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Astro Boy: Tetsuwan Atom Heart no Himitsu (GBA/SEGA)
by tim rogers


A bunny girl came over to my apartment a few weeks ago.

It was great. She's great. I like her a lot. I've seen her a couple more times since the day she came over. She's a razor-sharp girl, and no matter how many times I'm going to refer to her as "a bunny girl," she's actually very recently quit that job (cosplay for a Certain Videogame Company which at one point required her to wear bunny ears) to design characters for a Videogame Company That Makes Many Shooters.

So yeah, you can say that this girl is a real find, in that she is describable as "Bunny Girl" and that she likes videogames. She carries a pink Gameboy Advance, and has a little purple velvet drawstring bag full of game cartridges. Aside from Dragon Quest I+II, all of those games are of the Advance variety. All of her Advance games were ones I hadn't played -- things like hamster simulations or RPGs about fairies or based on manga. The only game that interested me remotely (as a "hardcore gamer," that is, the only game that looked like one I'd played before -- haHAH!) happened to be Sega/Hitmaker/Treasure's Astroboy Tetsuwan Atom.

"Ahh, Astroboy," I said, or something like that.

"You played this one?"

I shrugged. "I . . . think so."

"You think so?"

"At Tokyo Game Show," I said.

"You think you played it at Tokyo Game Show?"

"Yes, I think I played it at Tokyo Game Show."

"Hmm. Have you ever seen the anime?"

I thought deeply backward. My friend Big Joe in Chicago always carried around an Astroboy keychain. He had a Doraemon (the big round blue robotic cat with no ears) keychain, too, and lord knows I've seen a lot of Doraemon.

"Yeah, I guess I have."

The bunny girl made a "Hmmm." She ripped the Gyakuten Saiban 3 cartridge out of her GBA, just as I made a "Hey!" sound, all excited that Gyakuten Saiban 3 is easily in the number-one slot for Game of the Year 2004, as far as I'm concerned. She didn't hear me. She presented me a pink Gameboy Advance loaded with Astroboy, and I took it, and played it. She had only one save file of three in use. I started up the second one.

The beginning of the game is a training mode. Astroboy, the greatest creation of the great scientist Ochanomizu-hakase ("Professor Teawater" -- Ochanomizu is actually a train station in Tokyo, outside of which you'll find the guitar shop where High-Lows guitarist Mashima Masatoshi bought his Gibson Les Paul), is born and subsequently put through a VR-training mode complete with black-and-blue cycling grid background and four-second warm looping "just-born" music. Of course, being just born, it's top priority for Astroboy to learn how to punch and kick bastardy-looking little robots to death. Well, first you have to learn how to progress of the right side of the screen. This is done easily enough, with the control pad. Then the bastardbots come out, and you press the B button, and Astroboy punches the hell out of them. Punch one, and it blows up. Punch the next one, and it blows up, too.

Next, you learn how to do a jump -- the A-button -- and then a jet-jump -- the A-button twice. Press a direction on the control pad -- like, say, "up" -- and Astroboy's jet-jump will go in that direction. Use this to jet upward, over walls. Jet over the provided wall, and you'll then be told to use your infinite-use special moves to defeat entire rows of bastard robots. Down on the control pad (Astroboy can't duck! Alert the Megaman copyright holders!) and B causes Astroboy to kick. Up and B uses the finger laser. The finger laser cuts into a row of enemies, damaging them without moving them. The kick sends one enemy tumbling in the direction Astroboy is facing; if that enemy collides with other enemies, those enemies take damage equaling about half of the damage taken by the first enemy. Every time you kick or use the finger laser, a thin green bar beneath your life energy grows. When it becomes full, you're granted a use of your special moves -- the R-button results in the rather-lewd-looking pelvic machinegun; the L-button is a mega-wide finger-laser. Get this, though -- each time the meter is full, you get another special attack. Meaning if you're finger-lasering a hell of a lot of enemies (and this happens a lot) and that meter builds up ten times, you're able to use ten special attacks. In this way, you can store a maximum of ninety-nine special attacks.

Well, on easy mode, anyway. On hard mode, you can only store three. Which, yes, isn't that many. Still, it warmly calls to mind Treasure's Bangaioh for Dreamcast, in which your multi-directional mega-blast could only be done once for each power-meter charge. However, in Astroboy, that special move is not nearly as essential as in Bangaioh.

Anyway, after you've finished obliterating a screen of enemies with your special attacks, Dr. Ochanomizu instructs you to come stand next to him. You do this, and the screen fades out. When it fades back in, you're looking at the "Atom Heart" sub-screen. It's an electronic honeycomb-looking grid, with Astroboy's face being printed on the hexagon in the middle. The next entry is made -- it's Dr. Ochanomizu. He's the kind-hearted professor who created Astroboy, the description says. When you're done with the description, you get a new sub-screen. This is the power-up sub-screen.

You're given the choice of which of six powers you want to upgrade. Life increases the number of hits you can take. Punch makes your punch (or kick) damage stronger. Laser makes your finger laser stronger. Shot makes your pelvic machinegun more terrifying for enemies. Jet increases the number of times you can use your jet in midair by one (yes, increase it to level seven and you can jet seven times, if you feel like it). Sensor expands the bubble of light that surrounds Astroboy in dark areas (oh shit another GBA game that includes purposely dark areas what the fuck I'm going to kill someone).

Dr. Ochanomizu then calls in his assistant, Wato, a very happy young girl who is taller than both you and the professor, who is also taller than you. She says something about you being cute, and then is kidnapped by the very bastard robots you were beating up in the training mode. Dr. Ochanomizu does not even turn around once during the kidnapping. When the girl is gone, the face portrait by his dialogue box becomes urgent -- rescue her, Astroboy! Quick!

The game then begins.

Five minutes later, it's struck real videogame genius, the kind you might have been convinced had only ever occurred on Sega Genesis or Sega Saturn, at least ten times. Let's examine how it does this.

[Next: Son of Liberty]




Release Date
December 18, 2003