At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Dave Wickham Gameboy Advance THQ Treasure 1 Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
N/A PS2 Click here to buy Astro Boy: Omega Factor.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor review

You may or may not have heard of the Astro Boy comic, which which has been turned into a TV show by Sony Pictures. According to the official Web site (of the TV show), "Astro Boy tells the story of an atomic-powered robot, Astro, who becomes a reluctant superhero fighting for justice and peace for humans and robots alike." Armed with this bare minimum of background knowledge, I cautiously started to play Astro Boy: Omega Factor, worried that the game may assume that I'm an avid fan of the series and flood me with unexplained references. Thankfully Astro Boy: Omega Factor requires no such prior knowledge of the series, though being a fan of the series will provide familiarity to various names and locations.

At its basic level, Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a beat 'em up (with additional side-scrolling air-based shooting), but is also more involved in terms of story and gameplay than the beat 'em ups of yore. Not being a fan of the series I have no idea whether the plot line is based on any specific story from the TV series, but it is more involved than the classic arcade machine pseudo-storylines of "You are a man with big muscles. Kill anything that moves. Do so to win." Astro Boy: Omega Factor's plot is based on the idea that there is conflict between robots and humans, which came about when humans decided to destroy all robots out of fear for how they may abuse their power. Naturally the robots didn't particularly like this and so rebelled - I can't say I blame them. This is where Astro, the main character, comes in. Astro is part-robot, part-human; he is robotic by design, but is also capable of feeling human emotions. As you've probably guessed by now, Astro's job is to heal the somewhat less-than-stable relations between the robot and human races.

In terms of gameplay, as mentioned earlier, there are two main styles in use in Astro Boy: Omega Factor; beat 'em up, and side-scrolling shooter. The beat 'em up sections are the more frequently encountered of the two styles (and, in my opinion, are better gameplay-wise than the side-scrolling shooter sections). These work in much the same way as traditional beat 'em ups – i.e. walk along to an area, then destroy all enemies before you can move on – but with the addition of more attack methods, such as the "EX Dash" (presumably what you do when you spot your ex...) which is a powerful jet-propelled attack. If this was all that the game had in store for the player, it would soon become a chore to play. Thankfully this is broken up by both the aforementioned side-scrolling shooter stages, and the boss stages (more on these later).

The side-scrolling shooter action is a bit weaker than the beat 'em up stages, in my opinion. They're still good fun to play, so nothing like the walking sections in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, but they feel like they could be from any other side-scrolling shooter, albeit controlling a robot rather than an aeroplane or space ship. Many of the attacks are the same as in the beat 'em up parts, with the exception that you can't punch or kick - which makes logical sense. After all, you are flying at great speed using jet engines on your feet.

Boss stages in Astro Boy: Omega Factor are far more frequent than in many other similar games. This does work; instead of simply walking around getting bored of killing everything, you are challenged by a stronger enemy. Often tactical decisions need to be made to effectively defeat the bosses; this is especially true towards the end, with enemies who cannot be defeated without thinking through what you are doing.

Earlier on I mentioned that Astro can feel human emotions; this is the "Omega Factor" from the title, and is how stat points are collected in game. As you progress through the game there are many characters to meet and talk to (although you can't choose to talk to people yourself – it's all scripted). Once all possible information is discovered about someone they are added to the "Omega Factor Screen" where all the people who Astro fully understands are shown, and you are given the choice of which of Astro's six abilities to upgrade. Often simply meeting a person once is enough to totally understand them, for some bizarre reason, but there are some people in the game which require a lot of looking and backtracking to fully discover.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor is one of the first games I've played which has managed to actually tie a classic "Stage Select" screen (not a "map screens", a la Super Mario World and Darwinia, amongst others, I'm talking about an actual "Stage Select" screen here) in to the plotline flawlessly. If you don't want this, potentially along with some plot details, to be spoiled, look away now. Now that they're out of the way, Astro Boy: Omega Factor has a fairly novel plot tie-in for stage select. You play through the game twice, with a slightly different plot each time, and stage select is only enabled on the second play through. "How does this tie in with the plot?" I hear you ask. It's fairly simple: Towards the end of the first play, Astro discovers how to use time travel; hence you aren't actually selecting the stage, but rather going back in time to when you were on that stage. This distinction is important, as some entities are unaffected by time travel, and history can also be changed depending on what you do; in fact in some cases you have to go back to a level again after completing the second half to meet people to fill up your Omega Factor.

Controlling Astro is very simple, with no huge combinations of buttons to remember. The hardest it gets is A+B to do an EX Dash. The only real problems I had were hitting L accidentally, which is more the fault of me and/or the GBA than the game, and performing unexpected actions when pressing either Up and B (which fires a laser) or Down and B (which performs a kick) - again, my fault.

Graphics-wise, Astro Boy: Omega Factor looks good. Yes, this is a GBA game we're talking about, so don't expect groundbreaking 3D graphics, but the still cutscenes are very clear, and you never find yourself wondering "What is that supposed to be?" when playing. Enemies can sometimes get pixelated (as there are three different strengths of enemies, each using the same image just scaled up/down) which is a bit of a minor downside. This doesn't affect gameplay, however, so it isn't too important in my opinion.

The music tends to fit in well to the surroundings, and is generally good quality. Nothing amazing, but then again, this is for the GBA. Other in-game audio tends to be fairly reasonable, although it does occasionally remind me of Pac-Man with some of its sound effects. As with the graphics it's hard to make stunning audio from a GBA, and so it isn't a major point to judge on, but it generally makes good use of the available hardware.

I only have two criticisms of Astro Boy: Omega Factor: firstly the plot itself is fairly short. More levels to extend the plot would have been a bonus, but as levels can be repeatedly replayed without getting bored, this is not a major problem. Secondly there seems to be some slowdown in action-packed areas. I'm not sure if this is intentional, or even if it's just my imagination (although some searching seems to back me up), but it does get a bit distracting. Thankfully this is only for very short bursts of action, so doesn't have too much of an impact on the gameplay.

Ratings

Graphics Extremely clear cutscenes, clear in-game, some pixelation of enemies lets it down slightly though. 8/10
Gameplay Classic beat 'em up and side-scrolling air-based shooter action, with a good plot line, regular bosses and a stat point system. Great fun. 8/10
Value Even though the plot line is a bit on the short side, the quality of the game in general more than makes up for it. 8/10
Lifespan Although the main plot line can be completed fairly quickly, finding absolutely everything the game has to offer involves more searching, and even once you've done that you can play the individual levels again when you have some time to kill. 8/10
Audio Good music, good general audio, albeit with some Pac-Man-inspired sound effects. 7/10
Overall A fun classic-style beat 'em up and side-scrolling shooter, divided into small enough sections that you can have quick plays when you have a small amount of free time, but also with a good plotline to tie it all together so that you don't feel like you're just playing a collection of small levels. 8/10

Click here to buy Astro Boy: Omega Factor from Amazon.co.uk.

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