In case you sleep in on Saturdays, Action Man is a popular CGI animated children's property made by the same folks who brought you ReBoot and Beast Wars. To bring Action Man to the Game Boy Color, THQ has enlisted Natsume to do the honors. The result is a side-scrolling action game that almost re-creates the same level of gameplay and creativity that brought the genre to its heyday in the 16-bit era.
Assuming the role of Alex Mann, the Action Man, your job in Action Man: Search For Base X is to track down and stop the evil Dr. X from unleashing a terrible weapon of mass destruction. As Action Man, your search will take you through a number of harsh environments and require you to perform a number of extreme behaviors, such as mountain climbing, vine jumping, and cave-based SCUBA diving. Along the way, you'll also make use of a variety of spiffy gadgets, including pistols, crossbows, EMP grenades, spy cameras, and disarmament devices. Considering the mountain of robotic weaponry and booby traps Dr. X has placed in your way, you're going to need all the help you can get.
Action Man: Search For Base X may sound like a run-of-the-mill action game, but the beauty of it lies in how Natsume and THQ have fashioned the game together. Each of the game's 15 missions is spread across six main areas. Within each of these areas are two or three mission objectives. The clever twist to all of this is that you don't blandly choose which mission you're to complete from a menu but by your own actions and the equipment you use in the field. For example, a quick run through the jungle level will eventually lead you to destroy a weapons factory, but if you're equipped with the diving suit and flashlight, you can take an alternate route and sabotage a power generator instead. You don't begin the game with a full arsenal of equipment though, so you're required to reexplore every area multiple times to unearth all of the tools you'll need to complete the game's mission objectives. Thankfully, a simplistic password system lets you track your progress.
In addition to its wonderfully designed mission and equipment system, Action Man: Search For Base X plays exceptionally well. For a standard action game, there's a lot to do. Depending on the terrain, Action Man can run, jump, crouch, swim, or climb, and every level usually calls for a little of each. As far as weapons usage, you can bring two weapons into battle with you, some of which are used long range, some close range, and some automatically. Projectile weapons, such as pistols and rifles, fire in five directions, while grenades and other niceties depend on the situation. In addition to vanquishing an overabundant array of mechanized enemies, environmental interaction also plays a pivotal role. Many levels feature vines, ledges, or waterways that can carry you through to multiple routes, while terrain such as quicksand forces you to contend with an additional level of apprehension. About the only obvious negatives against the game are the repetition by which enemies appear and its challenging difficulty level. However, much like in Contra on the NES and SNES, constant exploration of each environment greatly evens the odds.
Not only does Action Man: Search For Base X play well, but it looks and sounds great also. Each of the game's levels is colorful and vibrant, with well-rendered foliage, lakes, and mountains faithfully portraying environments that are less than comfortable. Enemy sprites aren't exceptionally colorful, but they and Action Man himself animate with amazing fluidity for such an underpowered system. Animated cutscenes also show off your successes as you progress. For a bit of added flavor, each of Action Man's different outfits provides a new look for each of the terrains he explores, while meteorological effects, such as rain and snow, lend an air of credibility to the game's locations. Underlying the onscreen action, the game has a generic but wholly appropriate soundtrack that is both upbeat and catchy. Sound effects aren't particularly extravagant, but Action Man's simulated grunts and groans stand out as exceptions from a varied array of explosion and collision effects.
Considering the industry's adjustment toward the Game Boy Advance, Action Man: Search For Base X comes as a pleasant surprise in the Game Boy Color's waning development schedule. While the game could be a touch easier and a tad less repetitive, it's still a fine addition to the 2D action genre.