21/05/12 - Game #19
The source: The very first Indie Royale pack.
The pre-amble: ARES is a 2D (at least in terms of it all being on a single plane) platformer shooter starring the eponymous robotic hero Ares as he attempts to retake a space station that has been conquered by a deadly gas that has somehow corrupted the robotic lifeforms that reside there and turned them hostile. While the game is a linear jaunt, the player is able to revisit stages they have already beaten (eliminating any progress in the current stage) in order to net a better result. Exploration, achieving higher grades and defeating a lot of robots are key to upgrading Ares with more stats and additional weapons and equipment, making your mission easier.
The playthrough: We fly to Thailand for ARES (visualize the Street Fighter II level select map if it helps) and a rather interesting take on Mega Man, or perhaps its slightly more dexterous cousin Mega Man X. The name of the game (besides A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda) appears to be hitting a level, barely scraping through, finding half a dozen upgrades in subsequent levels - in both passive bonus and new weapon/equipment flavours - and then coming back to S-Rank everything and getting even more upgrades for your trouble, in an endlessly cyclic pursuit of perfection. I've never really understood the purpose behind a "we'll make the game easier for people who are good at it" system of upgrade allocation, but I suppose the intent is for players to return and ace earlier levels to make the one they're currently stuck on slightly easier. As dismissive of the feature as I'm being, repeating and mastering stages seems like a large part of the game's charm and a necessary divergence from the adventures of Capcom's audacious automaton.
As for the rest of the game, it's simply a platformer run-and-gun that there's not really a lot to say about. It plays almost precisely as you'd expect if you've played a lot of Mega Man or Contra or Metal Slug, with the usual arrangement of obstacles to platform over and enemies to 'splode with the customary bullet-sponge boss at the end and occasionally at the midway point as well. The sprites are large and look OK enough, though I don't like having the camera zoomed in so much when I need to be alert for surrounding enemies - in the interest of fairness though, I should state that it zooms back out for boss fights and the occasional "survive a swarm of enemies" challenge room. The antagonists appear to be sentient gas people who seem indignant about something or other, presumably some sort of extinction agenda, so that's interesting. Beats the usual "the rogue AI did it" route with malevolent mechanical monsters at least. Upgrades are tied to spending trash that enemies drop, with most of it spent on one-off repair kits until you start getting good at the game. These upgrades are actually rather in-depth for such a twitch shooter, which I'd approve of if I was good enough at the game to use any of it on anything that wasn't more repair kits.
Alas, this is where I find myself at odds with ARES. I don't have a suitable gamepad to use with the PC at the moment, which is probably an issue I really should've thought about amending before starting a 25 item long series about PC gaming (probably), so I'm not really getting the most out of ARES and it is not really seeing the best from me either. For this reason, I'm willing to give it another shot some day. When I'm not just running into every bullet because I can't remember which is the unintuitive key for dashing or grenades or whatever.
On a mysterious final note, I couldn't find out what A.R.E.S. actually stands for so for now let's just go with "Acronym Remains Enigmatic, Sorry."
The verdict: Will revisit.