Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom Import Impressions

We check out Sega and Treasure's Game Boy Advance action game.

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Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom is the recently released 2D side-scroller for the Game Boy Advance that stars the popular anime robot created by Osamu Tezuka. While the character first appeared in comics and on television in the '60s and '70s, the Game Boy Advance game is based on a new cartoon series that started last year. The game has been developed through a collaboration between Sega's Hitmaker studio and fan favorite Treasure, whose classic games like Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and Guardian Heroes have earned the veteran studio a sterling reputation for all things 2D. We recently spent some time with the import game and are pleased to report that it's a nicely tricked-out action title for the GBA.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Astro Boy phenomenon, the character is a robot that was created by a human engineer to try and fill the personal void left after his young son is killed. While the young robot doesn't really manage to fill this particular void, he does become a powerful force for good who winds up having a plethora of adventures and meets all sorts of interesting folk.

The game's structure breaks down into seven stages that are made up of different sublevels. The gameplay further breaks down into three main types, which include side-scrolling fighting, shooting sequences, and boss battles. The side-scrolling fighting is pretty standard and features waves of foes that are thrown at you. You'll have to defeat all of your onscreen enemies before you can move through a level. The shooting sequences are flying segments where you deal with various airborne foes that come at you in forced-scrolling levels. The boss battles pit Astro Boy against a rogue's gallery of opponents.

While the forces arrayed against Astro Boy are formidable, you'll find he's more than ready for the challenge. You're able to punch and kick your foes, or you can use Astro Boy's finger laser to take them out. When you're in a jam, you're able to use one of Astro Boy's three special moves. The machine gun fires a spray of bullets that hits all enemies onscreen. The machine gun can freeze most enemies in place for a few seconds and can even deal out fatal damage to lesser foes. The arm cannon fires a powerful blast that's much stronger than the standard finger laser. Finally, the ex dash sends Astro Boy hurtling at foes in a rocket-powered bolt. You're able to use these special moves as often as you'd like, provided you have enough energy stored. A "super" meter fills when you use any of Astro Boy's normal attacks, and it lets you build up to 99 charges. While this makes it pretty easy to abuse these special powers, if you play the game on hard mode, you can definitely expect some old-school pain, as you're only able to have three charges stored at any one time.

As you clear stages in the game, you'll meet up with assorted characters from the Astro Boy universe. The characters are arranged on a grid, based on their affiliations with good or evil, and are essentially collectibles that you can find in the game that you can then view in a gallery mode. In addition to providing a plethora of cameos that should please fans, encountering characters often rewards you with points that you can use to power up one of six of Astro Boy's attributes, which include life, punch, laser, shot, jet, and sensor. Life increases the capacity of Astro Boy's health bar. Punch boosts the power of his punches and kicks. Laser and shot power up his machine gun and arm cannon specials. Jet increases the number of dashes you're able to perform in midair. Finally, points put into the sensor attribute improve how much you can see in certain levels. For example, your range of vision is impaired in certain areas if you haven't allotted any points to this attribute.

Control in the game is responsive and makes the most of the GBA's button layout. Astro Boy's special moves are assigned to the shoulder buttons and can also be activated by holding down the A and B buttons. Punches are performed with the B button, while kicks are performed by pressing down on the directional pad and pressing the B button. The finger laser is triggered by pressing up and hitting B. Double-tapping in a direction lets you briefly dash in that direction. Interestingly, an exploitable perk of dashing is the fact that you can avoid enemy attacks for a few moments while moving. As you'd expect--given Treasure's penchant for including features that hardcore players can master--you can use the dash during battles with foes, and, if used properly, you can avoid a majority of damage from your foes.

The game's graphics are nicely detailed and sport flashes of the inspired sprite-filled lunacy Treasure is known for. Astro Boy is nicely represented in 2D form and animates smoothly. The various stages he fights his way through sport a detailed art style that's true to the cartoon. On the technical side of things, Treasure plays the GBA like a violin by offering generous amounts of onscreen action, parallax scrolling, and plenty of strong visual elements. In addition to the in-game graphics, you'll also see some basic animated story sequences.

The game's audio is modest but good. You'll hear a smattering of sound samples during the action that are quite clear. The music is quite robust, thanks to some catchy tunes.

Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom is an engaging, good-looking GBA game that offers an appealing overall package that's worth checking out. While the game isn't terribly long--as you should be able to finish the game on easy in about two hours--there's quite a bit of replay value packed into it. In addition to having to play through the game at least twice to find all of the characters, you're able to go through the game on the hard difficulty, which changes some things up for you and forces you to work a lot harder. Importers will obviously miss out on the story, but the game is still a blast to play. At present there's no official word on whether or not the game will come out stateside, although we expect that it will if the new Astro Boy cartoon takes off in the US.

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