Unless you had a diverse upbringing or spent your formative years in Europe, you might not know Asterix. To us, an asterix is nothing more than "asterisk" misspelled. However, to those outside of the States, Asterix is a French comic-book character who has been the focus of TV series, movies, and countless merchandising efforts. Asterix and his friend Obelix live in the only Gaul village not conquered by the Roman empire. Suffice it to say, Asterix is a bit hot-tempered. Making the leap into his second Game Boy Color release, it seems Asterix's tree-loving dog, Dogmatix, has disappeared. Thus, Infogrames presents Asterix: The Search for Dogmatix.
When it comes to gameplay, Asterix: TSfD is a rare breed. Unlike a majority of bland platformers, such as Smurfs' Nightmare or A Bug's Life, Asterix actually plays well. The game features two modes: adventure and instant fun. In adventure mode, each of the game's six areas features three levels, a minigame, one boss stage, and an area where you purchase health or passwords. By beating the three main levels, you can access the fourth stage and defeat the boss, triggering the progression of plot elements. Instant fun mode allows direct access to the game's minigames and boss battles, provided you've purchased a password or two. Although the game is single-player only, you have the choice to play as either Asterix or Obelix. Asterix is faster but weaker, whereas Obelix is a slow-moving hulk of a man. True to the genre, Asterix offers classic side-scrolling adventure. Push forward to walk, tap B to punch, and use A to jump. Using these controls, you'll traverse villages, fortresses, and forests searching for gold pieces, alcoholic power-ups, and the occasional key. There's running, there's jumping, and there's fun-loving fisticuffs. Not since Super Mario DX has a platformer wrapped an endearing quest in pleasing gameplay.
Asterix must be a huge property in Europe, because this game's visuals are defined, refined, and, well - fine. Asterix and Obelix move just as you'd expect two happy-go-lucky comic-book characters to move, dripping with animation. Unlike in many GBC releases, they're not tiny sprites either. Both are colorful and large, exuding a level of quality usually seen in Ubisoft or Nintendo releases. Asterix's enemies, the Romans, are also rendered nicely. There are skinny pugilists, fat wrestlers, well-built pikes men, and a whole host of wild animals standing in your path. Each, though only a few pixels large, leaps from the screen as if from a Saturday-morning cartoon. Putting a cherry on top of the whole presentation, the game's backgrounds are diverse, well designed, and filled to the brim with interactive elements, such as crates, collapsing bridges, and tightropes. It would have been nice if the game had a greater diversity of enemies or if the backgrounds weren't reused as much, but considering the amount of heart the game has, these flaws should be taken with a grain of salt.
Continuing Asterix: Search for Dogmatix's level of quality, the game's auditory aspects are wonderful. Effectswise, the game is of the standard fare. Musically, though, the game straps itself into the cockpit and launches itself skyward in a cloudy embrace so endearing you'd think heaven were available in a handheld. Using only standard midi capabilities, the developers have managed to turn out some of the best music to grace the Game Boy Color in a long time. The easier, more relaxed levels are jumpy and upbeat, while boss stages are dark and depressing. Should you find yourself running from an oncoming hazard, the tempo changes to reflect the danger you're in. The folks at Rebellion obviously put a lot of effort into the game's soundtrack, which is a rarity for handhelds these days.
Due to the minimal exposure Asterix has had in the States, it's doubtful this game will gather much of a US following. It's too bad, as Asterix: The Search for Dogmatix is one of the better combinations of platformer and plot to come out in recent years. While it's no fun to have to buy passwords or escape forced movement every four levels, Asterix delivers gameplay rarely seen in handhelds.