Super Magnetic Neo
Frustration has a name, and it is Neo - Review By BenT
Sega is doing a good job of plugging up the holes in the Dreamcast's library. Most major genres are either already accounted for (sports, action, arcade) or have quality games on the way (RPG, FPS). One major genre continues to elude the Dreamcast, however, and that genre is the straight vanilla action platformer. Sure, you have Rayman 2, but that's about all there is in terms of simple platform action. But what about Sonic Adventure and Soul Reaver, you say? Great games, but they have too many adventure and story elements to just pick up and play through. And MDK2? The fun is broken up by those terribly annoying doctor sequences. Yep, it's hard to find a straight-vanilla platformer these days, which is one reason I was very much looking forward to Genki/Crave's Super Magnetic Neo.
The story is typical video game fare, serving only to give you a cursory reason for enduring the platforming mayhem that's to come. It seems that the infamous Pinki gang is once again on the rampage, and have taken over Pao Pao Park. The park, a favorite of The Professor, has been rigged with hundreds of robots, monsters, and strange magnetic contraptions. The ever-resourceful Professor thinks he has a solution, though -- he powers up his latest creation, a robot called Super Magnetic Neo. Neo's head has the power to generate two different types of magnetic fields, which will allow him to interact with certain elements of the environment and trash metallic enemies. With only the magnet on his head, Neo dashes off, intent on liberating the park and putting the Pinki gang back where they belong -- in nursery school! Four tricky worlds of monsters and traps keep him from his goal... does the plucky young Neo have a chance?
The answer is no, he's as good as dead. Why? Read on.
Without a doubt, the first thing you'll notice will be the sumptuous graphics -- Genki has done a superb job of creating a rounded, cartoon-like appearance using only standard polygons. The colors are bright, vibrant, and cheerful, and run (with only a few exceptions) at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. The textures sometimes tend to lack detail, but the rest of the graphics are so well-executed that I barely noticed. And Neo himself is a wonderfully cute creation, animating smoothly and with a distinct toon-like exaggeration. The rest of the cast is pretty neat too, with some rather inspired character design. The Professor has some sort of neon blender on his head, while Pinki herself is an unassuming toddler dressed in pink, whose placid countenance betrays the evil within only when she's angry. The levels you run through often impress as well, with some seriously beautiful landscapes and interiors. The fourth and final world is probably the best, with some absolutely stunning high-tech environments that come complete with highly-polished, reflective floors.
Neo's gameplay centers around the idea of magnetic fields -- as Paula Abdul once said, opposites attract. So, for example, if you see an object with a north charge, activating your north charge will repel you from the object at a high velocity. Similarly, a south charge would have sent you flying toward it, headfirst. By activating the correct magnetic fields at the right times, Neo can use magnetically-charged platforms as launch pads, swing on magnetic vines, and grab onto ripcords that send him flying. Most enemies have charges as well, and touching them with a like charge will send them flying. Applying an opposite charge has an interesting effect -- the enemy is converted into a box, which Neo can then throw. This technique comes in handy for boss encounters, whom you generally attack by hurling boxed enemies. Taken as a whole, the "magnetic" gameplay mechanics are refreshingly innovative, and give the game a much-needed feeling of newness.
Highly stylized? You bet.
In many of the best platform games (like Klonoa and Umiharakawase Syun), the designers start the player out with only a handful of techniques, and then introduce new uses for them within each level. Super Magnetic Neo follows their example and puts this technique to good effect. For instance, during the early levels it's permissible (and advised) to simply ride the magnetic ripcords to their destinations, hopping off when they stop. However, as the game goes on you'll be required to jump off ripcords early in order to preserve your inertia, and thus fly on to the next obstacle. Waiting until it stops will leave Neo hanging over a pit, with no recourse but to drop off and try again. Similarly, you won't have much use for boxed, captured enemies in the early going; later on, you'll need them to lower bridges, bust down locked doors, and defeat stronger enemies. In short, by the end of the game, every one of Neo's basic abilities will have been taken stretched to its logical limits, and a few beyond. That's cool.
The audio side of things is also rather polished, with a peppy, eclectic bunch of techno-twinged tunes to platform to. While it's nothing groundbreaking (or even memorable) the music is very appropriate, and fits the game like a glove. The sound effects are exactly as you'd expect, light and cartoony. Particularly notable are Neo's two magnetic fields -- their pulsating electric hums are straight out of 50's sci-fi. The game's occasional cinematics feature competent voice-overs, which are typically just as silly as the rest of the game.
Finally, the controls are an odd mix of good and terrible. They're good because they respond to your button presses instantly, just as you'd expect from any top-tier action game. They're bad because... well, you'll find out why in the next section.
Next: The Bad and The Final Word