"Ever since his heroic astronaut father got lost in space, young Geo Stelar has never been the same. He withdrew himself from the world that carried on turning, abandoning school and hence any hope of new-found friendship. Geo became a loner. But then one day, something extraordinary happens. An alien life-form composed entirely of electromagnetic waves lands in Geo’s favourite lookout spot and without stopping to breathe in the fresh oxygenated air, it approaches the emotionally torn boy. The my..."
Ever since his heroic astronaut father got lost in space, young Geo Stelar has never been the same. He withdrew himself from the world that carried on turning, abandoning school and hence any hope of new-found friendship. Geo became a loner. But then one day, something extraordinary happens. An alien life-form composed entirely of electromagnetic waves lands in Geo’s favourite lookout spot and without stopping to breathe in the fresh oxygenated air, it approaches the emotionally torn boy. The mysterious entity introduces itself as the FM-ian, Omega-Xis, and sensing the potential of our bewildered child protagonist as a symbiotic partner, some powers of persuasion and a little smack talk later they fuse together to become the next incarnation of the legendary Mega Man.
Look out, viral alien scum - the man in blue has returned to shoot and whoop some ass!
Mega Man Star Force is the DS successor to the popular, but critically overlooked Battle Network series that appeared on Nintendo’s previous handheld, the GBA. Once again, it is a unique blend of real-time card-based combat, some light exploration and an overly simplistic storyline fused together with the essence of Mega Man. Familiarity with the six separate adventures of Lan Hikari is not a pre-requisite for getting the most out of Star Force; the overarching narrative is completely new, as is the 3D head-on perspective present in the countless battles with the antagonising Am-ian crew. However, just about everything else screams déjà vu like a baby without a bottle, so much so that if you’ve grown weary with the formula that Capcom has regurgitated on a yearly basis, Star Force just isn’t nourishing enough.
The first impression that you get is that this game looks exactly like its predecessors, which dates back all the way to 2001. The isometric 2D perspective still works - full of colourful and sharply animated sprites - but we expect more now - it’s now six years down the track in 2007 people! As Geo/Mega Man wanders about the school-grounds, junkyards and high-tech facilities, I wonder why I’m playing a GBA-looking game on my next-gen DS. Fortunately, Star Force doesn’t concern itself with searching out every nook and cranny for items of interest; battles are the focus here and after a few seconds of running around on a plain winding neon track, you’ll be zapped straight into the heat of action.
Before the match officially begins, six cards are randomly dealt out of the customised deck you have attached. There are rules that limit what combinations of cards you can use in any given turn, but you essentially select a few attack/defence/support/recovery cards to use, and once the sands of real-time begin to flow, you dish out their respective effects via strategically timed presses of the A button. Once you’ve run empty on currently usable cards, you’ll have to rely on weaker buster-shots and a solid defence until the reshuffle meter has recharged and the card selection process begins anew. Battles are fought in a vertical/head-on point of view (as opposed to Battle Network’s more horizontal/side-on approach). A 3x5 grid lies ahead of you and the enemies can occupy any of these spaces to attack from whilst you are stuck at the baseline. With only left and right movements across three panels available to you, things look quite grim. Luckily, Mega Man has an unreal arsenal of pyrotechnic weaponry at his disposal.
Mega Man can launch homing missiles, torch the area in front of him into cinders, unleash a fury of saber swipes and summon giant beasts that cause massive splash damage. Should things get too rough for limited shielding and nimble dodging to handle, recovery items are available, as are a myriad selection of defensive techniques such as invisibility and morphing into a counter-happy raccoon-like Fokx. It is here that Star Force differentiates itself from every other Battle Network game that has come before it. The more modern perspective lends itself to a slightly more frenetic pace and the 3D effects look pretty snazzy. With regards to length, every battle - with the exception of a few boss fights – lasts all of ten real-time seconds on average. Absurd? This is another aspect left unchanged of which some people love and others vehemently scorn.
But I have no doubt that not many - if any – players will find fault with the Brotherband system. Forging fruitful friendships is the theme of Star Force and this carries over well to the wireless/WiFi aspect – aptly dubbed Brotherband. You can connect to a maximum of six individuals at any one time. In doing so, you can send messages to each other and give/receive battle cards that are difficult to obtain. You also gain significant innate benefits by banding yourself to others, from HP boosts to faster charge-up times. There are three not-so-different versions of Star Force available, each featuring a mythical beast: Leo, Pegasus and Dragon. They are virtually identical save for the elemental armour that you are able to don and a few exclusive cards, but thanks to Brotherband, all of these exclusives can be freely traded and/or utilised regardless of which version you decide to play. Too bad there’s no multiplayer duelling to speak of, but hopefully Capcom is saving that for the inevitable sequel(s).
In the meantime (seeing as Star Force 2 is already just around the corner), gamers should be content with the 15+ hour main adventure along with a secret area and plenty of card collecting once that’s done to stretch the dollar further. However, if you are looking for high replayability - something that the previous Battle network games dutifully provided - Star Force unfortunately disappoints. The absence of any multiplayer battling is a loss, but overall, the general lack of things to do once the game is over hurts even more, especially considering that you only have one save file to work with here – sadly, one game card equals only one adventure here folks.
But cheer up – at least the soundtrack is as uplifting and energetic as usual, although the basic MIDI quality does leave much to be desired.
It’s a shame that the battle perspective and its associated twists on the Mega Man action-RPG platform is the only thing that has remotely been upgraded. As much as Brotherbanding is a commendable achievement, other areas which needed a serious revamp were left totally ignored. The maze-like areas you navigate in the wave-realm may not be long-winded anymore, but the trade-off means that progression is now far too linear. The plot is light-hearted and not very motivating, but this doesn’t bother me in the slightest; what does irk me is how the dialogue is so drawn out that you have to sit through lengthy minutes of chapter expositions (that concern themselves with highly trivial matters) before you get to the good stuff – that is, the battles themselves. And it doesn’t help that the fights themselves are pushovers that don’t last very long, especially if you’re a Battle Network veteran.
Fans of Lan Hikari and his exploits will nevertheless welcome the new kid on the block – Geo Stelar – with arms wide open. Newcomers may find that the strategic battles are interesting enough to down-play the aging faults that are present elsewhere. Those that sit in between may be hard pressed to replay the same Battle Network game, with a new story, a new perspective, but the same everything else. Where do you stand? Are you willing to endure yet another round of ho-hum adventuring interrupted by exciting, but short-lived battles? If so, pick a card, any card, and blow that virus to smithereens.
Community review by arkrex (August 27, 2007)
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