Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand Preview
We break out the sunscreen and play Hideo Kojima's upcoming Game Boy Advance game.
The Game Boy platform has inspired developers to try some pretty interesting things with cartridge-based games. Pokémon Pinball made use of a battery-powered rumble feature, and Kirby's Tilt 'n' Tumble featured a gyroscope that let you control the pink puffball by physically moving the Game Boy. The latest, and possibly coolest, feature to make its way to a handheld cartridge can be found in Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand, an upcoming Game Boy Advance game from the mind of Hideo Kojima that uses a light sensor.
Boktai puts you in the role of a newly minted vampire hunter on the trail of one of the baddest vamps around. You're pretty much drafted into your new, potentially fatal, occupation by Otenko, a messenger of the sun who is convinced you have the right stuff. You can blame your family tree for putting you on the dangerous career path--your father passed on a solar-powered gun, the Gun Del Sol, that's just what the doctor ordered for wiping out undead creatures. Fortunately, Otenko doesn't just throw you to the undead wolves. The sun-shaped spirit will tag along to help out, though he mainly just pops out to offer advice, as opposed to helping in the fight against the creatures eager to kill you. It seems a bit wrong to travel with a small sun who won't shed a ray of light to help you fight against creatures vulnerable to light, but there you go. Maybe it's meant to build character.
The core gameplay in Boktai is pretty standard action RPG fare with some cool stealth elements thrown in for good measure. You'll travel to different locations and explore dungeons that are chock-full of enemies to kill and puzzles to solve. Each area will feature an immortal that you'll have to defeat by dragging his or her coffin out into the light and engaging him or her in a battle to death. While you'll be able to use the Gun Del Sol to take out just about any foe you encounter--other than the aforementioned immortals--you'll also have the option of sneaking about and avoiding enemies altogether. One of the slickest aspects of this is the ability to tap a wall, making just enough noise to draw a guard out to investigate the source of the noise, which lets you sneak around him.
While the stealth gameplay in Boktai is nice, the light mechanic is extremely cool. The game detects sunlight via a sensor on the game cartridge. When the game detects light, it changes to reflect that. For example, when you're in an outdoor environment in the game and are outside with sun hitting the sensor, your gun will slowly recharge its solar battery, or you can speed the process up by forcing a quick charge. When you're in indoor environments in the game and have sunlight shining on the sensor, shafts of light will appear through windows, skylights, or other holes in the structure, which will let you recharge your gun while indoors. Though, while being able to keep your weapon charged in indoor environments is nice, sunlight plays a vital role when attempting to defeat the immortals. When you engage in a battle with an immortal, after dragging his or her coffin outside, you'll need sunlight to help power the special weapons needed to win, which pretty much forces you to play at least part of the game outside. While you can make it through the dungeons with judicious use of the Gun Del Sol, you absolutely have to be in the sun for a battle with an immortal. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a way to fool the sensor, as we discovered in our various attempts to trick it with different light sources. So far, the sensor reacts only to good old-fashioned sunlight, so stock up on that sunscreen.
The graphics in Boktai are impressive and detailed, and they make use of some cool special effects. The main character is large and features some nice graphical flourishes, such as a small red scarf that moves as you run, and the animation is smooth and plentiful. The environments are large and feature a stylized look that is packed with detail. You'll be able to make out leaves on trees, weathering on rocks and trees, and reflections in water. The game will also feature some very cool transparency effects that simulate fog.
The audio in Boktai is pretty stellar, thanks to clear speech samples and very cool ambient audio effects. The game's intro shows off some exceptionally clear speech, as do Otenko's emphatic cries during specific moments in the game. Your character also features some solid voice samples as well, most notably when he recharges the Gun Del Sol and yells "taiyoh."
From what we've seen so far, Boktai is coming along very nicely. The game looks very good and controls equally well. The core gameplay is solid on its own, and the sun mechanic adds an entirely new gameplay mechanic that is actually pretty cool. We're not 100-percent sold on being forced to play the game outside, given the nocturnal aspect of the gaming lifestyle, but it's certainly cool. Boktai is currently slated to ship later this year for the Game Boy Advance. Look for more on the game in the coming months.