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Astro Boy: Omega Factor

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Released: 2003

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Game Boy Advance

Publisher: Sega

Developer: Treasure/Hitmaker

How Treasure and Hitmaker joined forces to make a GBA classic

The Background
Developed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the anime version of Astro Boy, the iconic Japanese manga character that helped bring this brand of visual storytelling to the West, Omega Factor celebrates the legacy of the friendly robot boy. Even though co-developer Treasure’s reputation is in hardcore arcade games, Astro Boy is very much targeted at a wide audience; as such, the generous difficulty settings and relatively light-hearted storyline are a left-field turn from other Treasure games.

While Astro Boy himself is the only playable character, Sega, Treasure and Hitmaker opted to make the overall arc of the story a tribute to creator Osamu Tezuka, broadly encapsulating a large volume of the Astro Boy canon. Omega Factor was crafted as the ultimate experience for fans of the character – while it doesn’t follow any specific storyline from the manga or anime, the sheer number of cameos and variety of settings means that it explores each cornerstone of what makes the character so enduringly popular.

The pairing of the two studios, which had independently produced top-quality titles in the arcade shooter vein, resulted in a wonderfully constructed depiction of the 59-year-old icon and
the futuristic universe he inhabits.

astro shooting

The Game
Any discussion gamers have about quality licensed games invariably veers towards the likes of GoldenEye and Knights Of The Old Republic – yet, while they are among the most high-profile of games based on movies, TV shows, comic books and other properties, they’re by no means the only ones. We’d be surprised if there’s a videogame that better captures the appeal of the fictional universe it depicts than Astro Boy: Omega Factor, a jam-packed, compulsively replayable arcade-style shooter that completely deviates from the norm within its genre.

Even though it’s all obviously quite light, Saturday morning kids’ TV fare, there’s a lot of story in Astro Boy. A revolving door of colourful characters means it’s heavier on narrative than previous Treasure titles, yet despite this, it’s completely open and easy to grasp for anyone new to the character. The basic gameplay is a lot like Gunstar Heroes and just as fun, yet the progression is totally different.

Each time you encounter a new character within a level, whether they’re part of the story or hidden away, you gain an experience point to increase Astro Boy’s power, health and so on. Typical of Treasure’s titles, there are frenetic boss battles to overcome, but despite this you can blast your way to the end credits in an evening. What do you think happens after that? Closing credits and cheerful ending?

Well, you lose. Few titles have the daring to let you beat the final level and tell you that you’ve still lost, let alone a game based on a massively popular character, but that’s exactly what the story in Astro Boy: Omega Factor does. There’s no resolution the first time around – you have to fight for it.

See, upon beginning the game again as part of the time-travelling story, you’re offered a level select to go back in time and correct Astro Boy’s mistakes, piecing together the wider mystery of the story while also touching on the rather sad yet hopeful origins of the protagonist. Wonderfully, this second playthrough offers a whole heap of new levels and bosses that weren’t there to begin with.

To really get to the end, though, you have to persevere and find all the secret characters hiding in bins, behind doors and all manner of other bizarre places. Shooting is no longer the point of the experience, then, which at that point has become second nature. Instead, Omega Factor transforms into an action-adventure of sorts; the experience changes entirely, yet you’re still completely invested in it, now for different reasons. This is an enormously gratifying way to invoke replay value out
of the game.

When that final ending arrives, the sense of reward is huge – it suddenly dawns on you that the first playthrough was
really only the opening chapter of the game. While it may have the trappings and basic gameplay of a traditional, sophisticated Treasure game, the way the story unfolds is experimental and very enjoyable as a result.

stro powerful

Why It’s A Future Classic
Due to the smart way the story is put together, it’s easy to get swept along by Astro Boy without any prior knowledge of the character – licensed games
in future are unlikely to accomplish accessibility on the same level, if at all. This is a superb shooter, even by Treasure’s intimidating standards, as the developer found a way to marry its own well-worn mechanics to the broad themes of the licence.
Yet it’s the way that Astro Boy: Omega Factor rewards the player that ensures the game’s status as a modern classic. Instead of handing the ending to the player on a plate, Treasure encouraged them to explore and uncover the small details of the titular character’s universe, in doing so exposing themselves to the light-hearted wonder that gave the robotic champ such a legendary status to begin with. What could have been a straightforward Treasure shooter instead became something altogether more fascinating.

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