He's a robot. He's Japanese. He's got machine guns in his butt.
We're talking about Astro Boy, of course. Although the character has been well known to anime fans for years, and even appeared in a few video games prior, the end of the month marks his big-screen debut in the U.S. In case you missed the advertising blitz, the "Astro Boy" movie is hitting the big screens, and that means that the Astro Boy video game isn't far behind. We recently took a quick spin through one of the levels to see what the game has in store.
Split between platforming and airborne shooting, Astro Boy switches up the gameplay style in an attempt to keep things fresh. Controls are similar no matter what you are doing, but you lose the ability to punch while in flight. The fists of fury can only be used while on the ground.
Astro's standard attack is a laser beam, which damages enemies and causes them to spew energy pellets. These pellets are automatically collected and power his super meter, which can be used for special attacks as well as regenerating health. It's an active mechanic that forces you to constantly weigh your options. Play too aggressively, and you may quickly clear the screen of enemies, but when the next wave hits and you have no supers left, it's going to be tough times.
Properly timing the use of your specials is key due to the fact that the special attacks can destroy incoming bullets that are otherwise unharmed by Astro's standard laser beam or punch attack. This is important simply because in much of the game, Astro has to worry about gravity, so although you might have to dodge a bunch of incoming fire like a traditional shooter, you can't just hover in one place to do it. Survival is all about finding that perfect balance of maneuvering and timing the special attacks. Avoid the incoming fire if possible; if not, fire off a special attack at the last possible second to destroy it before you take damage.
As is the case in many games, Astro starts out weak, but the intrepid hero can be upgraded along the way. Health, Jets, Laser and Power can all be upgraded along the way, boosting Astro's ability to take damage as well as dish it out. Upgrades are hidden in the world as an incentive for players to explore. As soon as you find an upgrade, it is immediately applied.
Surprisingly, Astro Boy doesn't seem to shy away from presenting a challenge to the player; it appears to relish it. Lightning-fast reaction times are going to trump everything else here. While this is great for shooter fans and hardcore players, it makes us wonder how well the game will cater to casual gamers and the younger set. After all, the "Astro Boy" movie is a cartoon, and with the lead platform for the game being the Wii rather than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, there is something of a built-in appeal to younger players.
Thankfully, the challenge is somewhat offset by the drop-in/drop-out co-op play on the Wii version of the game. Just like arcade games of old, a second player can join or exit the game at any time. Having a second player on hand can be quite helpful during some of the more insane parts of the game, especially during the boss fights. If you have an experienced player gaming alongside a novice, it's possible for one to carry the other through the more difficult sections.
The one part of the game that raises a little concern is the time it takes Astro to switch between animations. It's possible that it is simply a learning curve for us to get over, but it seems like you can cancel out of an existing move directly into a special. You can't cancel into a standard move. For example, if you start firing your laser beam and an enemy charges, the laser animation needs to finish before Astro can jump up and out of the way. You can't just spam the jump button.
Control-wise, Astro Boy defaults to standard fare; you use the analog stick on the Nunchuk for movement and the trigger buttons for your attacks. You have the option of enabling motion controls for any action by reconfiguring things in the option screen. If you want to map the butt cannons to the Wiimote waggle, feel free.
Having seen what High Voltage managed with The Conduit, we know that when it comes to the Wii, the company knows its stuff. So long as the same effort went into Astro Boy, the end result should be something to look forward to. We'll be spending some quality time with the title over the next week, so check back soon to find out if Astro Boy is a shining example of shooter nirvana, or if this little robot needs to be shown the recycle bin.
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