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Action Man

Score: 60%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Hasbro Interactive
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Arcade

Graphics & Sound:

Did you ever develop a love-hate relationship with a game? If you know what I'm talking about, you might feel the same way I do about Action Man from THQ. There's something so immediately appealing about the look of this game, maybe because it's a side-scrolling arcade-type joint. We don't get to see many of those anymore, and Action Man holds up as a cool retro game any day of the week. The enemies and the levels are fun to look at, with nice touches like lights that you can shoot out or enemies that blend into their surroundings until you get close. The music is fun, and again reminds me of the old 8-bit days. Because Action Man has different costumes and weapons, you basically outfit him for each mission, and it's fun to try out new stuff. But, the downfall of all this cool looking gadgetry is in the action, ironically.

Gameplay:

Action Man is a kind of super-spy, secret agent-type who is hot on the heels of Dr. X, a bad guy with more bad employees than you can shake an EMP Gun at. You'll search for Dr. X through 4 different stages, and each stage is split between specific missions or objectives. The cool thing about how Action Man proceeds is that each stage is fully accessible from any of the levels, but beyond the first level, Action Man has to be outfitted correctly or he won't move on. Burning through Mission A for all the stages gives you some new tools beyond the 2 costumes and 2 guns you start with. Subtle hints and clues as to what you'll need to use to access Missions B, C, etc., are listed at the selection stage, and once you figure out where you need to go, you equip Action Man and take off! An example would be finding water, but not being able to get in because you left your wetsuit at Action HQ. In theory, this is a great piece of design, and takes Action Man beyond being a simple side-scroller. In practice, no matter how smart the design, Action Man doesn't do himself much good by way of moving and fighting. Control is weak, failing to give you the quick response needed for dodging enemies or making a series of tricky jumps. You can work around it, of course, but nobody likes to be jammed into a cheap death because of weak controls or mechanics. The main, essential piece of equipment Action Man needs is a costume. Some are good for climbing, some are warm and some are more all-around. All-around will only get you so far in this game, though. Mostly, you gather items by completing missions, and then it's up to you to figure out how that item could help you complete a different mission. It's actually very fun to work through, but sloppy control and some seriously repetitive gameplay elements make Action Man less than spectacular.

Difficulty:

Action Man is a timing game, so no matter how good you think your skills with the gun are, moving through at a certain moment at a certain speed will win out over brute force every time. Action Man comes with some great weapons, so beating up enemies is rarely a problem. However, issues with jumping become irritating, and aren't related to anything intentional about the game. Once you play a section or level a few times, all becomes clear, but most folks who enjoy 2D Shooters will understand that it has to be almost become reflex sometimes if you want to pass the harder screens. Action Man isn't quite that bad, but it's no walk in the park.

Game Mechanics:

Moving around is done on the D-Pad, while shooting or throwing are done with the (B) button. You can shoot from a crouch, from a jump, or diagonally up. All this is good, but many places have enemies that just pound on you until you can get within range. Luckily, you can shoot some of these when they first come on the screen, before they draw a bead on you. Wearing down the harder enemies is made harder by some that split up into smaller pieces or drop mines in your path. All of this is right in line with the great design here, and you never know what's coming next. Of course, fighting some enemies gets formulaic, but no worse than any other 2D side-scroller in history. Anybody remember Altered Beast? Heh. But, apart from the basic movement and shooting controls, certain items require a little more finesse. Mostly it's all outlined in the manual, but throwing bombs or working with weird items like a camera or flashlight seem somewhat strange. Things like the camera are 'key' items, and really make the difference between playing Mission A over and over again, or moving ahead in the game. The Select button changes weapons, and since you're never carrying more than 2 items, changing guns happens quick. The movement control, especially jumping, is rickety and often unpredictable. Action Man seems to jump just about wherever he wants, but someone save me from all the times that I jumped and fell short because I didn't press jump long enough or leave the ground at the right time. Very little margin for error exists in this game, but arcade purists will enjoy the action.

Action Man is not innovative, but it tries hard and wins on being a solid arcade platformer. Once you've tried each stage, you've basically seen the whole game, and it doesn't take too long to get to this point. If you've been missing games like this on GBC or otherwise, Action Man is worth a look, but don't expect to stay in love after the honeymoon's over and you find yourself jumping down the same mine shaft for the umpteenth time. Flawed, but imaginative.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Nintendo GameCube Zapper: One Wicked Cricket GameBoy Color/Pocket Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

 
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