You know, I'm really starting to hate the Game Boy Advance. Every time I get it packed up and put away, I hear about some new game sneaking in under the radar that I have to play. Every time I think that its library has officially run dry, there seems to be just one more thing for me to check out. The legs on this little handheld are truly amazing, and I'm starting to wonder if there will ever be a day when I can leave it at home and stop browsing the Game Boy rack when I go into my local haunts. However, even though it sounds like I'm grousing, I have to say that Sigma Star Saga from WayForward was absolutely worth tracking down.
An extremely interesting cartridge, Sigma Star Saga is a harmonious merging of Action-RPG and space shooter that tells the story of Ian Recker, pilot and leader of the Sigma squad. A race of aliens called the Krill have laid siege to Earth, and Recker is sent on a suicide mission to infiltrate their ranks as a double agent and settle things in space.
Half of the game takes place while controlling Recker from an overhead perspective, exploring colorful worlds laid out in mazelike fashion and spending time in Krill docking stations. The other half occurs when Recker hits a random battle. Instead of melee, he's warped inside an orbiting ship in need of a pilot and blasts through small segments of shoot-'em-up action. Picture old-school Zelda-lite merged with a kinder, gentler R-Type and you'll get the idea.
It seems like a slightly insane combination, but I have to say that it absolutely works. Using Recker directly is successful because the level designs are simple, yet complex enough to prevent boredom. They're further enhanced by the developers' constant introduction of new items and abilities, keeping things fresh and interesting. (My favorite items were the Girl Wings…you know, like a girl.)
The ship sections work because there are a huge number of interchangeable weapon components allowing for customization and upgrading, in addition to the fact that it's hard to fall asleep when you're dodging floating jellyfish and blasting interstellar battle worm heads. It's not as tight or as frantic as what the best of the genre has to offer, but it's more than respectable.
The two halves of the game are tied together and convincingly explained by an intelligent, well-written story that also managed to be quite humorous and snappy. It wasn't as talky or as in-depth as a standard console RPG, but there was enough meat and characterization to satisfy, especially in light of the fact that it's a portable. I haven't even mentioned the outstanding animation or stylish artwork that are so good I forgot I was playing my SP.
There are a few rough areas to the game, such as the lack of explanation on how to use a key item needed to progress (push A when jumping with the Krill Boots), or that the difficulty curve for the space battles is too high at the beginning and too low at the end. I also thought that WayForward bogged things down with a little too much backtracking; it's a time honored tradition in game development, but one adhered to a bit too closely here.
Still, none of these things dampened my enthusiasm for this cartridge, and I was very impressed with every aspect of its production. Sigma Star Saga is obviously an effort that the developers poured their heart and soul into, and it shows. Everything about it is high quality and imbued with skill and care. Hell, it even has a great looking box. Sigma Star Saga isn't an excellent Game Boy Advance game, it's just an excellent game, period. For a tiny cartridge on an outdated platform, I can't think of any higher praise than that.