Astro Boy: The Omega Factor

I’ve always felt like I should be watching more anime. I’m a geek, and I’m okay with that. Geeks have typically been stereotyped for their love of very specific things. Anime, computers, and Star Wars. But what of those who are ambivalent towards those things, and are yet still geeks? An interesting dilemma forms. Do I have to pretend to like those things to be part of a group of people who are characterized as the fringe for obsessively liking things that most don’t care about? Maybe, maybe not. That is a different debate for a different time.

What remains is that I’m not a hardcore anime fan, though I adore video games. As such, I find myself in the position of not quite knowing how to approach licensed anime titles. Astro Boy: The Omega Factor is the latest game from a developer called Treasure, who is cherished among the hardcore as the force behind such phenomenal titles in the twitch gameplay vein as Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. The fact that it is a licensed title would normally send up red flags as to its quality. But that isn’t the case here.

First and foremost, Astro Boy: The Omega Factor brings to bear much of the history of Osamu Tezuka’s most famous creation. Moreover, the game serves as an homage to the entire body of Tezuka’s work as many characters from his other mythologies make cameo appearances. What does all that mean to me? Frankly, not much, as I have previously admitted to not necessarily being an anime fan. I only know those things, because people have told me them. But for any true fan, such attention to detail of the Tezuka universe is worth its weight in gold.

Forgoing the anime roots of the game, let us consider the pedigree of Treasure. The genres tackled by Treasure in the past can be generally divided into the shooter and beat-em-up classifications. That said, The Omega Factor serves as a refreshing blend of both styles. The shooting stages are representative of the quintessential twitch gameplay. The beat-em-up stages require reflexes and strategy in order to survive. So from a gameplay perspective as well, Astro Boy: The Omega Factor delivers.

What I didn’t certainly didn’t expect was to be drawn into the story. Astro Boy as a mythology is apparently a metaphor for race relations, with robots being despised by some humans and championed by others. Some robots are, of course evil, while others just want to be friends. It’s sappy, and a little simplistic. But it’s also from the early 60s, which actually makes it somewhat visionary. As an Indian, I found myself trying to figure out which side I was supposed to identify with. Seemingly, the humans are scared of the robot minority. So I’m supposed to be a robot. But damned if I can fly. I almost resent the implication that minorities have superpowers.

In any case, as you progress through the game, you are constantly reminded about the overarching struggle between robots and humans, and to be sure, the sheer number of double crosses and plot twists are so high that by the time I’d beaten the game, I wasn’t sure exactly what happened. But to be fair, that’s equally due to my unfamiliarity with the source material as with the limitations of the GBA. Cut scenes are not animated, and have subtitled text. The context of an emotive voice is denied us by the hardware. The ambition, however, to convey Tezuka’s message to the fullest is readily apparent.

Having completed and set down Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, I feel compelled to play it again. This is a feeling as yet unachieved for me in this console generation. Indeed, I have not felt it since Super Metroid for the SNES. I feel like by playing through it again, I would grasp the story better. But by the same token, I think I would be equally sated just watching some Astro Boy cartoons. Which brings us back to my original point. I don’t particularly care for anime generally. I do love video games. Now the experience with one has left me more open minded for the other. Ready to embrace my stereotypical geekdom. A perfect amalgam of two equally geeky things, I have been pulled by one into the other. And Tezuka’s message of acceptance has been passed on to me, albeit in an entirely silly way.