To say that Osamu Tezuka played an influential role in the development of both manga and anime would be an understatement. Terms like "god of manga," and "father of anime" have frequently been used to describe the man who has also drawn comparisons to Walt Disney in terms of his contributions to the field of cartooning and animation. One of Tezuka's most famous creations was the character of Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty Atom"), who rose to prominence as a manga character in the 1950's before becoming the star of his own animated series in 1963. The story of a robot boy created by a scientist mourning the loss of his only son became a cultural phenomenon in Japan, and one that would spread to the United States as well.
Renamed "Astro Boy," the animated series debuted in the US in the fall of 1963, and it had a huge impact on American audiences, with over 100 episodes remaining in syndication on US television for over 10 years. Two more animated "Astro Boy" series made their way over from Japan in the 1980's and early 2000's, giving Astro Boy a fairly consistent presence in American television for the past 40+ years.
In October 2009, a brand new animated "Astro Boy" movie will be hitting theaters worldwide. The movie is a retelling of Astro Boy's origin, and the US version will feature Freddie Highmore (Astro Boy), Kristin Bell (Cora) and Nicholas Cage (Dr. Tenma) voicing the main characters. To coincide with the release of the upcoming movie, developer High Voltage Software and D3 Publisher will be releasing "Astro Boy: The Video Game" for the DS, PS2, PSP an Wii systems. CBR recently spoke with Producer Cameron Rains about how High Voltage has pulled from the history of Astro Boy in manga, anime and video games in addition to the new movie to provide an experience for old and new fans alike.
CBR: Cameron, what do you feel are the core elements of Astro Boy as a character, and how does the game bring those to life?
Cameron Rains: Astro Boy encompasses a lot of fine qualities that make up a great character for a video game. Outright, he is compassionate and always ready to do what is right. And if that wasn't enough to build a compelling character around, he has amazing weapons and abilities. In Astro Boy: The Video Game, you see Astro as the same altruistic personality getting to unload his full arsenal in the name of good.
Definitely. We were all big Astro fans going into production of the game, and maintaining and promoting the history of the icon was something that was very important to us. The team took a lot of care in handling the license, which can be seen in our unique enemies which look like they could be right out of a Tezuka manga, or the fact that we independently animate Astro's hair spikes to maintain his iconic look.
There have been a few video game adaptations of the Astro Boy franchise over the years, most notably the well-received "Astro Boy: Omega Factor" in 2004. Did any of those previous games have an influence on the development of this one?
We looked at all of the adaptations over the years, as well as some of those more perennial titles which I mentioned earlier. But yes, without a doubt we had our hands on "AB: OF." We thought that Treasure had done a remarkable job of creating a game that was very fun, challenging, and yet treated the license with the care it deserved. "AB: OF" was where we set our bar going into production and we feel that we have exceeded that bar.
How would you describe the core gameplay in "Astro Boy: The Video Game?"
First and foremost, this game is an action-platformer/shooter that rocks it old school. 2.5D side-scrolling mayhem with Butt Machine Guns! In early design meetings we all stirred up some good nostalgia talking about games we loved to hate back on the NES and in the Arcades ("Mega Man," "Defender," "Gradius," "Ikaruga," "Metal Slug," "Contra," and "Astro Boy: Omega Factor," just to name a few) and decided that we wanted to bring those feelings back in our game. At the end of the day it was a big win because the gameplay lends itself to core gamers as well as newcomers. A little something for everyone.
Astro has grown up a bit from the manga and anime, and sports a look to match. Additionally, for the game we have given Astro some new powerful abilities to use against the bad guys. One such ability is his new Absorb Super. Pulling this off during the heat of combat will give Astro back health and allow him to absorb all of the enemy projectiles on screen. In the game Astro will also be able to duck and slide, skills previously absent from Astro Boy games.
How does the campaign mode in "Astro Boy: The Video Game" tie into the events of the movie?
"Astro Boy: The Video Game" hits all of the high points from the film, from beginning to end. That being said, when the film cuts between locations, we were able to do some traveling with the player, inevitably giving us some really cool unique levels and fiction that can only be found in the game.
Will the game explore other characters or locations in the world that didn't make it into the movie?
Absolutely, we worked very closely with Imagi and got very well versed in their style. This allowed us to create some new environments and spaces for the game that hit the cutting room floor or were never there to begin with. Imagi was very supportive of our efforts to expand the film's universe.
Creating a good superhero game is difficult, especially when you have a character like Astro Boy who has powers akin to Superman. How do you present a challenge for the character without fundamentally changing him?
Well, we were fortunate with "Astro Boy: The Video Game." We were able to essentially work with a good energy vs. bad energy theme from the film (without giving too much away) and create a believable reason as to why Astro could fail a level. Astro being fueled by good energy, naturally, can be damaged by enemies powered by bad energy. With regards to gameplay, the real challenge is confining the player to the style of the game but still making them feel uber-powerful as Astro Boy. We feel that keeping the player limited in movement but overpowering in attack was the right balance to strike and gave us the end result we needed to build a compelling experience.