Astro Boy: Omega Factor First Impressions

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July 25, 2006

First impressions seems slightly misleading, as I've been through the whole game in a few days.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor is the type of game that got me into RPGs.  Not because it's a great RPG, but because it's a side-scrolling platform shooter.  The type where dodging bullets, remembering where enemies will appear, figuring out boss attack patterns, and quick reflexes are important.  The type of game I sucked at, and so started playing games where I could control people through a menu and/or level them up.  That said, I've still had a couple good days of fun.

To start with the easy stuff, it's technically quite nice.  Colorful, well animated, sounds nice.  It makes plenty use of the GBA's scaling ability, though it can make things look a bit ugly.  Each enemy comes in regular, half-sized, and double-sized varieties.

Run, punch, kick, shoot a laser beam, and jetting for quick movement or ducking... those are your basic moves.  No duck, though; Astro Boy may have thousands of horsepower, but evidently incomplete knees.  Some levels are side-scrolling shooters not of the platform type, but of the aircraft type... though you're still Astro.  As you fight enemies a bar fills, and when it fills a number goes up, indicating how many of your special moves you have.  A more powerful laser move, a spinning gun move that hits everything on screen, or a variation on the jet move that hurts what you pass through.  The limit is 5, at least on Medium difficulty.  You have no limit on lives luckily; it just automatically puts you at the beginning of whatever sub-section you're in unless you actually choose to quit.  Handy for someone who sucks at these games like me.  Eventually, though, I met a boss who I wasn't even getting half defeated before dying myself, so I started a game on Easy mode.  BOY is Easy mode easy.  Enemies don't take as much convincing to die.  They do less damage to Astro.  When you die you start off with 30 special moves rathre than 5, and the limit seems only to be the 2 digits; I never ran out or maxed out.

I've not read or watched a lot of Osamu Tezuka's work, but if you have this game will have something more to offer you.  Throughout the game you'll run into many of his different characters.  Some more hidden than others, and some more integrated into the story than others.  Every time you meet one, though, you get to permanently upgrade one of Astro's abilities.  This is supposed to be a representation of him becoming a more well-rounded individual and learning through experience with different people.

So on Easy mode I reach where I'd stopped on Medium mode, beat the boss, and... well, things go weird.  This might be a bit spoilery, but hell, it's probably the sort of thing mentioned in game previews that I never read.  Astro becomes... unhooked from time, in a Slaughterhouse-Five sort of way.  In game this is represented by gaining a Level Select feature.  When you replay through a stage Astro already knows what's going on, but the other characters don't.  Through the use of this time travel ability, your new goal is to try and find a way around the shitty way things were going before you gained this feature.  If you learn about the involvement of a guy you met in level 5, you go to level 5 and have a chance to speak with him.  If you learn that something should be found on the island in level 2, you go to that level and look for it.  This is a pretty cool mechanic, but it does mean you'll do a lot of replaying parts you've already played.  Particularly when you're not sure where you should be going next, and are trying various possibilities.

Eventually things are mostly straightened out, and a new final level is opened up.  It really is quite a short game if you ignore the forced replaying of areas.  8 main levels, each of which has 3 to 5 small subsections.  So I guess you could think of it like the original Super Mario Bros., if each area was a bit shorted and consisted of moving forward, stopping to fight enemies, and moving forward again.