A.R.E.S (XBLA) Review
Posted by Paul Meekin on 10.14.2013
Is A.R.E.S: Extinction Agenda, mega, man? Read on to find out.
A.R.E.S: Extinction Agenda, The 2D action/platformer/ with more than a passing resemble to “Mega Man X”, will fly under the radar of most gamers. I mean, it releases toward the end of a console cycle, it’s hot on the heels of one of the most popular video games of all time - "Grand Theft Auto V" and its infinitely long online game, and has to contend with its ‘Mega Man’-a-like glory being siphoned away by "Mighty No. 9’s" phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign.
If this port game sells over 15 copies on XBLA, I’ll be astonished.
Which is a shame because it’s really not bad. Sure it’s derivative as all hell, but if you ate up Mega Man and its associated spin-offs, you’ll find quite a lot of joy in this little platformer. The setup is typical sci-fi blah blah blah, and is there only to connect together the various mostly similar environments in a somewhat logical way. It does have some personality to it though, and dialog between "A.R.E.S" and his commander Valkyl are personable and worth reading. "A.R.E.S" also has an animated cut-scenes, but otherwise if you’re here for the story, you took a wrong turn somewhere.
Because story isn’t what made “Mega Man”, specifically “Mega Man X” special. “Mega Man” is predicated on harder than normal platforming, sweet power ups, and tough as nails boss battles and Protoman. Protoman was cool.
But the non-linearity of “Mega Man” is probably a bigger draw than you’d think. By allowing players to tackle stages in any order, it essentially made the game quit-proof. Sure, one level may frustrate you to no end, but there were 7 other levels just waiting to be tackled by the blue bomber. The ability to beat a boss and take their power was cool as well, a techo-carrot that rewarded the player with the power to defeat their next foe just a bit easier.
A.R.E.S borrows liberally from that recipe. Jumping across moving / disappearing platforms, solving puzzles, and switching between weapons and abilities to make your through a harrowing level, all happily recall that “Mega Man” glory.
But "A.R.E.S" differs in a few ways, too. Aside from obvious aesthetic changes, you can shoot in 8(ish) directions, whereas “Mega Man” typically gets one. Lots of objects in a given level are destructible, and you’ll find yourself blowing up crates in order to reach the end of a level pretty frequently. Unfortunately the game is completely linear throughout its 6 chapters, eliminating the joy in seeing everything the game has to offer up front - though you can back-track if you’re so inclined. There’s no mega-buster initially, instead allowing you to hold down the fire button (or right stick) for rapid fire - like Bass from “MegaMan and Bass”.
These differences are a mixed bag. I like the ability to shoot in multiple directions, and a lot of the platforming is solid. But the magic of earning a power-up that you’ll in-turn use on another enemy is kind of eliminated, seeing as you’ll get all the power-ups you’ll need simply via progressing through the game. There’s also no ‘power ups’ to speak up, meaning you don’t get health or energy capsules from fallen enemies, instead you’ll rely on ‘materials’ you collect to activate a ‘repair kit’ that restores your health, which is easier than how “Mega Man” did it, but a lot less fun, too.
But lets give this game the vacuum treatment for a second. There is no “Mega Man” or countless other platformers to compare it too. How fun is A.R.E.S? Quite a lot. It’s solid, and fairly easy without being a cake-walk. The graphics are sleek and personable, as you progress from one computerized wasteland to the next, and enemies and objects explode in dozens of little pieces.
But my biggest gripe is the unforgiving nature of the jumping. Many platforms are a real pain in the butt to jump on. Some will be accessible with trial and error, while others aren’t - requiring a power up you have yet to acquire. As a result you’ll find yourself constantly asking if you should be at a given location or not. On top of that, the air-dash mechanics are cool, but require two different button presses for vertical and horizontal, as opposed to having one dash-button that’s context sensitive to the direction you hold the control stick. Worse, you’ll come across areas you don’t think you can access, only to find out you had the proper power-up all along, but just haven’t been told about it.
A.R.E.S was initially a PC game released for Steam, where its presence makes a bit more sense. If you’re someone who can’t get enough “Mega Man” by all means, buy this game and enjoy it for all its worth, because it really is a good game, and I’m glad I’ve played it. But it’s not transcendent and doesn’t bring anything ‘new’ to the table beyond multi-directional shooting. Of course I’m sure they said that about the second guy to put a clock in a radio, and I bet it turned out just fine for him.
Ultimately, A.R.E.S has the rhythm but not the music. It’s like a great backup dancer that is obviously still trying to remember the next step in their head. The gameplay is solid, graphics vibrant, and difficulty curve just about right, but still, I was not compelled, it feels like someone said “Hey, lets make a game like Mega Man” and then they did without a ton of thought to how to differentiate it from its inspiration. I played this game because it was assigned to me, enjoyed my time, but all-the-while I had visions of Card Hunter, GTA: Online, and NBA 2k14 dancing in my head the entire time.
Bright, colorful, and sleek. Nothing world-stopping, but the developers know how to make a pretty game.
Jumping is a pain, and everything in this game, you've seen somewhere else, which isn't bad in and of itself, but not great, either.
Decent tunes, quality pew-pew-pew noises, but no voice acting make this servicable but not spectacular.
Short(ish), and lacks the charm of being able to beat bosses in any order.
A.R.E.S isn't bad. It's really good - but not special. You'll know right away if you want this game, and if you do, absolutely buy it.