This is part 11 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.
Though a year like 2004 may have been an exception example of the amount of entertainment the video game industry can provide in a mere 365 days, even in slower years there are usually so many games that come out, you’re bound to miss out on some.
That may be common occurrence in a world where there are so many entertainment possibilities, but it does make you think. What if you missed out on something that was truly, truly great? Actually, more than great, what if you missed out on a game that could have been an essential part of your young gaming life?
This sobering thought brings us to Astro Boy: Omega Factor.
Astro Boy is a game that you very easily could have missed out on. It didn’t have many commercials, ads on the side of buses, billboards, theatrical previews, full-page ads, or Super Bowl half-time shout outs.
For that matter, it didn’t even receive much coverage in the gaming industry corners. It may have gotten a quick preview write-up on websites or a review tucked away on the final pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly, but that’s about it. Even worse, it was a Game Boy Advance game that came out just a couple months shy of the Nintendo DS’s release.
I suppose you could say it didn’t have what is typically referred to in the advertising industry as “presence.”
But if you did stumble on one of the many glowing reviews of Astro Boy, decided to take a chance on this obscure licensed curiosity, then actually managed to snag one of the rare copies that were floating around, you were gifted with a title that came at you with the surprise and fury of the rocket propelled android pre-teen that served as Omega Factor’s protaganist.
If you were going to classify Astro Boy in terms of genre labeling, I suppose you would call it a 2D action side-scroller, with R-Type shooter segments, and RPG-lite mechanics. However, much like a well-meaning waiter spouting off the every detail of the wine they are about to pour, description can in no way truly convey the sheer flavor of the thing itself once you sampled it.
In actuality, Astro Boy is a dream weaver. Developer Treasure always had a knack for making games filled with intricate design perfections, but Omega Factor may just be their crown jewel in that pursuit. While that certainly applies to essential elements such as Omega Factor‘s perfectly implemented beat-em-up action system, or a difficulty level so balanced you could hang a shelf with it, it’s more about the way the developer’s personality elevates those things to a level that many games never achieve.
To put it another way, Astro Boy often plays out the way that you nostalgically remember other classic games playing. Its a near-perfect combination of the lessons learned from what has come before, and a surprising amount of foresight as to what design features will still be considered impressive some years down the road. Taste in gaming will always be subjective, but there are certain aspects of game design which can help ensure that your title is not subject to the wrath of time, and those aspects can all be found in Omega Factor.
In the case of Astro Boy then, there is no such thing as missing out on it. Even if you didn’t get around to playing it on its release, the game was designed in a way that allows you to discover it just as it was always intended to be, no matter when you might actually pick it up.
10 years later, Astro Boy: Omega Factor patiently awaits the moment it gets to surprise you.