When Tenma’s son Toby died in a horrible accident (different versions of the story vary on the specifics), the doctor attempted to fill the void in his life by creating a robotic duplicate of his departed child. However – as was doomed to happen – he quickly realizes that the copy can’t make up for what he lost, and promptly tosses the Robot-Toby out of his house (the specifics again depending on the adaptation). Eventually the robot ends up coming under the care of one Doctor Elefun – or Ochanomizu, as he was originally known in Japan – the head researcher of the so-called “Ministry of Science”.
Now referred to as Astro Boy, or Mighty Atom to those who grew up in Japan, the child robot is steadily learning how to use all of his amazing powers for the betterment of everyone. However, Astro Boy’s patience with the lessons quickly wanes – apparently even robotic children aren’t very good at listening to lectures – and one day he tries to run off to have some fun instead. Thusly the player must lead Astro Boy on a mad dash through the town’s streets, leaping and sliding under obstacles as he goes, all while attempting to stay one step ahead of Doctor Elefun.
I will admit that I was more than a little bit surprised when I recently saw that there was an all new game based on Astro Boy available in the US section of the iTunes marketplace. For those of you whom aren’t aware of the full significance of the mighty franchise, which dates back far longer than the recent CGI film circa 2009, let’s take a moment to get that out of the way first. Astro Boy – created by manga legend: Osamu Tezuka – is the oldest significant animated series to be produced in Japan, making the robotic boy hero the oldest anime character in all of existence.
Anyways – face palming cause by the game’s set-up aside, which seems like a colossal under utilization of the license – I am happy to report that Astro Boy Dash (out now, free) controls rather well. Players swipe up or down to either leap or slide past the various obstacles littering the metropolis’s streets, most of which seem to take the form of giant water-filled potholes (the place really might want to rename itself “pothole-opolis”). Manually tilting the iDevice will let players position Astro Boy so that he can successfully dodge smaller objects entirely, and is also used to ensure that he’s correctly aligned to snag any coins that pass by. Meanwhile, swiping either left or right will let the player command Astro Boy to quickly perform a hard turn in that direction whenever he reaches a dangerously sharp change in the road.
Basically that’s all there is to this game: endlessly avoiding obstacles and potholes on the road, while Astro Boy – in the middle of a rather unheroic game of hooky – does his best to stay one step ahead of Doctor Elefun. The assorted coins you gather along the way can be used to purchase a plethora of permanent upgrades, including life saving reinforcements to Astro Boy’s head – legs – and arms. Astro Boy Dash has a somewhat unique life system where he can take hits until one of his body parts runs out of power, with damage being received according to area involved in the accident (such as his legs when falling down pits).
The other purchasable options include the standard endless runner fare, with increases to how long the various power ups – such as temporary invincibility and coin magnets – last when you snag them mid-run. There is also – as to be expected with a free title – a premium currency that must either be straight up purchased, or earned in limited quantities whenever Astro Boy finishes one of the game’s achievement-esque missions. These can either be used to purchase boosters that allow Astro Boy to begin a single run further into the city than normal, where coins start to appear with greater regularity, or to unlock alternate costumes.
As there’s only so many missions available in Astro Boy Dash, it’s a given that players are probably going to have to pay if they want to fully collect all of these (which include both clothing wearing and circuit-board exposed variants). This was to be expected since there’s no such thing as a truly free lunch in this world, and Astro Boy Dash is no different in that regard, but at least the game is completely playable for free otherwise. Curiously the option to alternatively play as Astro Boy’s “sister” – Astro Girl/Uran – is purchased entirely via normal coins, but at the cost of a staggering 270k (which I estimate would take around 15 hours to earn).
I would like to say more about this title, but Astro Boy Dash’s gameplay – even by the standards of the Endless Runner genre – is as simple as its somewhat awkward premise. I guess I would have preferred a bit more enemy blasting from a hero renown for commonly engaging in fights with fantastical robots and aliens, but dodging various obstacles on the street is pretty much all there is. Still, there haven’t been too many decent games based on Astro Boy – not counting the amazing Astro Boy: Omega Factor by Treasure – so it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check out a solid game such as this.
Anyways – matters of gameplay aside – I would now like to close this review by taking a moment to discuss the graphical presentation of Astro Boy Dash, which has been rendered entirely in 3D. The game uses a rather beautiful looking low polygon style – heavily reminiscent of Megaman Legends – that enables the title to have both heavy stability, and also long battery life, even on low-end devices such as an iPod Touch 4. Of course you won’t get much of a chance to enjoy it since the game is usually moving forward at speeds fast enough to make even Sonic jealous, but at least it looks really nice during the character selection menu.
iFanzine Verdict: While it doesn’t bring much of anything new to the genre – and comes with a premise that doesn’t exactly make much sense either – Astro Boy Dash is still a solidly controlling free endless runner, that even handles well on older devices such as the iPod Touch 4.