Those who see themselves as more reasoned gamers might balk at this magpie mentality, but they’d do well to take on board that sometimes a mere ‘gimmick’ can bring fresh ideas and potentially open new paths of gaming development.
Boktai’s solar sensor has an immediate advantage over past efforts, in that it is an unobtrusive new technology. The sensor itself makes the cartridge only slightly larger than normal titles and adds no weight, so far so good. The first, slight hiccup for would-be importers lies in localization, after asking you to set the date and time, Boktai questions you as to which U.S area you reside in. Such information is used to determine times of sunrise and sunset, but to U.K gamers presents an unusual problem.
Settling on the reasonably neutral city of Washington, this reviewer found the times of sunrise and sunset out only by a matter of twenty minutes or so.
Onto the game itself, then.
Boktai’s story revolves around the son of a famous vampire hunter, and his inheritance of the ‘gun del sol’, a weapon which is charged by sunlight and used to repel undead minions. Set during the ‘age of darkness’, much of the landscape has been laid to waste and almost all of the inhabitants transformed into undead by meddling immortals, and it is against these immortal vampires that you must fight.
Gameplay is also helped along by Master Otenko, a spirit of the sun, who pops up during critical points in the game, and when you interact with certain panels, to offer guidance and advice. It’s a welcome feature, as at first various aspects of interacting with the sunlight can seem slightly overwhelming, but when you grow used to them Boktai can offer quite a unique gaming experience.
Shafts of sunlight, beaming through windows, can be stepped into at certain points within the castle to not only recharge your weapon but provide limited protection from undead enemies. There are also a number of ‘solar stations’ scattered throughout these areas which can store and distribute solar energy, meaning that if you find yourself with a surplus of such energy you can store a set amount in these stations for later use.
The number of mental puzzles provided is quite refreshing, and a welcome change from the usual ‘pull lever A to open point B’ obstacles. The majority of these are numerical brainteasers, meaning you must step on digits in a certain sequence or move numerical blocks to form a calculation. While none of these challenges are ever allowed to become frustrating, due mostly to Master Otenko offering advice when you repeatedly fail, they provide a welcome break from the action and constant dungeon crawling.
When the offending vampire has been destroyed, gameplay reverts back to a world map, which, although it may sound like an inviting prospect, only really allows you to travel from dungeon to dungeon. There is a welcome depth, however, in the inclusion of the ‘solar tree’, at which you can plant various items and they will then grow, the speed of which is determined by how much sun they receive, into new supplies or entirely new devices depending on how you inter-breed them.
Boktai could not be accused of being unable to survive without the solar sensor, although it does feel as though the focused clarity of Kojima’s goal might have prevented it from becoming a great game rather than a very accomplished one. An example in point is the world map, if a sprinkling of towns with beleaguered inhabitants, speaking of the nightmarish times and offering up some side quests, were added then it would have helped to alleviate the constant dungeon crawling and made the game itself more appealing to a wider audience.
There is much to enjoy here, and running out into the garden to gain enough extra sunlight to defeat a boss is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. However it’s impossible not to play without thinking of the potential for refinement, and, hopefully, a sequel which provides a broader range.
Gimmick? Perhaps, but Boktai does enough, and achieves enough, to argue the point otherwise. Besides, sometimes it can just be enjoyable to give into that inner child, or imbecile, and embrace the novelty.
The novelty being, in Boktai’s case, that it offers more than just a gimmick.