(NOTE: Notice that abysmal score up there? Trust me when I say that it’ll make sense before the review is over with, as — even though Astro Boy Flight might not sound quite that bad at first — there’s one specific unfortunate factor pushing this game well over top.)
You might remember last year when we reviewed Astro Boy Dash (our review), an endless runner based on the Astro Boy license — by Animoca Limited — that oddly isn’t available on iTunes anymore. While such a game’s removal is normally indicative of a company losing access to a license, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case here since Animoca Limited recently debuted two all new Astro Boy titles. With Astro Boy Dash itself being a fairly solid game — albeit one with a plot that didn’t exactly make much sense — one would hope that these two new titles would be at least as good, if not better.
One may certainly hope for such a thing, but wishes don’t always exactly come true.
Astro Boy Flight (out now, free) is a top down Shoot’em Up game based on the Astro Boy license, wherein Astro Boy is tasked with stopping an evil army of marauding robots that are bombing cities everywhere. Right off the bat this is — even if quite simplistic — a major step up over the plot of Astro Boy Dash, wherein players followed Astro Boy as he heroically did everything in his power to play hooky. Unfortunately — however — this is probably the last time you’re going to see me say something truly nice during the course of this review, as we’ll soon arrive at pain-town where unpleasant things are said 24/7.
However — before I fully elaborate on what is wrong with this game — I should at first discuss how it is controlled, which is a rather simple affair since all you ever do is move Astro Boy around the screen by dragging him about with your finger. Although you can freely drag him anywhere on the screen, you’ll generally want to keep him placed at the absolute bottom so that you’ll have the best chances of avoiding whatever is incoming. Everything else — such as firing, or using power ups — happens automatically, meaning that keeping Astro Boy out of harm’s way is basically the only thing you’ll ever need to worry about.
This probably sounds like a perfectly reasonable set-up for Shoot’em Up controls, and such an input method actually has performed admirably in many other mobile based games. Unfortunately — whereas those other games featured interesting bullet sprays to avoid, or enemies patterns to deal with — Astro Boy Flight is essentially barebones beyond belief, with the player mostly ever seeing static non-firing enemies in wall formations. Since you can’t actually move around these oncoming foes — due to how they always form a perfect wall — the only way past them is to blow at least one of them up; and while this already sounds rather boring, it’s actually far worse for reasons I’ll soon be covering.
As you progress forward through Astro Boy Flight you will quickly discover that the armor rating of your generic enemies will soar upwards rapidly, leading to you dealing with Titanium covered foes in no time flat. Although there does indeed exist a power-up that temporarily doubles your damage output for a limited time, let me assure you right now that you’re going to need a lot more than that after a minute or so. You are — instead — going to need to arm Astro Boy with enhancements from the game’s upgrade shop, and it is here where one of Astro Boy Flight’s major issues truly comes to the forefront.
In the game’s shop you may spend the meager coins you’ll snag during a run to marginally increase the power of Astro Boy’s attacks, to increase the potency of mid-stage power-ups, or to unlock access to robotic helpers. The cost of these progressive upgrades jacks up dramatically, and — unless you currently happen to have the magnetic field booster — odds are that you’ll usually fail to reach most of whatever gets dropped. Therefore you’ll need inordinate periods of grinding in order to afford even a single meager damage upgrade, all so that you might eventually — one day far in the future — be able to defend yourself against the single-file robo-walls that are endlessly thrown at you.
Now some of you out there might be ready to protest that “pay-up or grind-up” has always been a cornerstone of freemium based game design, especially in the mobile gaming arena. Now while this is — in fact — normally true, I have not yet properly delved into just how heavily Astro Boy Flight has been geared against letting someone never actually grind their way to success. So far you’ve probably been laboring under the notion that you’d be able to take more than one solitary hit in a game that constantly throws perfectly-blocking enemy walls in your direction, and that sadly just isn’t true.
You will — with almost no exceptions to speak of — die in this game after precisely one impact with anything, be it an attack from a boss — a collision with an enemy robot – or an oncoming rocket. Furthermore, you may only die a mere six times — with each death instantly leading to an absolute Game Over screen – before you’ve run out of energy and need to either wait for it to recharge or buy more via IAP means. Worse yet, your robotic helpers — which aren’t cheap in the first place — have their own respective cool-down clocks that kick in after precisely one game session (again, unless you IAP around this).
Ergo you may only ever play Astro Boy Flight a mere six times in a row — none of which will last particularly all that long — and usually only one of those will ever have the basic benefits of a robotic helper, thanks to their own personal cool downs. Don’t forget that you die in precisely one hit from bumping into absolutely anything, and that your basic minions will almost always charge forward in a solid single-file perfect-wall formation. Finally, coins dropped by your foes will almost always be too dangerous to grab thanks to the single-tap equals death rule; meaning these walls of robotic death serve as an extra incentive to earn coins at an even slower rate than you might have otherwise achieved.
So now we’ve covered that you’ll be earning coins at a snail’s pace — and thus running out of your six lives in no-time flat, immediately leading to cool down syndrome — unless you spend real money hand over fist for miniscule weapon damage upgrades. One might at least now hope that Astro Boy Flight made an interesting use of Osamu Tezuka’slore via the game’s promised extra characters, but sadly not so much when you see the list. While some long time fans might be excited to play as Atlas or Blue Knight — whom otherwise function exactly like Astro Boy — I just can’t think of anyone whom was ever itching to play as Dr. Tenma wearing a rocket pack, or especially Ochanomizu/Elefun.
While it’s probably clear at this point that Astro Boy Flight is indeed positively wretched, odds are that you’re still wondering how the game is worthy of the ultra-low score that I’ve assigned it. Well, it turns out that the exact moment you turn off the game — either because it crashes, or you willingly close the app — it suddenly becomes irreparably broken and won’t ever turn on again. At this point the only thing you can do to make Astro Boy Flight function again is to physically reinstall it from scratch — which will not only utterly destroy your progress, but the game will just break again a short while later.
While it’s quite likely Animoca Limited will eventually fix Astro Boy Flight’s extreme instability issues, that would still do nothing to fix the fact that the game is just an IAP guzzler — disguised as a Shoot’em Up — bereft of anything resembling true game play. Between the occasional rocket spams that you can see coming a mile away — and bosses with hyper simple attack patterns — it’s really only the aforementioned minion walls that are vaguely threatening, and they may as well be a personification of the pay-wall notion. This might have been where I’d suggest that Astro Boy fans ignore this lousy game and instead look at the actually decent Astro Boy Dash, but I guess the real reason that Animoca Limited took their other game down was because it was too much competition.
iFanzine Verdict: Astro Boy Flight is an utterly simplistic Shoot’em Up game — bereft of any game play value — that has been deliberately rigged to create personified pay-walls, and to further ensure that it’s nigh on impossible to grind-up (sans using IAPs). This alone would have been reason enough to eternally avoid the game, but there’s also the fact that Astro Boy Flight always breaks after closing — whether done deliberately, or via crashing — and afterwards must be fully reinstalled to work again. About the only reason — that I can possibly think of — for playing this lousy game is if you have ever desperately sought to see a story where the portly Doctor Elefun himself saved the day, and even then you’d probably just end up utterly disappointed instead.