I'm not a fan of Astro Boy. I think that's an important point to make at the start of post about Astro Boy: Omega Factor, a beat 'em up for the Game Boy Advance starring, obviously, Astro Boy.
It's mostly his look. A robot kid with far more weaponry hidden in his limbs than any robot should have, kid or not. It's unsettling and unappealing.
But maybe I can see past that with a well-developed video game on what appears to be the console of the moment. It's a beat 'em up. I can beat things up. Let's beat things up!
So some kid named Tobio dies in a car accident, I think, and his father isn't having any of it, vowing not only to bring him back from the dead but to make him better than human. Sadly, that means making a boggle-eyed boy with sculpted hair and rocket feet.
A tutorial takes new players through the controls, which make full use of the available buttons on the Game Boy Advance. Jumps, dashes, punches, kicks, ranged and special attacks can all be found and pulled off with no more than two buttons.
It's easy to pick up and feels pretty good to pull off. I'm not a fan of bright stars plopping out of pink explosions, but maybe I'll be able to tune them out over time.
At the end of the tutorial, things take an unexpected, almost philosophical turn...
It turns out that Astro Boy is so powerful that he has been restricted in his abilities, and can only unlock his true potential by meeting people. Not only meeting them but understanding their soul.
Yeah. It's different, as far as unlock mechanics go, but it is a bit weird. It's a bit too on the nose. No offence, doc...
Once into our first actual level, though, you forget about all the 'be a good person and meet everyone' stuff and remember that you've got laser fingers and rocket boots, and can get down to the meat of this beat 'em up: beating things up.
While there are plenty of moments where you don't see the enemy you're attacking because they're at the very edges of the screen (like many beat 'em ups), when there are five or so enemies descending upon your position at once, you can see a great many neat effects from all your attacks.
From the animation of the punches to the distance you'll get when you kick someone away from you, to the light show that accompanies your finger laser, everything feels pretty good. The more basic attacks you land, the more your special bar fills up, and that unleashes even better, even more useful attacks.
Firing a machine gun out of your lower back isn't the conventional way to clear the screen of enemies, but it sure is different. Weird, and not something I want to do too often, but it can be better than the arm cannon, depending on the situation.
A beat 'em up needs boss fights, and the first is with a giant robot spider. Jump, finger laser, jump, finger laser, jump, finger laser, jump, arm cannon, jump, finger laser... it doesn't take too long to show it who's boss.
Straight after that is another boss, and he doesn't look like the Magnamite that I'm familiar with. This one was a right pain in the arse. Omega Factor is generous in its infinite continues, but this guy just wouldn't go down.
I was definitely walking into its attacks, which obviously won't end well, but even when I thought I found a suitable method of combating him, it didn't lead anywhere. Landing on his back just meant getting slapped by his arms, kicking his belly meant getting slapped by his arms, jumping and hitting him from range meant immediately succumbing to gravity and getting blasted in the face by its laser beam...
It was just frustrating, and speedy, infinite continues only lead me to get thumped over and over again.
There are a few difficulty modes, where I could drop down to Easy and see how I fare, but that'd mean I want to know where Omega Factor wants to take me, and I don't. I really don't.
It is interesting that to improve your skills and abilities you have to interact with people and 'understand their soul', but at the end of the day, that's just a funny way of keeping your skillset somewhat balanced throughout the game. I'm not becoming a better person, I'm just pumping the points those people give me into 'Punch', so I have an easier time hitting things.
If you want a beat 'em up, though, Astro Boy: Omega Factor does do a pretty good job of things. The attacks are simple to get to grips with and can be combined with your jumps and dashes to get around all kinds of colourful enemies with all the grace of a rocket-powered robot boy.
I do hope you like Astro Boy as a character, though. I could mostly ignore him during gameplay, but as soon as those cutscenes hit between the boss fights, ugh, I wanted none of it. I'm just not a fan of what's on display.
The underlying gameplay, not bad at all. The lick of paint applied on top of it all, not for me.
Holding off on a North American release until a TV show was ready to air alongside it meant extra development time on the game, including retweaked levels, an additional difficulty mode and framerate fixes.
Astro Boy: Omega Factor, developed by Treasure, Hitmaker, first released in 2003.
Version played: Game Boy Advance, 2004, via emulation.