The licensed game conundrum continues. Astro Boy is back with a full-length feature film, and per usual to accompany it comes the quintessential tie-in game. Fans of the classic anime series are probably assuming that both will indeed be less than stellar, but with the recent trend of solid offerings on both ends of the spectrum there is still hope. Astro Boy for the Nintendo Wii suffers more often than not by the traditions that licensed games seems to coincide with. The levels are drab, gameplay can be frustrating and most important; it just isn’t that much fun to play.
In generic fashion the story of Astro Boy the game follows the movie directly. For those unfamiliar with the origin of Astro Boy the plotline involves a meteor that Dr. Tenma and his colleagues find and attempt to harvest. Among the commotion Tenma’s son is killed and he vows to bring him back using robotic enhancements, thus Astro Boy is born. The game follows the same narrative of the movie with a few expanded moments. The problem is that the presentation and direction of the game screams rushed.
Cut scenes are presented in two fashions both in-game and using movie footage. The movie footage is the worst offender because it is all muted. The narrative is told by Kristen Bell, who does the voice of Cora in the movie. She explains all of the plotline in front of the scenes which really defeats the purpose of using movie footage. The other brand of storytelling involves in-game scenes where the lip syncing is so atrocious that you will be glad they give you the option of skipping them. These make the Godzilla dubs look like Oscar performances, yes it really is that bad.
The gameplay is broken down into two segments. There are brawling levels that consist of the traditional platform jumping and fighting and the shooter levels where you take to the air much like the previous Omega Factor for the Game Boy Advance. The majority of the game is made up of the brawling levels and that is likely why the game suffers so much. These are easily the weaker of the two mash-ups. Astro feels clunky in his movement and the platform jumping quickly becomes more challenging thanks to the unresponsive controls. When combined with the unforgiving areas later in the game these levels simply become a chore, which is not something you want when trying to create an enjoyable experience.
The flying levels are much more interesting and actually the highlight of the title. As Astro you fly through levels much like a common shoot ‘em up game firing lasers and even a machine gun that comes out of your backside. These levels are fast-paced and much more action-packed than the drab brawler levels. The problem is that these make up less than a quarter of the action so you are forced to live with the insanely tedious brawling levels for most of the game. The shooter levels consist of cooler bosses, better control and all around make up the only reason to really play the game. If the developers had focused entirely on this aspect this would have sat along side the best licensed games on the market, but as it stands the game relies too much on the less fun aspects of the title.
In addition to the single player game you can also play through the story mode in co-op mode, but it really only serves to let your friends in on the frustration. There is nothing built around the co-op mechanic and it just gives you another person to tend with when the frustrating platforming becomes an issue. There is also an arena mode that allows you to take on various levels from either game type. Unfortunately the combat does not improve and once you take down the shooter missions there is little reason to come back to them. It is still such a shame that the flying levels don’t play a more pivotal role in the overall experience.
Visually the game retains the same standards as the gameplay. The brawling levels are bland and absolutely archaic in design. Enemy models are repetitive and Astro Boy himself looks like something dragged out of animation design 101. The animations on everything are simply not impressive even by Wii standards and the level design is boring outside of some later levels. The shooter levels on the other hand are a breath of fresh air with animated backdrops and visual trickery that really create a sense of speed and excitement. Once again it looks like the team really had something special with these levels and decided to focus more on plastering quantity with the brawling stages as opposed to the quality of the flying levels.
Sadly Astro Boy boils down to a decent game that simply doesn’t manage to be a whole heck of a lot of fun. The flying levels are truly inspired and serve to be the highlight of the game, but when they make up so little of it, it is hard to recommend the overall package. Perhaps if the team spent more time focusing on what did work instead of trying to deliver a diverse package the game could be recommended for more than a solid weekend rental. As it stands Astro Boy falls into the bottomless pit of rushed licensed games that simply aren’t worth your hard earned cash.