It came as a bit of a surprise when Boktai, a Game Boy Advance title with a built-in sunlight detection sensor, was announced. But once it became known who was behind the game, Hideo Kojima, the world made sense once more. You see, Mr. Kojima has made quite a reputation for himself over the years with games that push the boundaries of originality and over-the-top innovation. Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand is no exception. Borrowing a few pages from other isometric RPGs and indeed Kojima’s own Metal Gear Solid series, Boktai would be a fun enough game even without the solar sensor contraption hardwired into every game pak. Thankfully, Hideo and co. prove that genuine sunlight is more than just a gimmick.
In Boktai, you play the part of Solar Boy Django. Armed with a sunlight-powered weapon called the gun del sol, your goal is to vanquish the hordes of undead creatures known as the immortals that have popped up all over the world. A helpful sunflower-looking guide named Master Otenko will be on hand to give you advice and valuable information during your quest. But even with Master Otenko’s help, you’ll still have to fend for yourself throughout the game, making your way through various dungeons and lairs, which are filled with roaming bad guys, traps, and puzzles. The story in Boktai manages to stay consistently entertaining, gradually revealing new bits of pertinent information and plot revelations.
Boktai is played via an isometric perspective, where the camera hangs just overhead, giving you an unfettered lay of the land while avoiding the common pitfalls that are oftentimes associated with it. The game is basically split into two distinctive areas: the field and dungeons. Enemies will be confronted in either area, though the ones found in dungeons can usually be avoided by implementing evasive tactics. Django must be constantly aware of his surroundings in dungeons as walking through a puddle or footfalls atop metal grates will certainly tip off the enemies to your location. Django can also press his back against walls and slowly sidle from side to side. While in this position you can knock on the wall to lure nearby opponents to your current location, sound familiar?
While simply dusting baddies with your gun del sol is a simple way to dispose of enemies, it is not always the most viable option since the ammunition that the gun uses is true blue sunlight, and unless you plan on playing outside the entire time, sunlight may be in short supply. There are various light banks scattered around dungeons that can quickly refill your gun, but these are few and far between and only offer a few refills before you must take a trip to the great outdoors. Now, before you go thinking that you can trick the solar sensor with artificial light, peep this: the light sensor was specifically constructed to detect sunlight, and without the ultraviolet rays that sunlight produces the sensor simply won’t register, regardless of how powerful the light is.
But sunlight is useful for more than just powering up your gun del sol. The in-game environments are also affected depending how much (or little) sunlight the sensor registers. For example, those pesky puddles that alert foes to your location in dungeons will be conveniently dried up if you are playing on a bright and sunny day. Sunlight will also pour through certain windows in the game allowing you to recharge your gun del sol while inside a dungeon. When in the field, you can recharge your gun whenever you want if you’re playing outside simply by holding the A button. Suffice it to say that while sunlight isn’t required to play the game (except during boss fights), it’s exponentially easier to beat the game when it’s around.
Once you make your way to the boss lair inside a dungeon, be prepared for a memorable fight. On top of having to defeat the boss in his lair and banishing him into his coffin, you’ll have to lug the coffin back through the dungeon (sometimes using the weight of the coffin in optional puzzles) and back outside into the sunlight where you must then defeat the boss once and for all by harnessing the power of the sun. Without playing outside, you simply won’t be able to completely defeat a boss, which makes the proceedings hard to forget but also something of a pain when you’ve got your pants down around your ankles. In any case, the various bosses are all quite unique and interesting, enough so to make getting fresh air a worthy exercise.
Visually, Boktai is a fine looking game, boasting some of the best 16-bit character sprites and environments seen thus far. There are many distinctive areas throughout the game to keep the scenery fresh and fun, and plenty of attention was focused on subtle graphical nuances such as detailed character animations and surrounding artwork. An assortment of different enemies will constantly be on tap, though the game does have an annoying tendency to recycle certain opponents with simple palette swaps. Regardless, it’s safe to say that Boktai looks unlike any other game on the GBA, setting itself apart from the crowd with an excellent visual presentation. From an audio perspective, Boktai shines with a radiant brilliance, the likes of which are quite impressive indeed. Starting a new game you’ll be treated to a completely vocalized opening dialogue featuring well-spoken voice acting. Throughout the game lots of digitized speech is used. The music is great, especially in boss fights where the orchestrations add a substantial level of intensity.
Overall, Boktai is my pick for most original GBA game of 2003. The built-in light sensor coupled with a world full of dynamic environments that actually change depending on the amount of sunlight the game pak detects ensures that the game’s most interesting bullet-point feature is more than just a gimmick. The RPG action, great visuals and sound, and excellent plot progression sweetens the deal even more. Quite simply, if you’re looking for an original and entertaining game on the go, shine a light on Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand, don’t get left in the dark.