Up for review today we have A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda, a side-scroller from Extend Studios. This game is an homage to the side-scrollers of yesteryear, the Megaman X series in specific. Even the basic story takes a lot of its cues from Megaman X with you being a robot tasked with destroying other rogue robots. That said the game does a lot to advance the formula as well with a few features that really enhance that old style of play. Hoping to recapture those old-time feelings of fun without falling in to the pitfalls those games had is an admirable goal so and for the most part it succeeds.
As I said earlier the basic story is similar to that of Megaman (when will the robot on robot violence end) but it’s even less refined. However just like the games of yore the story is a very minor part of the game and it really only serves as window dressing and a paper-thin way to explain away what’s happening. The story has something to do with an evil gas that’s infecting computers and you’ve been built to stop them but in reality it can be boiled down to “Hey yo dawg you should go shoot those robots”.
There is also the issue of some fairly poor translation which makes every cut scene and every bit of dialog both hilarious and painful. Not only are there a decent number of obvious spelling and grammar errors but there is something about the syntax that is just off. It sounds like someone took the original script of the game and just ran it through Google translate, who knows maybe crunch time hit the localization division hard. Thankfully there’s no voice acting because if there was I can only imagine the meme worthy dreck it would produce.
The middling story and writing aside though the rest of the game is actually quite good with not only some interesting gameplay (which we’ll talk about in a bit) but some really great presentation. The visuals and character design are generally reminiscent of the Megaman X series but different enough so as not to infringe on any copyrights, the big difference here is the resolution. In HD this game looks absolutely fabulous and there’s a smoothness here those old games lack which is really brings the game to life. For as similar as this game looks to Megaman X it does have some flashes of unique design, particularly in its bosses. Both the level end bosses and the mini-bosses generally have really unique designs and are quite a treat to look at, they do reuse a couple sprites which is a little disappointing but that recycling is thankfully few and far between. The level and enemy design is competent but a little pedestrian and they really could have stood to add a few more enemy designs to the mix, beyond that though the visuals stand up and are generally enjoyable.
The sound design really stands out to me for one simple reason, it sounds like a video game. There is just something about the way it’s laid out that really evokes that classic SNES era feeling but manages to do that without using SNES era style sound. The music in particular sounds like video game music, there’s no influences to think about or subtle cues it’s just wailing kick ass electric guitar riffs which ends up feeling wholly appropriate for the subject at hand. While there’s no piece that really stands above the others I felt the music of the whole game really hit that particular nail of nostalgia right on the head.
The gameplay is where the game really shines adding two very important modern aspects to the old formula, persistence and motivation. To add persistence the game essentially mixes the structure of Megaman with that of Metroid, making it so various abilities are going to uncover secrets within the environment while still maintaining that level by level structure of Megaman. Throughout the game you can collect new abilities and resources to upgrade some of your abilities and create certain items, the things you collect are persistent to your profile and carry over to subsequent playthroughs allowing you to explore each level deeper every time you go through it. This makes the game’s short run time (I plowed through in a bout 45 minutes on normal) bearable as there is a decent reason to go back in replay beyond just score.
As for motivation the game has a ranking system and an achievement system, not Steam achievements unfortunately but I hear they plan to patch those in. While many may bemoan achievements as meaningless I’ve always felt when done right they add another level to the game creating a meta game so to speak that often endures beyond the game’s initial run through. For instance despite the fact that I’ve finished the game I’m going through it again to try get an achievement in which you don’t use any healing items. What makes this game special is that most of the achievements can be gained through creative of use of the power-ups that can be found through a more exploratory run through and then brought into a more speed focused run through. This creates even more worth to actually going through and doing multiple playthroughs and ultimately enhances the game’s total value.
All in all I think A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda is a fine homage to side-scroller history and a fun game in its own right. While it’s definitely not substantive enough to hold someone’s attention for months it’s at a low enough price ($9.99) that the week or so someone could wring out of this game would be definitely worth it. It’s also important to note that this game balances difficulty really well, on a normal play through I found just enough challenge to keep things interesting and once I started playing for achievements and playing on hard mode that challenge grew at steady but not overly steep rate. For a fun classic side-scrolling experience, A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda gets a 3.75 out of 5 stars. While I don’t think it’ll set the world on fire I do think anybody who picks this game up will definitely enjoy their time with it.