By GunstarRed 5 Comments
I've been playing a lot of PS2 games recently and here are a couple of games based on very, very different books Osamu Tezuka created. I've been a fan of Astro Boy for a very long time, I'm actually pretty surprised I'd never really made any kind of effort to look into any of his other work. Thankfully a lesser known PS2 action game made me look a little deeper and I've discovered his darker, more adult work. Unfortunately I also thought it was a good idea to play the first game I have written about here...
Hey, Sega! I'm not entirely sure that strapping a bomb to a child in a 3+ rated game is all that appropriate. Hopefully if you're a good parent you wouldn't be letting your three year old child play this semi-broken trash in the first place. What child actually cares about Astro Boy anyway? I'm sure if there was any children that even knew of Astro's existence that movie from 2009 wouldn't have failed so hard. (It's totally alright y'know.)
Osamu Tezuka is pretty well known as being the Godfather of manga, and Astro Boy is probably his most well known creation. Astro is a robot, designed to look like his creator Dr Tenma's dead son Tobio, and is also a super-mega weapon that's real good at blowing stuff up. Dr Tenma is obviously an evil dude because he wears a trenchcoat, has a beard like a chicken and has a penchant for evilly laughing to himself... He was also voiced by Nicholas Cage in that movie mentioned previously.
I LOVE Astro Boy. He's one of my favourite things in the world, all laser arm cannons, rocket boots and bum-guns. Obviously an inspiration for Mega Man, and inspired by Mickey Mouse's design and Pinocchio's story. For anyone into robots fighting aliens and monsters in outer space with big explosions and laser battles, the Mighty Atom is incredibly appealing.
I was vaguely aware of this game. I'd come across it every so often when looking into buying the incredible Treasure-made Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the GBA a few years back. I was a lot pickier about what games I picked up in 2004 so I missed it at the time despite it being based on the 2003 anime which I have actually seen all 50 episodes of. The other thing of note about this very short game is that is is developed by the most consistent of Sega's developers, Sonic Team.
The game feels incredibly rushed with half finished ideas and wonky controls. Almost immediately after the animated intro from the TV show it just dumps you into The Ministry of Science. Here a robot named Nora teaches you how to punch and interact with doors. I'm ok with minimal tutorials and getting into the gameplay as fast as possible, but it feels like there should be at the very least a minute of cutscene or something. Nora tells me I need to go outside and that she has unlocked the door behind me. I'm immediately stumped because the door behind me won't open. I spend about five minutes re-talking to the robot and running around in circles trying to get the camera to adjust to a more convenient angle. I get pretty good at picking up nicely potted plants and throwing them around the room. A few minutes in and I've turned Astro into an incompetent vandal. It turns out that the robot didn't mean the door behind me after all, but the door over the other side of the room, Duh me!
After a little messing about with the buttons I discover L2 and R2 control the camera, which is great as the right stick seemingly isn't used for anything. As soon as I leave the room I'm ambushed by robots that want to kill me. (That's strike two Nora, sending me outside to die.) So I punch a couple of them to death and start swinging blindly at the ones flying above me. Jump attacking doesn't work so I have to jog around for a few seconds, waiting for them to lower themselves to my level. Thankfully they all die quickly, but Astro, the pinnacle of future robotics clumsily falls off of the building like an idiot. Luckily he discovers his feet double up as rocket boosters which is pretty handy for someone that hangs around in cities built high in the clouds.
Now when I hit the jump button twice I can fly. It turns out that the right stick can make me adjust my height in the air, which is exactly what the left stick does, but Y'know, who wouldn't want double the stick options instead of PS1 era camera control. If I hit square I can boost, and the flying (Assuming you're travelling a long distance in a relatively straight line.) feels alright. Unfortunately I'm one of those people... I'm an inverter. It's not really something I can overcome, I've made my peace with it and I go to a group every friday afternoon. I find myself having to return to the lying, door-bot to change my controls to "reversed". What does changing the controls in options do? NOTHING. That robot exists solely to lie to me. Fuck you Nora.
The oddest thing about this game is that it gives you a big empty hub world full of rings you can fly through and umm, well you can fly about and stuff. Occasionally there are enemies, but they exist purely to point you in the direction of your next objective, and seeing as there is only five or six places which also flash when you need to visit them, it isn't likely that you'll ever get stuck.
The places you can visit act as arena-like levels for you to do stuff. You're not always fighting, sometimes you're running up to people to talk to them for advice, playing the most boring game of hide and seek against explosive, invisible children and picking up chairs and throwing them at ladies just trying to do their shopping. Most of the time though, it will lock you into an arena where you need to kill a certain amount of robots and/or a boss. Fighting is done by hitting a lock on button and then hitting one of a few attacks you have at your disposal. If you spam the punch button unsurprisingly you end up zipping all about the screen like in the early 3D Sonic games. If you're the kind of person that gets motion sickness easily you should probably avoid Astro Boy.
No! Let me phrase that better... If you like video games you should probably avoid Astro Boy.
As you go through the game beating bosses you get a little stronger and your health bar increases. This adds absolutely nothing to the game as all of the later bosses hit harder and take more damage, which means every boss feels exactly the same. Sure, they all have different attacks, but most of them revolve around you slowly flying around them in circles waiting for them to attack and then either punching them, firing your finger laser at them or locking on for a few seconds with the arm cannon. There's an odd level of inconsistency to the arm cannon. You can fire it point blank into a huge robots face at times only for its life bar to stay unscathed, while other times you can blindly fire roughly somewhere in its direction from a distance and knock of a fifth of its health. There is sadly a complete lack of bum-cannons which is something the GBA game loves so much it's a wonderfully flashy screen clearing attack.
I'm not entirely sure Sonic Team really knew what they wanted to do with the game. There are multiple places you can visit and just run around, talk to people and collect cards for your sister. (Uran/Zoran). She seems completely uninterested in doing it herself and sends out Astro to do her dirty work "I know you're busy with the world saving and all Astro, but can you complete my card collection." The one card I acquired early on involved me pretending I was too busy to play with a boy outside, so not only is Astro an idiot, a vandal and an abuser of pedestrians, he's also a total piece of shit. I actually stumbled onto a bunch of the cards late in the game and she seemed pretty pumped about it. Like most things about this game they add zero to the core of the experience. I have a feeling they put them all in because the game could probably be beaten in about three hours if you knew what you were doing. Side missions for collectibles... No thanks!
I guess they assumed you'd only be playing this if you had seen the show. The game keeps introducing characters out of nowhere. Every so often Astro would respond to the new characters and it would weird me out because he's mute for about 90% of the game. Most of the time the boss turns up says some menacing stuff to you and then you fight. It's kind of odd, I've played a ton of movie tie-ins in my darkest achievement hunting days and even those games have something resembling a coherent story. This is just "I'm a robot, I'm bad! You're not the king of robots, I'M THE KING OF ROBOTS... LETS FIGHT!" and then Tenma turns up and laughs his evil laugh.
After killing everything you always return home which is oddly in a perpetual state of night time.(Even when the city is always set during the day.) There's a tiny street with people running around which I assume want to give you collectible cards, but I haven't got time for that, I have plants and furniture to hurl at innocent people. The linear nature of the game is made even more of a chore as quite often you have to manually leave the level, fly to your home, run over to the door, talk to the doctor, leave the house and then fly into the sky to be told about your next objective. The open world aspect makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It seems to exist only to give you a reason to fly about as Astro, like you'd get some kind of enjoyment out of a boring, badly textured sky city with invisible walls and nothing to do. At least it tells me where to head next instead of running around in a circle unsure where to go like I did in Sonic 06 that one time.
I have to say I didn't really enjoy any part of this game other than the cool intro to the cartoon that plays when you start it up.(The title screen music is nice I guess.) Robots fighting other robots should never be boring, and this game is mostly boring arena fights. Flying around fighting the camera is never fun, especially when you can't invert the controls like it says you can. Luckily that's not that big a deal as there's only two areas that resemble actual levels in the game. One is a collection of identical looking warehouse rooms and the other is an impossibly structured volcano. Both of these sections have enemies that only react if you get within a metre or so of them, which means you find yourself just hovering in the air and picking off everything from a distance. I AM THE MIGHTIEST ROBOT SNIPER EVER!
The final level has you fight a rocket in outer space. I dunno, I think you end up saving the earth or something from ultimate destruction. Everyone seems pretty happy about it and cheers, although that woman who got a chair in the face is probably traumatised forever. Yeah, y'know it's a TV show tie-in game made by Sonic Team on the PS2. That's all you really need to know to get a good idea of the kind of game it is. Don't ever play this game, not that you were even thinking about doing so, just don't. (You should play Astro Boy: Omega Factor on the GBA though as it is super awesome.)
Nora is a dick.
Blood Will Tell: Tezuka Osamu's Dororo.
Well, this was a pleasant surprise. For starters I didn't even know this game even existed until about a month ago. I have always loved Astro Boy, but I've never delved deeper into any of Osamu Tezuka's other work. I'd seen Metropolis, which I thought was gorgeous, but boring and a Black Jack anime I remember almost nothing about, and that was about it. Clicking through random videos of games when I should have been catching up on my neverending backlog of TV, I somehow came across a video of Blood Will Tell, also known as Dororo in Japan. Dororo is also the name of the original manga which also spawned a live action film in 2007 and a short lived Anime show in 1969.
I am so, so glad I discovered this game. This is probably the first game in my pile of old PS2 games I have been slowly working my way through that I'd call genuinely great. It centers around a Samurai named Hyakkimaru who was born with 48 of his body parts missing. His father had traded them to 48 demons for ultimate power, but disgusted at what remained of his child, the father put him in a basket and threw him into a river. A man named Dr Honma found and decided to care for the baby, doing what he could for him with medicine and magic. When the child grew up Honma built him fake arms, legs and various other internal organs, but most importantly gave him hidden blades in his arms. The blades would come in handy (Ha!) as when Hyakkimaru became a man his ultimate life goal was to murder all of the fiends that had control over his missing body parts.
The actual gameplay itself is quite simple. You run around the level going from point to point, hitting cutscenes and fighting bosses. Each chapter has you run around a pretty open environment where you can search for secrets or hunt down optional enemies. The main weapons you have are the arm blades, which both level up individually through use. These are the only weapon that can be leveled by grinding, although you aren't ever required to do so as you always have the means to beat most enemies you encounter. Square does fast attacks, triangle does heavy attacks and if you hold triangle you do a charging dash which activates a kind of mini game where you have to hit all of the button prompts that pop up on screen for massive damage. If successful you will be rewarded with a bunch of items, but I never found this attack to be all that useful. As you hunt every corner of the map you might also find scrolls which let you activate a special magic attack by hitting the two attack buttons at the same time. These are an assortment of tornadoes and blade flurries, but the default one that has you spin around like a crazy person seems like the most consistently useful.
The doctor was also kind enough to fit you with a powerful leg cannon which can be aimed and fired with R2, and a machine gun in your elbow when you hold down R1. That's not all! Hold down L2 and Hyakkimaru's arms re-appear allowing you to use your normal samurai sword. Swords can be collected and often have elemental or passive buffs. They don't increase in power like the arm blades and you have to find the higher levels of them hidden in pots and rocks scattered around the chapter.
Each chapter as you progress through the game is like a self contained story, similar to an episodic TV show. Although there is an overarching storyline about a lord and his son trying to reunite the country, most of the little stories revolve around a town or an area that has fallen on hard times due to an evil spirit sucking the life out of everything. Luckily Hyakkimaru senses demonic things when they are near with his minds eye and goes out of his way to help people the best way he knows how... by cutting things to death.
I should probably also point out the character from the title of the manga named Dororo is a young thief girl that follows you around claiming she will one day steal her ultimate prize... your arm blades. In the book it's only hinted at that Dororo is a girl pretending to be a boy, but in this game she is played as a girl from the start. The enthusiastic, but annoying voice actress doesn't even try to hide it, and the character model kinda just looks like a girl. That's actually a very nice thing about this game. The environments are mostly fine, but the character models and mo-capped animation is all very good. The voice acting is... well, it is what it is, but it doesn't detract from how cool the rest of the game is.
Dororo can be commanded with the circle button, hold it down and she can be told to fight, defend, follow or search for secrets. I nearly always had her set to attack as she has some pretty damaging kicks and punches and can really help out with some of the harder bosses. If she dies she just disappears for about thirty seconds and then gets right back into the fight. This means she is never a burden and is quite often a huge help. Occasionally the story will jump back and forth between the two characters as they're off doing separate things, communicating via a convenient psychic link. Sometimes you get to control Dororo as she follows a suspicious person or crawls around in underground tunnels while Hyakkimaru is running around town slicing demons in half. I really like the change of pace with Dororo, she has more platforming and puzzley stuff to do, but she can still hold her own against most enemy types.
As you progress through the game you will come across and kill some of the demons that have your body parts. This is something I absolutely love about the game. The first twenty minutes of the game are strangely in black and white (The tutorial does its best to keep telling you your TV isn't broken), but killing the first boss means you regain your right eye turning the game into colour. There's a lot of nice touches like this. Getting your nerve system back means you can feel pain again, so now the vibration in the controller works, you gained a leg, now you can dash etc. A lot of the body parts are just stat boosts, but it's always nice to feel like you have gained a meaningful part of your body back.
Most chapters will only let you defeat some of the unique, named demons first time through. Some storyline, some in hidden corners of the map. A few of them require you to return to the level after finishing the chapter and fulfil certain requirements like smashing all of the rocks in a area, cutting down a tree or fighting 40 little monsters. Some of the tougher enemies will only turn up after finishing a certain chapter later on in the game. They can often be really tricky as they are only weak to a specific sword-type or attack. A lot of the demons have unique designs and attacks you don't see anywhere else in the game. It's kinda cool that there are a ton of optional bosses that you may never see or find. The only way to unlock the final chapter and boss for the true ending is to regain 47 of your body parts. This is easier said than done, but the final chapter is very much worth seeing.
I feel like normally I would just make fun of ridiculous story points and annoying design. Blood Will Tell has it's fair share of frustrations and "Oh, video game." moments, and Dororo is possibly one of the most punchable characters to ever appear in a video game. There's something about the way this game is designed. It's both familiar and completely unique. It has good controls and tons of stuff to do or ignore. Even if the story is incredibly simplistic and the voice acting isn't of the highest standard, the tales that are told are interesting and make you want to see what's coming next be it a giant demon fox or an evil mountain that needs to be destroyed. Yeah, you have to fight a whole mountain in this game.
If I'd have played Blood Will Tell back when it came out I'd probably be gushing about it on forums any chance I could. It's not often these "hidden gem" games live up to the amount of love their passionate supporters give them, but this is truly one of the best PS2 games I have ever played. If you have any interest in quirky samurai stories or interesting action games and can look past some of the bullshit that comes bundled with these older titles I strongly urge you to give this a try.
Soooo. Sonic Team have made some bad games, this is probably a huge shock to anyone reading this, but what you should have come away with from reading this is that Blood Will Tell is a fantastic game and you should probably play it. I've just finished The Book of Human Insects another Tezuka book from 1970. It's full of sex, murder and identity theft. It's kinda brilliant if you can look past some of its more dated elements. I've also started on the Dororo book.(1967) Man, that thing is like a billion pages big. It's really surprising how faithful the game is to the book though, even down to some very small details. The manga despite its cute, cartoony-ness is way more bloody than the game though.
Yep, this is another collection of words about games I have been playing. Hopefully I won't accidently delete this one off the forums like I did before, but you don't care anyways, you' haven't even read this far! I have written about a bunch of PS2 and Gamecube games, but I'm still not entirely happy with those blogs, blogs with blog in the title. I have still not played Billy Hatcher.
Thanks for reading. Be excellent to each other.