Astro Boy (PlayStation 2) review
"Tezuka Osamu (aka the godfather of modern manga) was to Japanese popular culture what Walt Disney was to America. In a country devastated by World War 2, Tezuka inspired hope for the future with a string of classic tales that gave even the lowliest of people something to believe in. From the radical genius of the surgeon Blackjack to a shiny future Metropolis where robots strove for equal rights, his stories have remained as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. Of his many creations, the on..."
Tezuka Osamu (aka the godfather of modern manga) was to Japanese popular culture what Walt Disney was to America. In a country devastated by World War 2, Tezuka inspired hope for the future with a string of classic tales that gave even the lowliest of people something to believe in. From the radical genius of the surgeon Blackjack to a shiny future Metropolis where robots strove for equal rights, his stories have remained as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. Of his many creations, the one that stands as being perhaps the most fondly remembered is without a doubt Atom (otherwise known as Astro Boy in the West). By mixing equal portions of social commentary and exciting SF style action, this tale of a futuristic Pinocchio captured the hearts and minds of children the world over. It should come as little surprise then that in order to commemorate Atom's latest TV venture, Sega have tapped Sonic Team to produce a big Playstation2 adventure for fans of this little robot. The question is however... does Sonic Team have what it takes to do get the job done? Or is Astro Boy destined to crash and burn like so many of their other third person adventures have done?
Soaring high in the sky, he may be small but only in size. Astro Boy, Astro Boy, he is brave and gentle and wise!
Originally written in 1951, Tetsuwan Atom: Astro Boy was set in what was then the far off future of 2000ad. As envisioned by Tezuka, 2000ad was a world of technological marvels. Towering sky scrapers reached toward the heavens as hover cars and gigantic cruise ships filled the skies, ferrying the masses to and from work. Through all this hustle and bustle, robots would go about their assigned tasks performing many of the chores and duties that we humans thought were beneath us. From menial factory work to cleaning and maintenance duties, these robots have unfortunately become little more than mankind's newest breed of slave. It's here then that we are first introduced to famed roboticist, Doctor Tenma. Having lost his son a few years previously to a tragic accident, the good doctor has thusly made it his life's work to create the perfect robot. A robot capable of human feelings that could conceivably fill the void left by his dearly departed. And so it was that Atom came to be. A new hero needs new challenges though, and as such it's not long after his birth that robots of all shapes and sizes begin to run amuck throughout the city. What is causing these once peaceful inhabitants to rebel? And who could possibly gain from all this chaos?
Stronger than all the rest, this mighty robot will pass the test. Oh villains fear him, so we cheer him, the amazing Astro Boy!
Upon starting the game, players find themselves alone in Doctor Ochanomizu's office with the somewhat surprising objective of going up to the roof in order partake in a little... bird watching. Yeah it wasn't really what I was expecting either... but anyway... it's while admiring his avian friends that Atom is set upon by a gang of robots that are quite literally bad to the axle. With little choice but to fight back, players are quickly and elegantly introduced to some of Atom's more basic moves. Punch *ka-pow* punch *bang* and punch again *ka-boom* who's got the mightiest punch now eh? *yawns* Though limited to simple attacks at first, players need not be too concerned as Atom's various offensive techniques are automatically upgraded throughout the course of the game. Hyper-sensitive vision, laser/missile attacks, and the useful ability to pick up and toss opponents into the semi destructable backgrounds all go a long way in making the action that much more exciting. Sure it may not be genre breaking, but rock'em sock'em action sequences remain fun none-the-less. When not getting it on for the sake of humanity, Atom can also take to the skies and soar through, around, under and over many of the towering sky scrapers that litter the city's skyline. The great sense of freedom this simple activity offers is quite honestly breath taking and is something that fans of the series will no doubt enjoy doing.
With all the spectacular techniques and abilities this pint sized robotic powerhouse is capable of, it's incredibly unfortunate to discover that Astro Boy rarely, if ever, manages to challenge players. Granted, this is a game that was based upon what was originally a children's manga series. But at the same time it also happens to be a license that appeals equally so to adults thanks to its inherently strong nostalgia factor. I am an adult, where then was my challenge huh?! Had Sonic Team realized this paradox, they might have thought to include some type of customizable difficulty setting. Alas however that was not to be and from beginning to end Astro Boy is little more than a disappointing 4 hours in length. At the very least, players can take some solace in the fact that there are approximately 100 cards scattered around each of Astro Boy's 5 small-ish (FIVE!?) environments waiting to be discovered. The many side quests that Sonic Team have opted to include do ultimately increase the game's replayability, but in the end they are simply a poor substitute for the painfully brief main quest.
When you need someone strong, our robot friend will never be long. Astro Boy, Astro Boy, he will try to right any wrong!
In what is slowly becoming a grand old Sonic Team tradition, any innovations that the last few years of 3d camera development may have brought have been once more totally and utterly ignored. While for the most part you can still expect to see what you need to see when you need to see it, just wait until you're forced to fight indoors. Then and only then will the truly archaic nature of the camera system come screaming to your attention. Thanks to its habit of constantly getting lost behind background objects, players can sadly expect to find their view of the action obscured more often than not. Urghhh, again with the camera Sonic Team?! When will you ever learn?! Even with the camera system working against you, comfort can always be found in the knowledge that the controls want to be your friend. Never once throughout the course of the game did any of Atom's actions ever seem to be too unwieldy or needlessly difficult. The many varied attack strategies such as picking up and throwing parked vehicles to the multiple hit flying charge attacks are a breeze to perform and do indeed look as good as they may sound.
Visually speaking at least, Astro Boy is a game that's been designed to please even the most discerning of Tezuka-philes. From the trademark large rubbery noses to the aquatically themed mass transportation vehicles, Sonic Team have flawlessly translated Tezuka's distinctive artistic style to this new medium. Throughout the game's entirety, no expense has been spared in the usage of color. Splashed around like money on pay day, the large color palette of the Playstation2 has ensured that the energy and vibrancy of the source material shines through in a perfectly pleasing fashion. Furthermore the inhabitants of Metro City have likewise been designed and animated with a keen eye for detail. As authentic as it may sound until now, it's upon stepping back from it all that a mighty big crack can be seen in Astro Boy's otherwise gorgeous presentation. Many of the landscapes have been sparsely populated with only the barest number of humans, robots or vehicles ever being seen on screen at any given time. Why is such a reportedly bustling metropolis bereft of large amounts of activity be it human, robot or otherwise? And why then must I continue to endure these sporadic bouts of slowdown?!
As you ponder these questions, be sure to spare a moment to take in Astro Boy's glorious soundscape. For it is here that Sonic Team have finally managed to avoid putting a single foot wrong. No, perhaps that isn't quite right. It's excellence is probably more directly attributed to the outstanding work of the sound engineers responsible for the TV series than any hard work, or lack thereof, on the part of Sonic Team. So they sample well, kudos to them! As each of the individual sound effects and background music tracks have been directly lifted from the original FujiTV series, Astro Boy has been fused with an all important sense of authenticity. Whether it's the innocently quaint pon-pon-pon of Atom's gentle footsteps or the perfectly vocalized dialogue tracks, the very same air of wonder that imbued the original TV series is present and accounted for within the game. And that is as they say, a good thing. After all, beneath Astro Boy's high tech futuristic exterior lies the warm beating heart of a fairy tale. And a fairy tale devoid of innocence and magic is a fairy tale no longer...
When there's danger near by, no matter who, what, where, when or why. He'll defend us, he'll defend us, the amazing Astro Boy!
Somehow despite all its flaws, Tetsuwan Atom: Astro Boy remains an oddly enjoyable experience. More enjoyable in fact than it probably has any right to be. So the camera was a nuisance at times and the main quest was woefully short, but even that wasn't enough to dampen the overall enjoyment of the game. For what it did have was charm. And charm can go a long way when used as effectively as it has been here. Ultimately what this game needed more than anything else was simply that... more. More environments, more background characters, more time in development... oh and not to mention a higher level of difficulty. All this would have served to propel Tetsuwan Atom: Astro Boy out of the realm of average-ness that it currently languishes in... which sadly enough could also be said to be true of almost every Sonic Team release of the past few years. One day I sincerely hope they are able to restore the magic of old that helped them establish their until now formidable reputation. Until that day comes however, it would be nice to know that Sega isn't throwing the big licenses their way... oh well, so much for wishful thinking...
* Atom's many attacks and abilities have been faithfully reproduced
* The story accurately captures the look and feel of the original animation perfectly
* Some of the background elements show damage during combat
* Despite the complexity of some attacks, the controls are smooth and surprisingly easy to use
* The wide range of side quests and hidden items will give determined players something extra to reach for
* Tezuka's artistic style has never looked as good as this in a video game before
* The brilliantly sampled soundscape holds the fairy tale like nature of the source material perfectly
* Even with so much going against it, Tetsuwan Atom: Astro Boy is somehow surprisingly enjoyable
* 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 small-ish environments + the final showdown = wtf!?
* From beginning to end, Tetsuwan Atom: Astro Boy is little more than 4 hours in length
* Besides the final boss, there isn't much challenge to be found
* Sonic Team have once more proven themselves incapable of programming a good 3d camera system
* For a major modern metropolis, Metro City is surprisingly devoid of activity
* The sporadic slowdown is simply uncalled for
Community review by midwinter (April 25, 2009)
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