TV Game

astro boy: the omega factor

TV Game

Every now and again, I bring up my long-standing love for Astro Boy. I found myself appreciating the character and his show, mostly because it was the only thing on TV worth watching at 4:30 AM while I got ready for work. It was during this time that I also started getting into all the Nintendo stuff that I had missed growing up as a kid with a Sega Genesis and a Sony Playstation. I bought a DS to pass time during breaks at work, and I did a 180 on the Wii as soon as No More Heroes was announced. The DS was a real thing of beauty. Not only did I get to play a lot of great games for that system, but its backwards compatibility allowed me to see all the Game Boy Advance games that I had missed out on (I got a GBA during my high school years, but I only ever owned a few games for it). That was a fun time for me to discover games. And for anything that I couldn’t find for pennies on the dollar at a Gamestop somewhere, I loaded up in the old Visual Boy Advance emulator on my home PC and hoped didn’t run like shit. Among these many classics on the GBA, I found myself becoming extremely attached to Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, to the point that I would say it’s my favorite game on the handheld.

The Omega Factor is a stone-cold classic by Treasure, a company I don’t think I need to gush about a second time. It’s a game with multiple genres: platformer, shooter, brawler. All done very well, with Astro Boy’s powers well represented, including his rear-end machine guns. While Astro’s name is on the cover, this is a game that acts as a loving tribute to the collective works of his creator, Osamu Tezuka. Characters like Black Jack and Phoenix are prominently featured in the story, and there’s an entire level set on the Marine Express. It’s clear that Treasure really did care about the world of Tezuka.

Astro Boy’s first half is a basic enough game. You punch robots and humans who hate robots. You fly around, shooting lasers and your butt-mounted machine gun at more robots and humans who hate robots. Then you take on some large, visually impressive bosses. Sometimes you may run into another Tezuka star making a cameo. You do all of this, moving left to right, as you have in any other game you’ve ever played in your life. Had Treasure stopped here, it still would have been the best game adaptation of Astro Boy by a mile. Then you face a gauntlet of bosses: The World’s Strongest Robots. After defeating the final one, Pluto, a massive being known as the Death Mask appears, sentencing every remaining robot on Earth to death before exposing the planet to an element that will shut them all down. All robots includes a terrified Astro Boy, who slowly dies, leading to an abrupt, anticlimactic ending.

But then Astro Boy is brought back to life by Phoenix, and given the ability to travel back and forth through time, a way of justifying that you now have access to a stage select. Now you’re in the second half of the game, going through each stage a second time, or a third time, or fourth time, or however many times it takes. No longer is this a straightforward action game, the objective has changed to changing the past so as to avoid the apocalyptic future. You have to find the hidden Tezuka Stars that you most definitely missed the first time around. And even if you didn’t miss them, you’ll need to see them again anyways once the story has changed. This is the part of the game where Osamu Tezuka’s message starts to become more and more prominent. It goes from “beat up anti-robot politicians because they’re bad” to themes of love, of bigotry, of what it means to be a robot, of what it means to be a human, of war, of suffering, and of what the purpose of Astro Boy’s existence truly is. The writing is a bit on the basic side, to be certain; this is a Treasure-developed Game Boy Advance game, but it still manages to tell its story well.

I got into Astro Boy watching reruns of the 60s cartoon at four in the morning. I thought it was a neat little cartoon with a simple, yet visually striking character design. Playing this game in the evening is what got me to absolutely love Astro Boy. This innocent child trying his best, using his powers to help others in a tumultuous time of inequality. At risk of sounding like the weeb version of an adult Steven Universe fan, there are times where I’ll play this game, read the manga or watch the many animated adaptations and kind of sort of wish I was Astro Boy in a way. No, I don’t mean having jet boots and the ability to shoot lasers (though that would be pretty cool), I mean I wish that I had Astro Boy’s hope and optimism. I wish I could see a better tomorrow. But I can’t. At least not anymore. Osamu Tezuka survived an American fire-bombing raid as a teenager. He has witnessed death and destruction on a massive scale. As an adult, he became a doctor, a field where pain and death is an every day occurrence. He had a major distrust of government and military, and created iconic manga after iconic manga dedicated to the pointlessness of war and the nationalism that leads to it, full of characters that tried to spread a message of hope. He encouraged a generation of children to be themselves and not conform to a societal standard. I wish I could still believe in people the way that Tezuka did. As great as this game is, I also felt a great sense of sadness upon replaying it for this reason; that I feel myself becoming too fucking bitter for a children’s cartoon character. Maybe it was a subconscious decision to pick this game back up. Maybe I needed to see the spirit of Osamu Tezuka shown through the lens of a great video game to remind myself that things might not be as bad as I’ve spent so many years thinking they are. While I can’t share in Tezuka’s message of hope today, perhaps I can share in it someday soon.

Game’s really good, by the way.

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