Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: ORIGO Games/Extend Studios
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX is a throwback to 16-bit era action game design. It feels and looks identical to any number of Super Nintendo or SEGA Genesis action titles released in the 90’s, and does a pretty solid job of emulating what made most of those games a lot of fun. That said it also emulates some of the less desirable elements found in titles from that era, with imprecise, sluggish jumps, bottomless pits, and other annoyances. But for the most part this is a pretty fun release for XBLA, and is certainly worth a look.
A.R.E.S. is split into two campaigns, both of which put you in control of a diminutive robot hero stuck on a space station overrun with killer robots infected by a virus. The leader of said evil robots has its sights set on Earth, and is consumed with a burning desire to wipe out humanity, which of course you’re there to stop. From the story side of things A.R.E.S. doesn’t really try to do much, this isn’t a narrative focused experience at all, and outside of some small, mildly animated cutscenes, most of the focus here is on the actual gameplay.
The game is divided into several stages, filled with various enemies and other traps to overcome. Each stage is somewhat open ended, with light exploration elements and hidden upgrades to uncover. They’re also themed around different areas of the space station, but I found the environment design was somewhat lacking. The color palette is definitely varied, but I had a hard time telling the difference between most areas, with a lot of the background and foreground elements just sort of blending together from one stage to the next. This isn’t a bad looking game, and I actually really like the main robot designs, but the stage design did little for me.
To help blast your way through the space station, each of the two playable robots come equipped with a small arsenal and assortment of moves that expand as you play. There are some slight variations in tools between the two, but despite some animation differences, abilities and weapons between the two characters generally have the same effect. For instance, one robot has some limited air dash abilities both vertical and horizontal, while another robot transposes that for hovering. The pacing for upgrades is well planned here, and you’ll generally feel the tug of forward progression often enough to not get bored.
With that said, this is an awfully short game though. It’s clearly designed for multiple playthroughs however, with certain hidden upgrades inaccessible the first time you encounter them. There’s also some focus on online leaderboards, also split between the two robot campaigns. Bonus points are awarded for things like difficulty, number of times you’re hit by the boss, and some tough achievements are locked away for perfecting boss fights. A.R.E.S. is no slouch in the difficulty department either, on Normal you’ll have your work cut out for you. If you’d prefer to just blow through the game there is an Easy option available, but it does take some of the fun out of the experience.
The only time A.R.E.S. difficulty really works against it is during some annoyingly precise jumping sequences scattered about. You’ll find that the jump abilities of both robots can feel a bit sluggish or downright unresponsive at times. This isn’t an issue often, since most of the game is focused on run and gun style action similar to the Contra series. But around the middle of the game there are a few sequences that are very dependent on quick and precise jump sequences, and there’s a hefty amount of frustration that lays in when you fail something for the umpteenth time. The checkpoint system is pretty liberal, so you’ll rarely lose much progress, but there’s nothing fun about failing a section of the game over and over because the controls aren’t entirely on point.
Despite some of this frustration, I still found A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX to be a pretty enjoyable XBLA release. It’s worth playing through a couple times, hunting down hard to reach upgrades, and checking out both robot campaigns. This isn’t what I’d label a long-lasting or memorable experience by any means, but if you’re hankering for some old-school 16-bit action this week, it’s worth the $14.99 asking price.