reviews\ Aug 25, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Astro Boy - PS2 - Review

Slower than a speeding bullet but more powerful than 1,000,000 horses, Astro Boy is a little-known superhero from the land of the rising sun.  His big eyes, round nose and emphasized hairline are hardly the ingredients for a robot super child.  Encounter this guy in the air and you'll wish he looked meaner.  Then you wouldn't have to feel silly when he blasts you out of the sky.

Developed by Sonic Team, the PlayStation 2 version of Astro Boy is entirely different from its GBA sibling.  His attacks are mostly the same, but the game world is in full 3D.  Wanna dash to evade your opponents' attacks?  You can do that – but who needs a dash move when you could fly out of the way instead?  Once Astro Boy gains his special flight boots (which he acquires thirty seconds into the game), the left and right analog sticks become your flight control system.

This is something I've been thinking about for a long time.  I thought it'd be really cool if the left analog stick controlled forward and backward movement, and the right analog stick would move the character in all other aerial directions.  In theory it seemed like it could work so perfectly, but no game had done it so I had no way to verify that my idea was a good one.

Leave it to Sonic Team, the inventors of innovation, to be the first to do it.  The result: a good concept gone bad by slow gameplay and inconsistent controls.

During normal gameplay, Astro Boy is controlled as previously described.  While difficult at first, this control scheme feels great once you get used to it.  Then you realize that you can fly much faster by holding down the square button.  That's great, but as a result you lose some of your control.  The right analog stick is not accessible when holding the square button.  Thus, the control style changes.  Now it feels like a flight simulator, where you press the throttle button and control all movement with the left stick.

The increase in speed is enough of a reason to use the feature, but it's not enough to make the game play as fast as it should.  However, it is enough to make Astro Boy harder to maneuver through tight areas.

These flaws are impossible to overlook for a number of reasons, the number-one reason being that the game relies on your ability to fly.  When a game puts so much on one aspect, both in combat and exploration, it should be as perfect as possible.  Considering this is the first game in the series, maybe it couldn’t have been made better.  That doesn't make it any more appealing.

As you go through the game and look for missions to complete, you'll be forced to talk to dozens of computer-controlled characters you'd rather not have conversations with.  Conversation does not have be to be engaged with all characters, but if you don't talk to everyone, how will you be certain you didn't miss something?

You'll also be forced to watch long movie sequences, none of which can be skipped.  On the up side these movie sequences are far superior to the crappy 2D sequences featured in the GBA version.  Regardless, there's no reason why a "skip" button shouldn't have been added.  That'd be like having a DVD that blocked out your player's scene skip function.

The battles are just barely above the point-and-click level.  It's a far cry from the pummel-you-into-the-ground bosses that the GBA version is loaded with.  In this version all you have to do is punch or lunge toward enemies to take them down.  Your life bar is much too big to make the weak enemies challenging.

This ended up having the biggest impact of all on my experience.  I don't want to spend time talking to NPCs (non-player characters), that's what role-playing games are for.  I don't want to be forced to watch drab movie sequences.  These are two boring tasks that no one wants to bother with, the exception being those who love the show and everything connected to it.  It's doubtful that more than a few hundred people fit that bill outside of those who live in Japan.

The thing that really killed the experience was the enemies.  I wanted to have to work really hard to beat the game.  I wanted to have to strive for success, dodging enemy attacks as if my life really depended on it.  That's the kind of action Astro Boy: Omega Factor gave us on the Game Boy Advance.  The PS2 version had a bigger budget and a larger, more prestigious studio at the helm.  Yet for some reason or other it didn't come together.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 5.5
Astro Boy is a flight action/adventure game that doesn't have much action.  That leaves flying and adventuring.  While Astro Boy does the flight part pretty well, he doesn't fly as fast or smoothly as he could (and should) have.  His aerial battles aren't as fun as they look.

Graphics: 5
Washed out, dated effects that can't compare to Sega's other PS2 offerings.

Sound: 7
Much better than the GBA version.  Astro Boy's sounds are less annoying, and the music is fairly decent.  Not Sega's best, but it sounds better and more original than most of what's out there.

Difficulty: Easy
Beat a boss, go to the bathroom, and come back.  "What was that?  Go to the bathroom?"  Yes.  Movie sequences come frequently and some can last a really long time.  Why waste all that time sitting there when you could be going to the bathroom, getting a snack, or mowing the lawn?

Concept: 8
Great flight aspect, great idea, great promise.  How could it not have worked?

Overall: 5.5
Astro Boy is slow enough for players to mistake it for a first-generation PSone game.  The dated graphics are unappealing; the enemies act like shooting range targets (you can shoot them but they don't shoot back); and the control scheme, the one thing that really set Astro Boy apart from the crowd, is messed up by numerous inconsistencies.  I think they could have fixed some of the control problems just by using the shoulder buttons more.  I guess we'll never know.


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