The PlayStation 2 version of Astro Boy showed us exactly what most gamers expect from a licensed game: unfinished, glitchy, uninspired - just downright poor. Now we face the GBA game with the same air of trepidation, but we look at the game's box and what do we see? A very small black area with the word 'Treasure' in it. There - it's been sold to a fair few of you already, hasn't it? The name of Treasure alone really is enough to sell a game to a number of people. It's usually a sign of inescapable quality, fantastic level design and stunning bosses; all the hallmarks of a Treasure game. But I'm not one of those people that take this seal of quality as a given. Does Astro Boy live up to the Treasure lineage?
Short answer - yes, I think, but I'm not a Treasure fanboy, so devotees of the company will likely lap it up far more than myself. Brawling his way through the 13 stages, Astro can call on his finger laser, his arm cannon or (definitely best of all) his rear machine gun. As in rear. As in backside. As in bottom. HE HAS A MACHINE GUN IN HIS ARSE. There are just some sentences you never think you'll write...
Following an interesting blend of platformer and shmup helps Astro Boy stand out from the rest of the GBA crowd, with most levels taking on a fairly standard platformer guise - while running through fortresses, secret bases and city streets Astro batters an assortment of enemies with his flailing fists and roundhouse kicks, throwing in the aforementioned lasers (and bum cannons) whenever the player deems it worthy of doing so. These stages are flowing and fun, and a number of different elements are introduced through different levels - in one area the gravity controller is down, resulting in floating enemies and a main character that can jump around four times his normal jumping height. Couple that ability with his boosters and you have an Astro Boy that can jump rather high indeed. It's these little touches that keep the player interested and makes them press on to see what else the game throws up.
The shmup levels that are thrown in for good measure also add to the overall charm of the package, with Astro boosting his way through the skies doing away with throngs of enemies using his finger laser (though unfortunately not his botty blaster). However, these stages in particular highlight one persistent fault of the game: Slowdown. When there is a lot of action on screen - which happens a lot - the game can slow down something chronic. Fortunately, these instances don't hamper play much and serve to highlight how much is being pushed out of the GBA, rather than anything particularly negative.
Boss encounters - another staple of the Treasure diet - come thick and fast. A whole host of massive bad guys await Astro on his adventures, along with their smaller counterparts and their shape-shifting friends. The bosses in Astro Boy are brilliant. Simple as. Each battle is just that - a battle. Some enemies take up the entire screen - this isn't saying much for a GBA title, but still, it is impressive. Others merely infuriate to the point of wanting to cast the handheld into the waiting arms of the nearest brick wall, but the bosses always force you to come back. It's coded into the human system to crave victory, and ten minutes after the machine has been turned off in a fit of rage it'll be back on again and the boss in question will be having his backside kicked. With Astro's backside, usually.
RPG-alike elements fill the game. Each time a character is met in the game, they are imprinted on Astro's soul and he can add an attribute point to one of his skills. The player has the choice here; whether they want to power up his arm cannon, increase the ability of his sensors or use the points elsewhere, it is up to them. This element lifts the game above and beyond the norm and fits in more than nicely with the feel of the game. Nothing at all feels crammed in here or shoehorned there. In fact, I think some of that fabled 'Treasure Magic(TM)' has rubbed off on me...
Bad points are few and far between, with only the slowdown being of any real concern. The sometimes frustrating difficulty can be overcome by simply being a better player - A silly statement maybe, but you certainly can't accuse the game of relying on cheap tactics, unlike a fair few other releases these days. This can work against the game, though, with skilled players being able to work through the game in a fairly short time, but for us normal folk (i.e. me) it can provide a surprising challenge.
In no way is this GBA version of Astro Boy on the same level of atrocities as the PS2 hack-job - it's a solid and fun game that is easy to enjoy and with enough Treasure characteristics to please the hardened shooter fan, along with anyone else who happens to pick it up. Recommended.