Gekido Advance (GBA/N.A.P.S. Team)
by brandon sheffield
Itís common knowledge to frequent readers. Iím a sucker for a good beat Ďem up, or anything that looks like it might be one. Itís not so bad as the KOF addiction; I wonít buy a system just to play one. Or let's say I haven't done it yet. But will I go so far as to import one from Europe? Hey look! I just did!
Gekido Advance: Kintaroís Revenge comes from an unusual Italian development house by the name of N.A.P.S. Team. Their experience with the beat em up genre is not something to underestimate. Theyíve made something on the order of six games since their formation in í94 (theyíre a small group), four of them within the side-scrolling genre we all know and love. So youíd think that Gekido Advance would be a finely honed example of their talent. But in fact, the game feels more like a very pretty, very sloppy first effort.
The art is beautiful, and has a distinct not-quite-Japanese anime style (character art by Joe Madureira). The visuals are just fantastic. This is really some of the nicest 2D Iíve seen on the GBA, barring Nintendoís own software. Iíll go so far as to say that itís the best looking 2D beat Ďem up Iíve seen anywhere. Better than anything SNK, Capcom or IGS ever put out in terms of graphical style, resolution and detailed animation. The graphics make me want to love this game. I canít love it. We can be friends, maybe. But the relationship just isnít going where I thought it would...
I had big hopes. I watched the trailer and was floored with the high quality of the visuals. I turned the game on for the first time, and was greeted with high-quality system generated animated cut scenes. Getting into the game, I discover that you can talk to the townspeople Ė pretty cool. They ask you to go on missions of sorts. Getting cooler! The ground shakes, enemies appear! The combo system works for me right off the bat, itís intuitive, easy to get a handle on, and not so static that you canít shake things up every once in a while (there are some infinites by the way, all having to do with the running kick). After destroying my enemies Iím off to find a key to unlock a door Ė itís starting to feel a bit like an action-rpg. Find the lamp to get into the cave, throw the switch to open the gate, find the key by breaking the statue. Oh and you can grab and throw bats. Tiny little bats! Iím ready for the game of a lifetime.
But then. Trouble hits. For one thing, I quickly discover that I cannot block. I hate that. Iím supposed to be some sort of martial arts master here. The only martial arts masters who donít know how to block are the dead ones, rotting in their cold, cold graves.
Now blocking is not always necessary in the genre. Final Fight didnít use it, but...didnít really need it. Enemies didnít juggle you or gang up on you per se. You need it here. The AI is relentless, which would be great, if you could block. Since you canít, itís unnecessarily frustrating.
Another problem: there are a lot of screwed up tiles. Iíll be walking up to a box, and it should very obviously show up in front of me. But I wind up walking Ďoverí it instead. And in the final conversation with the last boss, main character Tetsuoís mouth is located about four pixels to the right of the rest of his head. Thatís not right at all. Check out the Gedido Advance website. See that image of a face up top there? See that white line in the middle? The lower half of that image is supposed to be up two pixels. At least theyíre consistent with it, I guess.
But let's discuss the real mistakes. There are environmental effects; traps and the like. These can be incredibly cool sometimes, and make for fun gameplay. But these things are brutal. Imagine this: thereís a rolling log in front of you. In front of that rolling log, thereís a pit. Then thereís a small platform for you to land on, and another pit on the other side. Thereís another rolling log past the second pit. Over both of these pits you have cement blocks with spikes, that only fall if you come near them (meaning theyíre sensor, not timing based). You have to jump over that log, over the pits, and over the other log. But the cement blocks extend halfway onto the platform, and itís very difficult to gauge where you can land safely on the tiny platform. Hereís the typical scenario: I clear the first log with no trouble. I make it to the platform, but the cement block smashes me. I lose HP. I fall backwards, and hit the pit. I lose more HP. When you fall into a pit, the game drops you back down from the sky. It drops me directly onto the log. I fall back again, and am back where I started!!! Not good!
This could have been easily remedied by a longer period of invincibility after a hit. Any playtester would have told them this. And of course, many times there will be enemies around at the same time. So you have to jump over logs, avoid flames and fight enemies all at the same time. But! The traps do not hurt the enemies at all. Which is also wrong. Ever since the original Final Fight, traps have hurt enemies as much as they hurt you. It just makes sense!!!
Plus they show up in odd places sometimes. A towns-person gave me the key to his grandfatherís library. But he didnít tell me that there were goddamned cement blocks suspended from the ceiling, waiting to crush all potential customers! What kind of library does that?
One more problem to add to the mix: about 50% of the enemies have projectiles, and you donít. They love to get on either side of you and bounce you around. As I mentioned, the AI is fierce. One enemy will attack you up front, while the other is dropping rocks on you, or throwing a knife, so you canít attack or defend. Again, blocking would fix this right up.
The final blow: maybe 25% of enemies can only be hit when theyíre doing certain things, like attacking, or when their projectile leaves their hand.
None of these would be serious problems if you had to deal with them one at a time. I could deal with them without complaint then, Iíd just say it was a hard game. But more often than not, at least three of these gameplay problems come up simultaneously. It winds up feeling unfair, rather than challenging.
But thereís so much that I do like about this game as well. Aside from the decent combo system (not as deep as Her Knights, but still good), I love this exploration and item searching business. It adds a much-needed element to the genre, on top of the usual button mashery. There are a few semi-secret rooms and such, and all necessary items are Ďhiddení in a secret-style way, so itís rather a fun journey to take, when youíre not being bombarded by traps.
Again though, thereís a bit of a problem. In the third level, if you donít do things in the correct order, you can get stuck in one area and never able to get out. And thereís no good reason for this either. You have the key for the door you need to get into, you just canít use it until youíve unlocked a few other doors first. And you canít go back the way you came, not because thereís something blocking the way Ė the game just doesnít let you. Again, itís sloppiness that cheapens the experience.
The sound effects are good, and the music is well recorded. But itís very repetitive, and youíll soon wind up playing without the sound. This doesnít affect the experience particularly. Itís nice in theory that Ďbattle musicí comes on when enemies appear, but itís the same battle music every time. I think there are a total of four tracks total in the game. Best beat Ďem up music ever? Capcomís Knights of the Round. Remember that!
Iím not sure whether or not to tell you to buy this game. I have to say, Iíll play it again. Even though itís plain unfair, Iíll still play it. Itís a terribly tough call. Iíd like this to be a repeat of the Tomak incident. Namely I write the review, the company reads it and fixes everything I complained about. It could well be that the North American release will see improvements. If so, Iíd tell you to buy it without hesitation. If youíre in Europe now, I know that you can get it on the cheap with no problem. It might be worth your money, if only because I want them to make another. I want to play the sequel, with all the fixes and some neat extras at the end. The ending of this game already told me that the next version will have three playable characters (something like the PSX version)!
France, UK, Germany guys, if you think you can handle the frustration, go get it. Itís cheap, it looks nice, and you can get some nice arcade action in there between the tough bits. US guys, wait for the NA release. Iíll let you know. So the results are in: Her Knights: Forcing Break Out is still the best handheld beat 'em up around (bested only by D&D: Shadows Over Mystaria for the big prize). Gekido's still got a ways to go.
Brandon Sheffield never played the original for the GBC. Anyone who did, please drop me a line.