This week I had the opportunity to play a humble, modest little platform shooter named ‘Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition’. If you are curious as to why it’s the ” Ultimate Edition”, it’s because this is an expanded console / PC version of a browser game released back in 2009. It’s a quaint little ‘jump and shoot’ title, made in a retro pixel art style which spans across six levels, with boss fights, upgrades, secretes and unlockables. There is nothing unique or original about it, however I still had a good time with it.
An international terrorist organisation named ‘The Black Hand of Fate’ have built an operations base within a volcano. Your job is to blaze through it, taking out as many terrorists in your path as possible. All very cut and dry, but the plot serves the purpose. There are no references to the back story within the game (no dialogue or cut scenes etc.) so do not expect anything plot heavy.
Blasting Agent is a really straight forward 2D platform game with few frills and not a great deal of depth, but what it does offer is done well. The controls are very basic as they solely consist of the D-pad for movement and two face buttons to jump and shoot. These controls are so simple that they’d still be suitable on a NES or Master System control. The character interaction / movement is very responsive and I encountered next to no issues with these controls. The only minor snag I had was after I unlocked the ability to ‘dash’, which is triggered by tapping left or right twice in quick succession. The problem was that I would occasionally trigger the dash accidentally, which really threw me off my platforming. It’s a shame that there isn’t an option to turn this ability off after you’ve unlocked it, as I didn’t really use it a great deal intentionally.
There are six stages in total, each effectively being a light maze made up of various 2D areas joined by doorways. As such it is possible to explore various paths and optional areas throughout the level, but there is only one route to the boss room which is you main objective. On paper these stages are not particularly long, and if you are confident that you can beat each boss with whatever abilities you have at the time, it is possible to beat each stage in a matter of minutes. However, what really fleshes this game out are the secondary objectives and ways in which you can upgrade yourself.
Each stage contains a number of soldiers, ninjas and robots to destroy, in addition to several mounds of gold to collect which are sprinkled over the various platforms. On the default difficulty setting these enemies are not too much of a threat and most die in around two or three shots. Ninjas can be a tad annoying due to their speed, but providing you don’t underestimate them then you should cope just fine. By finishing a stage achieving at least 90% of the total kills & collectables you unlock a new ability. Each stage has its own ability to unlock and these vary from shields, grenades, a double jump etc. In order to gain 90% you’ll need to be a little more vigilant in how much exploring you do.
Another thing that makes exploring worthwhile are the power ups you can find. Power ups can increase the total number of hit points you can take, as well as beef up your weapon in various different ways. The best part about these power ups is that they are permanent. Providing that you complete the stage you found them on, the game will save and you keep whatever power ups you’ve found for the duration. If you think you’ve missed any, you can revisit any past stage in order to find them and increase your stats for later levels.
The gameplay and art style remind me a little bit of ‘Turrican’ with a hint of ‘Mega Man’ and ‘Risk of Rain’, however that is probably too charitable of a comparison. Although ‘ Blasting Agent’ may not have the depth or intricacy of titles like ‘Turrican’, I do feel as if the game play does have a little bit of that spirit.
When all is said and done, ‘Blasting Agent’ is very easy and quite short. The first time I beat it was in a mere couple of hours and that was a run where I went out of my way to unlock every ability. However, if you like a challenge then do not be too concerned as beating this game once will unlock the hard mode, and this is where ‘Blasting Agent’ takes things to a whole new level.
In hard mode, enemies are much stronger and take many more hits to destroy. Since lives are unlimited and every door you walk through acts as a check point, I would often find myself carefully edging into a new room, killing each enemy from a safe distance if possible, and then after every one or two kills I’d head back to the door I came through to save my progress. Levels take a lot longer to clear out on hard and some of the bosses are merciless. I’ve yet to beat the hard mode although I haven’t given up just yet.
In addition to the hard mode, beating the game also unlock an alternative playable character with all new abilities. This character is a ninja who doesn’t have a projectile weapon, however she is faster, stronger and more agile. I personally found her to be far more over powered than the default character and she made progressing through hard mode a little more bearable.
As far as the presentation goes, all the characters, items and backgrounds are drawn in low res pixel art and are more suggestive than highly detailed. It is a good look, however it would have been nice if darker pallets were used for the backgrounds as occasionally there were bits of landscape and structure which were hard to distinguish between the background and foreground. The music here is all chip tune and has a real 80s electronic sci-fi feel to it. It reminds me a lot of the music from the indie hit Axiom Verge.
I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches while playing, although there were times when I was destroying a lot of blocks with particle effects where I experience a lot of slow down. It was nothing game breaking, just noticeable. Also for some reason the PS4 version seems to be displayed in a 4:3 aspect ratio with two large borders on either side of the screen, whereas the Vita version is displayed in the full 16:9 widescreen ratio. As to why this is, I have no idea? Maybe the developers wanted to make a game so authentic in its retro style that you can play it on a CRT TV? That’s just a guess.
Objectively this is a 6/10 game. It’s certainly a bit of fun, well made, although it does lack ambition when compared to a lot of contemporary platform games. Having said that, I’m so impressed with the game’s price tag (a mere $2.99 / £2.49) that I going to bump it’s score up by one point as I feel this price certainly makes it worthwhile. A decent little game and fantastic value for money.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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