Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code.
Title: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
System: 3DS (eShop)
Release date: 08/18/2016
In this action platformer, you take control of a soldier who sets out to stop a dangerous terrorist organization from using the volcano to create a deadly bio-weapon! A short but simple story that actually does get shown in two impressive stills during the course of the adventure.
Despite having an art style similar to Defend Your Crypt, a title published by the same publisher, this game isn’t really going for small sprites for the sake of simplicity this time. Rather, the overall presentation seems to be a nice tribute to the era of old computers such as the Commodore 64, with simple sprites that deliberately lack much of the detail found in the usual 8 Bit inspired platformers that flood the eShop, giving it a bit of its own identity in that regard. On the other hand, it also captures one thing that older computers did rather nicely with detailed backgrounds and bosses, and the two stills I mentioned earlier.
Music and Sound
Just like how the visuals are reminiscent of home computers from the past, the majority of the game’s OST sounds really similar to titles from the Commodore era, with cool synth music and sound effects that are more than the typical beeps and chimes. Unfortunately, this also means it carries over the old habit of most songs being rather forgettable, but thankfully there are a few memorable themes to hear despite the dated soundfont, such as the boss and ending themes.
When you begin the first level of the game, Blasting Agent appears to be a generic run and gun, with a simple jump and shoot control scheme that needs no explanation whatsoever as you’re out in a snowfield. Once you defeat a few of the enemies and pick up a few of the gold lying around, however you’ll quickly realize that Blasting Agent adds a small bit of exploration to keep things interesting. On the top of the screen is a percentage count for both enemies defeated and gold collected, and clearing each level with 90% of these in the default setting (Or 100% in the unlockable Hard Mode) will unlock a special powerup or costume depending on the difficulty. These can be toggled on and on during the level select screen, encouraging players to grab everything in a stage in order to get 100% completion!
Along with the two factors that apply to the percentages, you also have a few powerups hidden around each stage that permanently increase one of your stats. For example, you could find a red cross, which increases your max health, a green E, which increases attack power, a blue R, which increases both the speed and range of your shot, and finally a red S that adds an extra bullet to fire at once. While these hidden upgrades are completely optional, they do help tremendously, especially in the later levels where enemies are more frequent and bosses require more hits to defeat. These powerups are usually easy to find if you look everywhere, so be sure to grab them as soon as you can.
From my current description so far, it would be fair to assume that Blasting Agent would be a short yet sweet game due to the extra incentives for completion and the hard difficulty that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, there’s one glaring problem with this game that became more apparent during the harder difficulty setting, and that was the slowdown. Even a few enemies on the screen can cause the framerate to dip a bit, which is manageable and easy to get used to, but the sad thing is that this game never seems to stay consistent with its speed. One moment I’m carefully jumping around spikes to land on an enemy only to be pulled hard to the left due to the game changing the framerate, and this has led to several unfair deaths or mistakes. There are occasional moments of smoothness when there’s barely anything on screen, but these are short lived as even the backgrounds will cause the game to run slower than it was originally intended.
However, all of this could be excused if it wasn’t for the atrocities that are committed during the second quest. As enemies and bosses get tougher, they also shoot more bullets and get more aggressive, which sounds like a typical difficulty increase, except when you combine this fact with the already bad slowdown from poor optimization, this makes the game freak out.
For example, at the end of Stage 2, there’s a giant centipede who emerges from the ground, shooting bullets and enemies at you as you have to carefully dodge and fire away using the green tubes to float around the arena. On the default setting, it slows the game down moderately, but can still be beaten once you get the hang of things due to the slowdown being a benefit. However on the hard setting, the game downright freezes for a few seconds when the boss emerges from the ground, before leading to an insane amount of lag that would make Super R-Type on the SNES look like Sonic the Hedgehog in comparison. This is honestly inexcusable, considering how the constant pausing is incredibly frustrating, and combined with the horrible slowdown the 3DS version has to begin with it makes the second quest of the game a chore to play, which is a true shame considering how the gameplay itself is still solid, with good level design and clever bosses.
In conclusion, Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition is a great game that’s a lot of fun when the game wants to cooperate. You shouldn’t have too much trouble on your first playthrough of the game, with the slowdown only being a minor hassle if you aren’t used to the controls. Unfortunately, your second playthrough will not play nice, with the slowdown getting even worse and making both normal levels and boss battles a boring chore to complete due to the slow speed and frequent pausing in some of the boss battles. It’s really a shame, too as if the game was properly optimized to run at a constant framerate, you’d have a fun game with a fair challenge on both difficulties that would be easily worth the $3 asking price.
As it stands now, however I just can’t recommend the 3DS version to those interested in this title due to the horrible slowdown, regardless on if you have the New or original models. If you plan on only playing through the default setting without collecting everything, then this game will probably be OK for you, but for those wanting a fun, smooth experience, you better look elsewhere. I give Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition a 6 out of 10. Hopefully the Wii U version runs better, but as I do not own that, I can’t say for sure, hence why this review is only for the 3DS version.