Like the similarly themed Robotech: Battlecry for the Xbox, GameCube, and PlayStation 2, the recently released Robotech: The Macross Saga for the Game Boy Advance attempts to re-create the Japanese animated TV show of the same name--which first aired in the US during the mid-1980s--in video game form. The Macross Saga told the tale of a race of alien giants called the Zentraedi and their attempts to take back a derelict spaceship that had crash-landed on Earth some 10 years prior. Under the guidance of a multinational military body known simply as UN Spacy, the humans developed fighter jets with the ability to transform into massive armored robots in order to deal with this alien threat. Called veritechs, these fighter jet/robot hybrids have since become instantly recognizable by fans of the show, and they continue to serve as the inspiration for mech designs in games, movies, and anime. As in Battlecry, you'll pilot one of these veritechs in The Macross Saga in an attempt to defeat swarms of Zentraedi. Unfortunately, the game has a laundry list of problems, from being too short to suffering from horrific slowdown, that prevent it from being as interesting as its source material.
To be fair, The Macross Saga starts off on a good foot, so to speak. Instead of having to play a brand-new character as you did in Battlecry, you can assume the role of one of the show's five most recognizable UN Spacy pilots: Rick Hunter, Max Sterling, Roy Fokker, Miriya Sterling, and Ben Dixon. Additionally, each of these pilots has a unique set of characteristics that somewhat reflect their abilities as they were portrayed in the animated series. Max, for instance, has the fastest veritech of the bunch, while Rick's is the most well rounded. Each pilot is assigned a piloting, speed, strength, endurance, and power rating, and at the end of every mission, you'll be awarded a certain number of points that you can allocate into any of these five characteristics. What's more, the variances between each pilot as well as the improvements you make to their abilities are quite noticeable in the actual game.
From there, however, The Macross Saga starts to fall apart. The game is split into 10 single-player missions that take place during some of the show's most memorable sequences. Unfortunately, the missions themselves are excruciatingly repetitive and involve little more than mowing down wave after wave of Zentraedi battle pods, fighter pods, and power armor-clad warriors. It's nothing that you haven't seen before in countless 8- and 16-bit shooters, and there's little done to break up the monotony. Your veritech is equipped with a limitless supply of ammo, as well as a few missiles that you can fire one by one. Along the way, you'll be able to pick up a handful of weapon upgrades that include a spread shot, a laser, and explosive ammunition, though these are few and far between, and they'll last you only a few seconds. Most of these levels don't even have a boss fight--if you make it to the end, you'll get to move on to the next. The few bosses that populate the game, like Kyron's officer pod or a Zentraedi scout ship, won't put up much of a fight either. You'll be able to instantly figure out their simple pattern of attack and unload your ammo into them as fast as possible.
You'll be further disappointed to find out that your veritech's battloid and guardian modes are utterly useless. While you can transform between all three of your veritech's forms at any time by hitting either the L or R shoulder buttons, none of The Macross Saga's levels are designed with guardian or battloid modes in mind. As a guardian, your movement speed will be cut by half, while as a battloid, you'll be forced to walk, and you won't have the benefit of missiles. You'll never encounter the need to transform into anything other than the fighter mode in The Macross Saga, which only makes the game more repetitive. In an apparent attempt to address this issue, the game's developers added two overhead missions that place you behind the controls of one of four destroids--the tomahawk, defender, phalanx, and spartan--each with its own set of characteristics, including speed, armor, and weapon type. These two missions involve walking around an open map as you try to search for and destroy any Zentraedi. There's a radar display that supposedly points out the location of nearby enemies, though you'll find it rudimentary at best. Likewise, controlling these lumbering beasts is an exercise in patience. All four of the destroids are equally slow, and yet they all require a judicious amount of movement in order to properly line up with and open fire on your enemies.
You'll end up blowing through these 10 missions in about an hour, though The Macross Saga does have a good deal of replay value built into it. Depending on which pilot you finish the game with, you'll unlock one of five hidden characters, including Miriya's female power armor and Rick's stunt plane, which was featured in the very first episode of The Macross Saga. The game also makes use of the GBA's link cable so you can play against or cooperatively with three other players. In the co-op mode, you'll get to pilot your veritech in any of the game's eight flight-based levels. The head-to-head modes puts you in control of a destroid, where you're tasked with hunting down your friend in either of the game's two overhead levels. The former multiplayer option is notable, though the latter is completely forgettable.
As with the rest of the game, at first you'll be somewhat amused by The Macross Saga's graphics. Like the show it's modeled after, the game is bright and colorful, and no two levels look the same, as there's a minimal amount of repetition when it comes to backgrounds. You'll undoubtedly rejoice as you note different types of battle pods, fighter pods, and Zentraedi warriors scroll across the screen for the first time, but then you'll actually notice that these sprites are small and not exactly overflowing with detail. Likewise, the game doesn't make use of any kind of Mode-7-like special effects. And at times, The Macross Saga will suffer from a horrendous amount of slowdown whenever the action gets a little heated. Unfortunately, these instances of slowdown are quite apparent and happen several times during the later stages. The game uses musical scores from the actual TV show, but it sounds no better than MIDI. The effects for missiles, explosions, and gunpods sound as you'd expect them to, though the game will often run out of sound channels when there's a lot going on, and it will cut off some sound effects unexpectedly.
Ultimately, you'll play and finish The Macross Saga a few times, try out its multiplayer modes a few times, and likely never pick it up again. If you're a Robotech fan who cares about nothing more than adding to your collection of memorabilia, then by all means, pick this game up. However, if you're after a meaningful shooter with lasting value, you'd be wise to look elsewhere. Like Battlecry, The Macross Saga would be forgettable if not for its strong license.