A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda was first released for the PC back in 2010 and being a side-scrolling platformer it isn’t surprising that it is finally making its way onto Xbox Live Arcade. What is surprising however, is that the game has received a pretty good overhaul with brand new additions. Does A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda Ex give an even better experience than the original PC with all of this new content? Let’s take a look at how it stands up.
A.R.E.S. is the story of a robot duo sent to investigate a problem on a remote space station. The problem? Lots of killer robots, zombie killer robots to be precise as the drones on the station have become infected with Zytron. The main character Ares has been tasked with locating the head scientist, while Tarus searches for more information on the Zytron menace. While the original game only included the Ares story and levels, the Xbox version adds in the Tarus story and levels to make the game twice as long storywise, although the levels themselves are identical.
While both stories are short, only 7 levels each, they are still fairly well crafted even with the addition of the Tarus campaign as it fits within the original story and fills in the gaps. Though they are both decent it does come across a little cliche at times as there are certainly troupes that pop up in a game set on a space station fighting zombie robots. But, even with those slights, the story works well with the tight combat/platforming gameplay and the collectible data clusters adds an additional depth to the entire thing.
The gameplay in A.R.E.S. is well crafted, as a combination of Mega Man and Metroid. The levels are formulaic, but as there are only 7 it doesn’t suffer from adhering itself to formula. Each level consists of platforming and combat, mini-boss, more platforming and combat, then the level boss, which all works well. Through the story Ares and Tarus gain more abilities and weapons, which allows them to do more things and access more areas, plus replaying past levels to reach what couldn’t be before is always a great component to any game to make replaying levels more interesting than just a speed run.
Levels also keeps track of a score, which allows Ares and Tarus to level up to gain more health. Replaying doesn’t stack the new scores either making their level based more on skill than just grinding. There are still things to grind however, upgrades and repairs are purchased with scrap dropped by the enemies, so in order to get the max everything out those players do have to collect a lot of scrap. Upgrades however must be found in order to use, which is where the Metroid style gameplay of looking everywhere and backtracking to past levels with new abilities plays a major part. Ares and Tarus also have similar, but still different powers and weapons, so that playing through the same levels again still presents a new experience.
While all the previous gameplay elements work fantastic there are still some problems with A.R.E.S. the most major of which is the control scheme. Since running and gunning is such a big part of the game, it makes sense that the controls are mainly step-up like a twin stick shooter, left stick moves right stick aims and shoots, the problem however is that jumping is just as important. Being a platformer, jumping occurs a lot, not as much as shooting, but being tied to the A button makes this incredibly difficult to do while also shooting and trying to hold the controller comfortably.
The controls aren’t the only issue either, as jumping itself feels a lot like a heavy robot having to make somewhat precise jumps that are sometimes unforgiving. One wrong move results in death and having to reattempt the entire thing, which can be irksome in a few of the areas. Though getting certain upgrades can at least make these somewhat easier. Boss battles can also have irksome moments when dying and having to get back into the fight, it is nice that the dialogue is skipped after the first time, but waiting for the boss to prepare can lead to points where dying and trying to get back into the fight can take what feels like a long time on multiple attempts.
Visuals and Audio
This is where A.R.E.S. shines, as both are fantastic and one of the highest points of the game. The visuals are crisp and clean, great for HD and the color is often vibrant in both the environments and enemies. While there is no dialogue, instead everything is done in subtitles, the music is phenomenal. Catching the spirit of the genre, as well as having plenty of music across the course of the game, this is one of the better soundtracks of a XBLA release in some time.
A.R.E.S. has some problems, the controls take getting used to and could have been improved by allowing players the ability to set the controls themselves, plus certain parts can be aggravating to navigate even when knowing what to do. But, past those issues the game still has some pretty great aspects, the visuals looks amazing, the music is great, and the addition of Tarus as a playable character doubles the length of the game from the original release. Those that really enjoyed the original and are interested in the additional story and differing gameplay or those what are fans of Mega Man/Metroid style offerings should find some fun.
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