Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Atomic Robo-Kid Special


Atomic Robo-Kid Special, a blast 'em up that has never been the recipient of many accolades and that I was never in any great hurry to play, turned out to be more engaging and enjoyable than I'd expected. That's not to say that it's fantastic, and some people might find that its flaws damage it beyond redemption.

But even the players who'll ultimately hate it will probably find ARKS likable in many ways initially. It's a pleasant (if not technically impressive) game aesthetically. The music is cutesy but has an edge to it to ensure that it remains appropriate for the soar-and-blast action. Appealing color choices; bits of simplistic-but-nice-looking parallax; and large, chunky sprites make the visuals more than just acceptable. The bosses, whom you wage war against in exciting walled-off showdowns, are absolutely enormous, and while the first two are pushovers and the third has but one little trick up his sleeve, the last two can really wreak some havoc. You also duel with other robo kids in entertaining confrontations that I find strangely reminiscent of the He-Man vs. Skeletor face-offs that take place in the Atari 2600 Masters of the Universe game. Your own flying trash can is an endearing little bot, and he gets to explore both straightforward strips and intricate labyrinths.

That's all nice. What isn't nice is the control scheme, which practically cries out for an additional button (the same trigger is used for both strafing and switching weapons). Also, the old combination of gigantic hitbox and large projectiles never makes for smooth gameplay, and the fact that you'll often find yourself in very tight corridors doesn't help matters. Some of the mazelike areas can be a bit boring, especially when they force you to undertake the laborious task of tunneling through walls. And while the variety in level design helps keep things fresh, twenty-five boards is just too many. It's not that the levels require much time--many can be completed quite quickly, in fact--but that it can be annoying to reach the Big Arm Boss in Area 25, lose, and then have to fight through the twenty-four previous stages again in order to get another crack at him.

I didn't mind replaying those stages a few times (at least not all that much), and beating the game felt quite good despite the crummy ending. Whether or not you'll agree with me that ARKS is worth buying will likely depend on how willing you'll be to replay the early boards in order to get good enough to beat the last few and how forgiving you'll be of the lousy control setup.

Some of your foes emerge from the floors or ceilings in efforts to surprise you.

The visuals impress at times with large enemies and appealing backdrops.

You probably don't want the bosses to get this close to you (unless you're trying to nab a good screenshot, of course).

You'll encounter some interesting folks in the maze areas.

The last two bosses are pretty tough.

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