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GBA Review - 'Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand'

by Justin on Nov. 11, 2003 @ 12:48 a.m. PST

The story of the game follows Django, a vampire hunter who must venture through deep, dark dungeons to rid the world of evil demons. His ability to hunt down vampires during the day is far superior to his ability to hunt them down at night. Conversely, vampires are weaker during the day and much stronger by night. Boktai is the first game to integrate light and real world conditions into the adventure's storyline. In Boktai, the amount of time that the player spends with the game in the sun will have a direct impact on the hero's powers, the strength/weakness of the enemies and consequently, the overall outcome of the game.

Genre : Action/Adventure
Developer : KCEJ
Publisher : Konami
Release Date : September 9, 2003

Buy 'BOKTAI: The Sun is in Your Hand': Game Boy Advance

I, for one, was somewhat disappointed with the lack of top-rate new games for the Gameboy Advance as of late. Sure, there have been a few really cool new games, but a lot of the library has been comprised of Super Nintendo ports, rehashed sequels, and quite a few crappy franchise titles made for, undoubtedly, a quick buck on the publisher's part. Boktai silenced me - the GBA definitely has a lot of life in it, and games like this prove it.

Boktai - subtitled "The Sun is in Your Hands" - has one element that has probably been brought it to your attention already. That is, of course, the solar reception piece built into the game cartridge. The cartridge itself isn't black, it's clear; this allows sunlight to easily hit the device. This cartridge does stick out a bit farther than most, but a centimeter is not really that big of a deal, and it seems to allow plenty of light to hit it.

Some work argue that the solar feature is really just a gimmick; that it's there to cover up a weak game that no one wants to play. This isn't true. Boktai is a really solid game, one that would easily compete with most of the games released during the SNES' time. Granted, it doesn't have a ton of defining elements that those games may have had, but it does incorporate so many good ideas that it's hard not to like it. The solar catcher is actually used to power up the weapon you'll use in the game: the "gun del sol."

What's really neat about this gun is the number of potential forms it can take. You can change the frame, the lens, the battery, or even equip a grenade on it. These changes both effect you, your enemies, and the gameplay. Lenses do different things; the basic one launches light, but there are ones that launch flames and ice - there's even one (called Luna) which doesn't require any solar power, but does a good job of stunning enemies. By changing the frame, you can modify the way your gun fires: basic bullet-like shots are useful, but so is a spread of light with some range. Then there are rotating spreads, and frames that allow you to shoot and spread (depending on how long you hold the trigger). And, as you progress through the game, you'll acquire more powerful frames that increase the power level and spread size. Add on to all of this several grenade attachments (some that shoot bombs, some that knock enemies unconsious, even one that acts as an x-ray), and battery upgrades, and you might think that half of the game is in customizing your weapon!

Which, by the way, is charged easily by holding in the 'A' button when your character is in a lighted area. This is where the solar "gimmick" comes into play. The game actually translates the amount of sunlight pouring in, so if it's a blazing hot day, your gun will recharge very quickly. If the sun's not so impressive, you'll find that your gun takes a fair amount of time to recharge. The level of light is indicated by a handy dandy meter on the corner of the screen, located directly under the amount of juice your gun currently has.

The actual gameplay is something of a mix of Metal Gear Solid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, with a hint of some dungeon crawler, and a personality all it's own. You'll traverse the land with your kick-ass gun, scouring castles and labyrinths for the Immortals. These guys are the heart of the game. When you encounter one, you could say a boss fight ensues, but it's really much more than that. After you actually defeat the Immortal in a fight, it's trapped in a coffin - which you must then drag out of the dungeon, to a "Pile Driver." This pile driver fires condensed beams of light into the coffin. Naturally, you might expect the Immortals to resist, and boy, you'd be right. Using the power of solar energy and your own skills, you'll have to fight the Immortal a second time before it's finally put to rest. Exhausting, indeed! But boy, it's fun.

The dungeons are generally comprised of a number of rooms and stories, often teeming with enemies and treasure chests. My only complaint is that some areas are a tad repetitive; a little bit of differenciation can go a long way. It doesn't help that the dungeons are seemingly layed out in a maze-like fashion. Thankfully, the developers included a map for each area, which can greatly help anyone having trouble finding their way to the boss. What's interesting, though, is how differently the dungeon plays out when you're in the process of dragging coffins to the entrance. The pace of the game changes dramatically. When you're pulling a big coffin, it's a bit hard to use your gun, wouldn't you think? So, sorry, you're out of luck. You have to let go of the coffin in order to use your gun at all. And sometimes the Immortals will cause a stir in their coffins, which means you need to immediately drop the coffin and stun it with some light. But the coffins can also come in handy when looking for secrets. You can sometimes use them to solve puzzles, like resting them on switches while you go through the now-opened door to collect some treasure. Little secrets like these really are a delight.

Of course, a problem is presented when there's no sunlight to play with. This "problem" seems to be amplified by the general lack of sunlight in many areas in the fall and winter months. Fortunately, a lack of sunlight isn't a gigantic problem. The game is certainly playable without light, and it's even feasible to complete (though much, much harder). But once you actually get on your own two feet and build up a nice collection of batteries, sunlight isn't as important as it seemed in the very beginning. There are also solar stations you can use to recharge at, and collectable orbs that fill up your gun can be found reasonably easily. So while it's definitely a good idea to play in the sunlight, it isn't one hundred percent integral to the game.

The graphics Boktai sports happen to be very nice! Everything you'll see is presented as sharp as I've ever seen on a GBA - there's not much pixelization to speak of. Enemies look really good, environments are clear as daylight, and light in the game actually looks like light. Animation is really smooth, and the effects of the gun del sol are at times simply fun to stare at. Sound is no slouch either; with a fair share of really cool tunes (and the occasional dull song) and vibrant sound effects, this is one of the few GBA games I didn't want to mute. Heck, I insisted upon using headphones so I could hear everything as clearly as possible (sorry, GBA SP users!). Even the occasional voice clips sound really nice, and comparing them to the majority of voice-work in console games today, they hold up really well.

Overall, Boktai is a really fun game with a slick, innovative feature that works really well most of the time. The core gameplay is fun, with cool gun customization, huge dungeons to explore, and dramatic boss battles. The production values here are very nice (coming from Hideo Kojima, that's not much of a surprise!) and everything just fits perfectly. If you're looking for a good new original Game Boy game, look no further. Boktai, despite a few problems, is a great game that deserves your attention.

Score : 9.1/10

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