Sigma Star Saga E3 2005 Preshow Hands-On

We can't wait to play more of this GBA role-playing game, which features side-scrolling space-shooter battles.

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One of the most pleasant surprises at Namco's pre-E3 event was Sigma Star Saga, an upcoming role-playing game for the Game Boy Advance that will feature an original sci-fi storyline and space-shooter-style action sequences. Now, that's a cool combination. The game's obviously going to appeal to longtime game players who grew up playing both RPGs and side-scrolling shoot-'em-ups on 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. But Sigma Star Saga looks like it'll do more than just cash in on old-school nostalgia. It's a neat-looking game that reminds us that 2D gaming really ought to never go out of style.

Sci-fi settings and space-shooter action make for a pretty cool combination in Sigma Star Saga.
Sci-fi settings and space-shooter action make for a pretty cool combination in Sigma Star Saga.

In Sigma Star Saga, you'll play as Ian Recker, a starfighter pilot tasked with waging a losing battle against a malevolent alien species called the krill. One fateful day, Recker alone survives a crushing battle against the krill. He's branded a hero, but at what cost? Things happen and Recker unwittingly becomes the subject of a mysterious plot to infiltrate the krill from the inside. He's practically delivered to them on a silver platter and somehow manages to be accepted into their ranks. What happens next is what the Sigma Star Saga is all about: Recker's search for answers and his fight for survival. The introductory sequence, delivered simply in scrolling text, actually grabbed us through the creative premise and some sharp, clever writing. Good dialogue and memorable characters should help make Sigma Star Saga stand out even among the numerous high-quality RPGs already available for the GBA.

The RPG portions of the game play out from a top-down perspective and have sort of a Zelda feel to them, since Recker's ever-growing list of special moves and abilities, as well as some action elements, are incorporated into the proceedings. Recker will be able to speak to different characters while roaming around a variety of different environments. After he learns a few krill tricks, he'll be able to blast stuff with a "puny Earth gun," meld into the floor, fly, and other weird stuff like that. Still, this is pretty standard action RPG material.

The shooter portions are really the big surprise, and they're evidently paying homage to classics like Gradius. One neat touch is that you'll actually gain experience as you gun down enemy fighters, eventually leveling up and increasing your power. Sigma Star Saga will also feature randomized maps in the shooter levels, ensuring that there's lots of variety and replay value. You'll even be able to create custom weapons by tweaking several different properties, which will make for an almost unlimited number of different fine-tuned combinations. Want a tightly focused direct-fire weapon? You got it. Want a spread shot that'll fill the screen with firepower? Check. Pretty much anything in between should be possible, too.

What we played of Sigma Star Saga felt pretty good, though we were surprised to learn that the game was scheduled to be done in just a matter of months, as it still seemed as though it required quite a bit of tuning and balancing. So we're holding out hope that everything will fall into place and that this game will live up to its potential. At E3, we hope to see an updated build that feels closer to being finished (we were told that the game should be pretty much done by the time the big show rolls around). The ingredients that we got to sample at the pre-E3 event certainly suggested that everything was present to make for a fun game.

Custom weapons and randomized maps will keep the replay value high in this game.
Custom weapons and randomized maps will keep the replay value high in this game.

Sigma Star Saga is a throwback to classic sci-fi anime, though it's actually being developed by California-based WayForward, best known for its Game Boy cult classic Shantae. The developer seems to have really nailed the look of this game, which is a spitting image of 16-bit shooters and RPGs, despite having its own distinctive touches. We can't say enough about how cool we think the whole concept is, since it melds two of our favorite styles of gaming together into one. And with 20-plus hours of gameplay promised, Sigma Star Saga ought to deliver more than just a good first impression when it's released in late July. We're crossing our fingers on this one.

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