Reviews

Astro Boy: The Video Game

Sometimes retro can suggest a quaint charm, but sometimes retro just means old.


Astro Boy: the Video Game

Publisher: D3 Publisher
Players: 1-2
Price: $29.99
Platform: Wii (reviewed), Playstation 2, PSP, DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: High Voltage Software
Release Date: 2009-10-20
URL

I've always found Astro Boy to be kind of creepy. I mean it's a robot kid who wears underpants and boots. His hair is sort of creepy too.

I do have vague recollections of Astro Boy as a comic book hero, since I have read some of the Americanized comic book versions of the character. While I am only vaguely aware of anime, he also sparks parallel memories of early Sunday morning presentations of Starblazers and Battle of the Planets. I know that Astro Boy is a considerably older intellectual property than those, nevertheless, he is connected in some unclear way to my first encounters with Japanese media.

Thus, it came as little surprise to me on booting up Astro Boy: The Video Game that (despite some cutscenes borrowed directly from the new film that serve as a means of creating a background narrative for the game) Astro Boy immediately brought me back to the 1980s. This was not merely due to the associations that I had with anime from that era, but it was chiefly because of the very basic gameplay that I was presented with.

Astro Boy is a 2-D scrolling platformer and shooter that features sequences playing as Astro Boy (now clad -- to my great relief -- in pants and a shirt) on the ground and in the air. The ground sequences are what you would expect . . . if you were playing the game in 1985: you run and jump and punch and shoot at stuff. This was a vaguely pleasant experience for me initially. The gameplay reminded both my brain and reflexes of Mega Man as I settled into a retro 2-D groove. These sequences are broken up by some 2-D shooter elements as Astro Boy takes to the skies and turns into something like the ship from Lifeforce, a side scrolling laser beam wielding glider of sorts (not literally). Again, this was initially pleasant as it suggested a very retro vibe and made me nostalgic for a simpler form of gaming sacrificed on the alter of 3-D isometric views.

The other element that evoked similarly nostalgic emotions in me was the ability to add a partner to fight alongside Astro Boy (curiously, an exact replica of the Astro Boy that I was controlling but with a slightly different color palette -- y'know like green overalls instead of red). My 10-year-old jumped right in and soon we were blasting away at bad robots and bad flying thingies just as my brother and I used to do in front of my 12-inch screen and Nintendo Entertainment System.

Indeed, she enjoyed the simplicity of Astro Boy as much as I did. Finding the mechanics simple and the ability to drop in in the midst of play (and even after dying) made playing with each other easy and less frustrating than an older school game might normally be.

Unfortunately, aside from having a bit of fun with a game that my daughter could easily adjust to, the good feelings and nostalgia rapidly gave way to the reality of a retro playstyle. Sometimes retro can suggest a quaint charm, but sometimes retro just means old.

Astro Boy: The Video Game plays a little like Mega Man and a little like Lifeforce, but it lacks the charm and innovative design of either one. Frankly, if this were 1985, this would still be a subpar rendering of either genre that it emulates, the 2-D platformer or the 2-D shooter. Movement is less than precise, levels are redundant, and the enemies and backgrounds are dull.

I tired of it after about 15 minutes. My partner, the 10-year-old, and her younger sister, found themselves more captivated by it. Having allowed Dad to play through it, they absconded with the disk and played through the adventure on their own. This experience lasted for all of about an afternoon. They played, beat it, and then returned to Penguin Club and PopTropica, games that both girls have been playing for over a year whose simple graphics and design have caused the surrender of hours and hours of after school playtime. I don't expect that Astro Boy will be receiving so much love.

In a nutshell, Astro Boy is a briefly diverting experience but hard to recommend beyond the nostalgic sense that it might initially evoke in an older gamer or its slightly longer diversionary qualities for younger ones. The term “retro” literally means “backwards,” and while Astro Boy might briefly cause a bit of retrospection, it more often simply feels retrograde.

3

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

Keep reading... Show less
4
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image