Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django Review

  • First Released Oct 19, 2004
  • GBA

Boktai 2 stands as a unique action adventure experience that's sufficiently different from the first game to make it seem fresh and interesting all over again.

Now that last year's Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand has a sequel, there exists a grand total of two video games that require sunlight. The use of the sun's rays wasn't just some gratuitous gimmick in Boktai; it made sense in the context of an action adventure game in which you had to fight powerful vampires whose only weakness was an aversion to concentrated sunlight. The original Boktai turned out to be a solid action adventure game with a unique twist, and though the sequel plays out quite a bit differently in some ways--and is much tougher than the original (mostly due to some mind-bending puzzles)--it still also fits this description. Boktai 2's steeper difficulty level and direct tie-in to the original game's storyline means it will be probably be most enjoyed by fans of the original who are eager for a greater challenge. However, newcomers will be more impressed at how sunlight ties into the gameplay, since Boktai fans will already know what to expect in this regard. Even so, original Boktai fans will be in for some surprising twists.

An anime-style spaghetti Western/horror movie that needs sunlight for best results? That's Boktai 2.
An anime-style spaghetti Western/horror movie that needs sunlight for best results? That's Boktai 2.

In Boktai 2, you reprise the role of Django, a vampire hunter who travels with his sunflower-shaped mentor Otenko. Their journey has led them to a town called San Miguel, wherein they discover that something called the "undeadening" is threatening the land. Immortals are lurking nearby, regaining their energies so that they might cast the world into shadow. It's unclear why these vampiric foes have survived, but Django's work is cut out for him all the same. There's quite a bit of story in Boktai 2, and it can be difficult to follow, at first. It refers back to the climactic events from the original game, which frankly weren't all that memorable. Basically, it's stuff about Django's family and his relationship to his rival Sabata. It is easy enough to pick up on what's happening after a fairly slow and sometimes painfully difficult start, though. Boktai 2 takes a good several hours to hit its stride.

The game's premise is more immediately engaging than the specifics of the story. It's essentially an anime-inspired cross between a monster movie and a spaghetti Western. In fact, the latter influence is much more overt in Boktai 2 than in the original, what with the game's spaghetti Western-inspired music and cast of characters. Django and Sabata merely take their names from a couple of spaghetti Western gunslingers, but some of the other cast now include archetypal characters, like a gunsmith-turned-blacksmith, a Native American-looking guardsman, and a spirited young lass who speaks with a Southern drawl. The immortals you'll face are much different and resemble your token arrogant anime villains--before they transform into something much bigger and meaner-looking. Despite being a sequel, Boktai 2 manages to have its own distinctive sense of style.

As in Boktai, the main purpose of playing in sunlight in Boktai 2 is to provide Django with energy for his attacks. The brighter and stronger the sunlight that hits the game's small solar sensor, the more quickly Django recovers his energy...provided he's standing outside in the game. Even in interior sequences, the world of the game sometimes changes dynamically depending on whether you're playing in the light. For instance, you'll see sunlight peaking through the windows--or not--depending on the conditions you're playing in. A real-time clock further adds to the complexity, because the presence and behavior of some foes changes depending on the time of day.

Sunlight is strictly necessary to perform the purification process required to finally defeat one of the game's main bosses, and it's also required for certain puzzles. For instance, some floating platforms or other objects may not appear unless it's sunny out. In general, sunlight plays an even more important role here than in the previous game. On the other hand, one of Boktai 2's main twists is that something happens to Django during the course of the game that makes the properties of the sun start to affect him rather differently than he's used to. It's an interesting surprise when this event occurs, and it opens up a number of new puzzle-solving possibilities due to the new powers Django acquires.

Unfortunately for Django, at the beginning of the game, his signature firearm is snatched away by a powerful vampire, leaving him empty-handed and in a heap of trouble. It seems that the world's best antivampire weapon, the gun del sol, is now in the hands of the enemy. Soon enough, Django gets his hands on a decent replacement: a magical gauntlet called the sol de vice. Using it in tandem with some melee weapons, Django learns to imbue his attacks with solar energy and other powers. Visually, Boktai 2 appears almost indistinguishable from its predecessor, at first glance, but the gameplay itself has noticeably changed, beginning with the loss of the gun del sol.

The bright and colorful visuals look just like those of the first game, but Boktai 2 plays quite a bit differently in a lot of ways.
The bright and colorful visuals look just like those of the first game, but Boktai 2 plays quite a bit differently in a lot of ways.

The melee combat in Bokai 2 is decent but not that great. You'll get to use swords, spears, and hammers (as well as your fists), but none of these types of attacks looks or feels entirely satisfying. Django must stand still while attacking, and the game's isometric viewpoint can make lining up your attacks a little cumbersome at times. The action can also slow down quite a bit when there are several enemies onscreen at once. And as if to make up for all this, Boktai 2 now features more role-playing elements, starting with an experience point system and the ability to level up and customize your character's stats. It's possible to avoid many opponents in the game, but you'll generally want to fight them, because doing so will help make you stronger.

The game is also quite heavy on puzzle-solving, and the puzzles are fairly challenging, even from the start. Many of the puzzles involve pushing blocks around to their proper destinations. You can push blocks, but you cannot pull them, so it's easy to find yourself stuck. Entering and exiting the room resets the puzzle, allowing you to keep on trying for as many times as it takes. There are some variations on the common theme, often requiring the use of your various melee weapons and the different elemental charges you'll pick up. Different combinations of weapons and enchantments will let you do such things as throw switches from afar, melt solid blocks of ice, smash wooden crates, kill evil weeds, and more. In all, Boktai 2's puzzles can be surprisingly complex, but, at times, they can be a little frustrating--especially if and when sunlight is the key to getting past them...and there's none available, thus forcing you to save your progress and hope for a good forecast tomorrow.

Probably the worst thing about Boktai 2 is its release in the heart of the fall season. The original Boktai shipped about a month earlier, but the seemingly brief four-week period between September and October is the turning point at which the northern hemisphere's primary season goes from summer to fall. The difference, of course, is that the closer you get to the tail end of the year, the less likely you are to enjoy sunny weather, provided that you live in a part of the world in which the seasons affect the climate in a traditional fashion. At any rate, much like the original Boktai, it's not that you simply cannot play Boktai 2 without sunlight (because, as previously suggested, some key parts of the game actually require you to stay out of the sun), but you actually need sunlight to continue to make steady progress in the game. You can't spoof the solar sensor, either. You can play indoors if the sun is shining straight through a window, but for best results, you need to take the action outside...and "outside" where it's sunny and not just bright.

There are many puzzles to be solved in Boktai 2, and they're often tougher than the foes you'll face.
There are many puzzles to be solved in Boktai 2, and they're often tougher than the foes you'll face.

Boktai 2 has a few other additions to gameplay not found in the original game. The solar-forging process, for example, lets you upgrade your weapons or make new ones by combining what you've got. You need to do this while in the sun, and the stronger the sun is beating down, the stronger the weapon you can potentially make--but the tougher it will be to perfectly time the rhythmic button presses that represent striking while the iron is hot. Also, since you'll now be carrying multiple weapons and enchantments, there's a new quick-selection system for switching between these on the fly. You just press and hold the select button, and then you can change your equipped enchantment and weapon with the left and right shoulder buttons, respectively. It takes a little while to get used to this system, but it ends up working quite well to support the action's newfound complexity. Django's carrying capacity is also limited in Boktai 2, which adds to the overall difficulty, because it means you can't just horde items that heal you or restore your energy.

Despite all the differences, the core of Boktai 2's gameplay remains the same. As in Boktai, you can do such things as flatten your back against a wall and tap on it Solid Snake-style to create a diversion, though you rarely need to act stealthily. Your goal is to hunt down immortals one by one by fighting and puzzle-solving your way through their domains so you can then defeat them on their home turfs. Each of these fights is quite impressive and makes for some of Boktai 2's more memorable moments. But the fun doesn't stop here, because these guys are called "immortals" for a reason. After being defeated, they're sealed in coffins, which Django must drag back to San Miguel so they can be purified once and for all. Dragging back the bad guys isn't as much of a drag as it sounds, since, inevitably, you'll need to take a slightly different path back to town. The coffins are actually integrated into some additional puzzles, such as those in which you need to use the coffin as a weight to open a door you couldn't otherwise pass through. Once you finally get back to the solar pile driver, where purification takes place, another boss fight, of sorts, occurs as you start blasting your foe with concentrated sunlight, even as it desperately tries to resist.

Boktai 2 is longer than the first game, in part, because it effectively limits how much progress you can make in a day, but also, in part, because its puzzles can stump you. The game also has a bunch of optional areas to explore where you can level up and find better weapons and "protectors," which are basically suits of armor. Furthermore, Boktai 2 features a simple action-packed multiplayer mode, for up to four players, in which participants battle it out by hacking at one another while vying for possession of special coins. The points you earn in multiplayer can be used to purchase certain items in the main game, and you can optionally fight your friends for their stored solar energy as well. You may also buy and sell weapons with another player, and to facilitate the multiplayer mode, Boktai 2 supports the GBA wireless adapter that ships with Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen.

Though it's a sequel, Boktai 2 still manages to feel fresh and different once its action picks up.
Though it's a sequel, Boktai 2 still manages to feel fresh and different once its action picks up.

As mentioned, Boktai 2 looks very similar to its predecessor, but it still looks great. Django and most all the other characters in the game are colorful and smoothly animated, and the environments are also good-looking. It's fun to see them change dynamically with or without sunlight, too. Django's attack animations appear a little halfhearted, but, overall, Boktai 2 is reminiscent of some of the best-looking games from the 16-bit era. Its audio is probably even better than its graphics, thanks to both the great, new Western-inspired soundtrack and the ample use of digitized speech, which allows each of the characters in the game to have a bit of spoken dialogue that is voiced clearly and appropriately for him or her. The actual sound effects are simple, but, in general, Boktai 2's presentation adds a lot to the game's charm.

Like the original, Boktai 2 integrates sunlight into its gameplay in a way that's more innovative than it is gimmicky--and it doesn't use this admittedly unusual mechanic like a crutch. There are plenty of solid action, puzzle, and role-playing elements here, so, if anything, Boktai 2's requirement for sunlight is sooner a deterrent than anything else during these cooler autumn months. Nevertheless, Boktai 2 stands as a unique experience that's sufficiently different from the first game to make it seem fresh and interesting all over again.

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The Good

  • Excellent presentation
  • Changes to the first game's formula make the sequel feel fresh
  • Use of sunlight leads to some innovative puzzles
  • Some interesting plot twists and other surprises

The Bad

  • Slow to start; assumes your familiarity with the first Boktai
  • Requirement for sunlight can be frustrating
  • Puzzles can be surprisingly difficult right from the start

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