"Imagine the Metal Gear Series if it joined forces with Castlevania, and some crazy scheme to get indoor-bound gamer-geeks out in the sun, where their pale skin will sizzle and pop...And you should get an idea of the general concept behind Boktai: The Sun is in your Hand. "
If you haven't already heard, they're now putting sunlight detectors in videogames. Sunlight, you say? Yes, in Boktai: The Sun is in your Hand, much of the gameplay is fueled by pure, actual, unreplicable sunlight. Sure, the cartridge sticks out a little farther, but that's because it comes equipped with a little black thing that detects whether or not sunlight is being shone on it, and influences the game directly through this aspect. It can even tell how much sunlight is being absorbed, and reflects this in the game, accordingly. If this sounds weird and interesting to you, then you should probably just keep reading.
Chances are, you have no idea how sunlight could be incorporated in a game and not come across as silly, cheesy, ridiculous, or all of the above. When I heard of this concept, the first idea that came to my mind was growing a garden, and the plants needing sunlight...but no, this one involves vampires. Yes, that's right. You control Django, a vampire hunter whose primary weapon is a ''gun del sol'' which gathers the ever-powerful rays of the sun and shoots them back out at undead fiends. With this being said, the game plays like an action/adventure with an emphasis on puzzle-solving and stealth (a la Metal Gear).
Most of the game takes place within dungeons, where the player will have to sneak his way around ghouls and vampires while solving block or switch puzzles and gathering items. The dungeons give the game a slight RPG-flavor, but there's no exp-gaining, random-battling here--just pure sunlight-gathering action. Actually, only a small portion of the game truly requires the use of direct sunlight, which is during the boss battles. After reaching the boss' lair found in one out of every few dungeons, you'll have to kick its ass using your gun del sol, and then drag his coffin back through the dungeon, outside to where a special device awaits you which can rid the world of him for good. Of course, in order to activate this device, and struggle with the vampire over his last remaining strength, you'll need constant access to sunlight. Other than these 5 or so minutes for every half hour of gameplay, you can find sunlight energy in other forms or just avoid the fighting aspect of the game altogether. Konami actually did some pretty creative ways of allowing the player to gather solar energy without access to direct sunlight. You can collect solar-replenishing items, re-charge at solar stations found throughout dungeons, or even borrow money from the ''dark loans'' shop (I wouldn't recommend it, though, as interest is anyewhere from 500-800%, depending on what time of day it is). You also have access to a solar bank, which allows you to deposite solar energy and gain interest on it (another nice feature made possible by the game's internal clock).
The game flow is actually quite unique, playing as a cross between an RPG and action game. You generally complete a dungeon, which gives you access to several more dungeons, which you can complete in whichever order you choose, in order to progress even further. Through, you'll encounter new characters and storyline elements will be revealed. Warp-points and teleportations items found all over the place, as well as a clear map make the world of Boktai easy to navigate.
Early in the game, Django will become acquainted with the solar tree, the supreme organism which, when replenished, should be able to return the world to normal. Aside from being a crucial part of the storyline, the solar tree also allows for an interesting item-splicing option. You can combine two items from your inventory in the special furrows by the solar tree. For every two items planted, you receive one special item. There are a lot of combinations, which make for some fun experimentation. Interestingly, the sunlight detector is again used, as the plants require a certain amount of time in the sunlight to grow and yield a new item. When this happens, the player will be notified, and can go and pick up the new item(s) whenever.
Being created by Hideo Kojima, famed for his work on Metal Gear Solid, Boktai shares several similarities with the afore-mentioned title. Because the game was designed in such a way that ammo is extremely limited, it is quite impractical to just run around shooting at enemies. If you do this, you'll find yourself with a depleted solar-gun in no time. Instead, the game encourages sneaking around, and using basic stealth-tactics to infiltrate the dungeons without actually engaging many enemies. You can even knock on the wall to juke enemies, just like in Metal Gear Solid.
The puzzles you'll find are extremely well-done for a Game Boy Advance game, and can be quite challenging, yet fun. They are usually just logic-puzzles, involving pushing boxes and flipping switches, but a few times, you'll have to really think carefully. The difficulty of the game is also very well-rounded, with every dungeon and boss seeming a little more difficult than the last. What starts out easy slowly turns into an extreme challenge, and though you get an infinite number of continues, and can save wherever you please, this frees the game of unnecessary frustration.
We've seen that the GBA isn't exactly known for its 3D masterpieces, which is probably why the developers of Boktai went with a 2D-isometric perspective. It has many of the pros of true polygonal graphics, such as complex level-design and item/character placement, without the jagged edges and muddiness found on 3D GBA games. Thanks to the game's internal clock, the time of day will be reflected in the game, altering the level of brightness and atmospehre. The environments are crisp and have a cartoony feel to them, reminiscent of Japanese anime. The sprites animate quite nicely, and are more seamless than those found in most other GBA games.
Similar to the Castlevania series, Boktai has a storyline which, though not terribly cohesive, manages to get the job done, and add significant charm to the game. The theme is vampires and corny schemes to take over the world--the only way to stop this being via solarboy (aka Django)and his gun del sol. One can't help but notice how ''japanesey'' the whole thing sounds, much like one of those silly TV shows. Yet, I was surprised by how satisfied I became with the characters and storyline quirks.
Boktai definitely aims to please with its sound, packed full of digitized voices that don't sound like crap, and catchy, charming tunes. Aside from the fact that the sound effects are quite lame, you should be pleasantly surprised by the quality of Boktai's sound.
The game lasts approximately 10 hours, but believe me, it will feel a lot longer than that. This will be mostly because you won't be playing it nearly as much as the average game. Because sunlight essentially dictates whether or not you can progress in the game, you'll be hoping for good weather. For someone who lives in Seattle, this game felt like kind of a side-project to all my other games, because I was only playing it a fraction as often. If you don't mind the whole dependence on sunlight, then you should have no problem with the game's slow pace. There isn't much to do after you have finished, but Boktai is one of those games that you might have fun playing again. Each area is organized so that you can go back and replay it, trying to get a better time (yes, time is somewhat of a factor) or just to enjoy this unique game more than once.
I'm sure it sounds like a mighty flaw for a game to require sunlight in order to play it--especially a GBA game--but I found no problem in accepting that this game is unique, and therefore will not play like other games. I waited patiently for sunlight, and didn't mind this at all. The sunlight detector picks up sunlight quite nicely, and you have to hand it to developers for introducing such an original idea. Imagine the Metal Gear Series if it joined forces with Castlevania, and some crazy scheme to get indoor-bound gamer-geeks out in the sun, where their pale skin will sizzle and pop...And you should get an idea of the general concept behind Boktai: The Sun is in your Hand. Good stuff.
Staff review by James Gordon (October 09, 2003)
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