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Gekido Advance

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Gameboy Advance

Rating: * * * *
Gekido Advance - video game reviews
Gekido Advance screen shots - click for closeup

May 4, 2003

Thank goodness the Gameboy Advance has no territorial lockout; thanks to import shops and the Internet, we can all enjoy those great games from oversees that somehow avoid our shores. Right now, I'm thinking of the excellent European scene and feeling jealous. There are a number of great titles that easily deserve to be seen in America: Konami's International Superstar Soccer Advance, the best soccer game on the handheld; Go Go Beckham, a charming little platformer in the Mario mold (we get stuck with, sigh, Soccer Kid); Comix Zone, ported straight from the Genesis; TOCA World Touring Cars, an impressive 3D polygon racer; Drop Zone and International Karate Championship; Archer Maclean's computer game classics from the Commodore 64 era. Added to this impressive mix is Gekido Advance.

Until now, what the Advance has really needed was a good beat-em-up. There was Final Fight One, which promised to be a perfect rendition of the classic arcade; to my horror, it turned out to be nothing more than a tepid port of the lousy Super NES version with a two-player mode tacked on. This little handheld certainly deserves better than shovelware, and those who paid hard money for an Advance deserve better. Thankfully, Gekido delivers the goods. I grew tired of these beat-em-ups during the 16-bit era, when it seemed everybody and their uncle had to offer their own Double Dragon clone; now, like the 2D platformer, absence makes this simple videogame genre enjoyable again.

Gekido Advance tells the story of a ninja who must investigate mysterious happenings in a small town. Now here is a novel approach. There is actually a point beyond bashing heads, and this isn't a minor point. The traditional problem with beat-em-ups is that they are basically a twenty-second game dragged out across an hour or two. Move a character left to right, pummeling on an assortment of comic-book villains, then walk five steps, and repeat, repeat, repeat. That's a recipe for sheer boredom.

Gekido plays out more like the classic River City Ransom, with its interconnecting buildings, rooms, streets, and pathways. When the game begins, Tetsuo, the young hero, visits a village, speaking to various people and gathering clues. It's only after making your way towards the temple that you are ambushed by thugs. The fighting is contained in violent moments, bursts of action between moments of quiet. The developers are no doubt aware of how tiring endless punching and kicking can become, and wisely chose to break up the momentum. This doesn't mean the game is anything but fast-paced; I worked my reflexes as quickly as I ever had in the Streets of Rage series. And, yes, there is an undeniable thrill in bashing through a long wave of fighters.

NAPS Team is the development studio responsible for Gekido Advance, and this is the third title in the series; previous installments appeared on the original Gameboy and the Playstation. On the Playstation, they tried to bring the beat-em-up into the 3D realm, which worked fairly well for many people, but they wisely chose to keep Gekido Advance purely in the 2D realm. Their artistic skills should put most other developers to shame. With rich hues, environments drawn in lush reds, greens, and blues, these are among the finest graphics to date on Nintendo's handheld.

More impressive are the characters, large and wonderfully animated. The visual style is more than a little similar to SNK's fighting games, and playing, I wonder why the handheld versions of King of Fighters and Street Fighter Alpha 3 weren't drawn like this. There certainly isn't any excuse for a game with missing frames of animation or tiny sprites now. Add in many animated cut-scenes in the best Ninja Gaiden tradition, and, well, I usually don't gush about graphics all that much, but this is a notable exception. This game looks terrific.

The audio and music also deserve mention. The first wave of Advance titles included audio that was tinny, small - the studios were thinking with that tiny speaker in mind - but now the quality has improved so much that you have to wonder what was going on at the beginning. There are only a few songs in Gekido, but the quality is outstanding; I was reminded of the terrific music on the Sega CD version of Final Fight (the definitive version), with the guitar tones and catchy hooks. While searching around, the music is laid back, mellow; when enemies appear, the main theme kicks in. I'm trying to think of titles currently on the Advance with better-sounding music, but right now I honestly can't. It will definitely be difficult to return to the old, scratchy tunes again.

Why hasn't this title been earmarked for an American release? Clearly, this is just the sort of thing Gameboy owners would love, especially with the dearth of shovelware swimming around. Of course, ten or twenty beat-em-ups would be too much; even with the cool innovations of Gekido; this is still a child of Double Dragon. As much as I enjoy the attack combos you can string together, when will someone bother to let the enemy fighters play like that? The villains in these games would be so much more potent if they had as many moves as you; it would certainly make for a more interesting fight. This videogame genre never needed to go away; it just needs some fresh blood.

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