that break up from the monotony of throwing ballpoint death pens and punching things until they fall over to get a keycard, though they're few and far between. The boss fights are arguably even more painful than the main portion of the game, but there are two special stages which have Alex riding in an ATV and on a horse that work fairly well in their implementation and control. In fact, if someone could make a game based on those mechanics alone ...
... wait. Somebody did. It was called Cars.
Alex Rider: Stormbreaker is not the worst game ever made. It's not even the worst game that I've reviewed. However, the game is poor enough that it indeed is a tragic footnote at the end of the life of the Game Boy Advance. If games like this are all that await the once-prolific handheld, then perhaps it's time to put the GBA out of its misery. It truly is a sad day for the gaming world when a video game reviewer asks his readers to put down the game and read the book instead; you're invariably going to enjoy it more.
The GBA is dead; long live the GBA.
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