Review by Arkrex
Reviewed: 11/27/06 | Updated: 11/05/07
I wannabe a Metroid
You are a female bounty hunter in space. Your aim is to investigate a series of distressing complications which have arisen in lab full of experimental wrong-doings. With your trusty custom-built suit and attached blaster-piece, you will make your way through increasingly treacherous areas, gaining upgrades along the way to help you progress, and fight swarms of little enemies as well as big boss monsters. Your name is Jenosa Arma, and you have just ripped off Samus Aran bigtime! Time to go kick some Scurge-butt.
Visuals - 7
Sound & Music - 6
Gameplay - 8
Controls - B
Longevity - A (approx. 10 hours)
Replayability - C
Difficulty - Medium
Metroid Formula - 8
VERDICT - 7
This is a GBA game.. duh!
The graphics are very bright and vivid, and the isometric viewpoint allows for some nice animations as well. But it is very clear that this is a GBA game ported over to the DS, not that it is a bad thing; the Jazz Jackrabbit-like art style lends itself well to the presentation of the enemies and the landscapes.
There are a couple of special effects that are really hit & miss. The goop splatter when some enemies die and the pixelation effect when moving between rooms or menus are the 2 I'm talking about here. They do look cool at first, but they get extremely irritating as you trudge your way through this reasonably lengthy adventure.
The enemy variety is extremely limited, perhaps only about 10 types, with colour-palette swaps attempting to hide the lack of diversity. The environments themselves share a similar fault, with too many samey rooms and not enough cosmetic show.
Given the fact that this game was originally built with GBA hardware in mind, the aural side of Scurge is still relatively poor. Many of the tracks sound like droning (only 2-3 were nice compositions, for example the main hub theme) and the sound effects are a collection of 8-bit-like blips and blops. Despite the decently realised world as depicted by the game's visual side of things, I feel that the sounds counteract this for the most part.
Tribute to Metroid
The general idea of Scurge has already been explained in my opening statement. Yes, the premise is nearly identical to that of the revered Metroid games. Progression via exploration and discovery of upgrades is copied to a tee, as are the interesting boss battles encountered now and again. Heck, there are even Metroid-like enemies that latch onto you and sap your energy!
Some would call this a homage to Metroid, others would just say it's a blatant knock-off. Nevertheless, the main mechanics are in tune, and overall the game plays great. The isometric quasi-3D POV does allow for some more freedom within rooms, but throughout the adventure you will have to go through each and every one of them to find the required switch nodes and gate keys. This means there really isn't any real exploration to be had, making this game somewhat linear and without much incentive to replay.
But by and large, Scurge emulates the other successful Metroid elements rather well. You gain a sense of developing prowess as you upgrade you suit's capabilities, your weaponry and your strength and health (via a somewhat tacked on levelling up system). You have got your 3 special ammos which are strong against certain enemy types and supportive to others (the strength/weakness triangle), some bombs, a freeze charge, adrenaline (to slow down time) and the 'gimmick' that is the tether hook. This hook allows you to grab those bulky switch activators to drag them towards their fitting sites, hook enemies in for easier targeting, and it will let you perform some cool massive leaps from one platform to another. Its use is is nicely implemented and a stronger focus on it would have made the game even better. This framework instantly makes Scurge a good game game to begin with!
Scurge throws a lot of enemies at you. In the first few hours you will be overwhelmed, especially as it takes a fair few hits to take them down, and they constantly bump you around the place. It can get annoying, but once you obtain a larger plate of weaponry, you can utilise the strength/weakness triangle to dispose of them more efficiently. It's a good thing then that switching your arms is convenient and very easy to do at a whim's moment. Unfortunately, since you remain immobile while shooting, these blast-a-thons get extremely tedious, and later in the game you will probably just run through enemies while taking the damage incurred, in order to move quicker between those especially long tunnels.
The boss battles on the other hand are quite satisfying. At the end of each of the 6 excerpts (ie. levels) you will face a big messed-up monster. These encounters are initially simple and require no more than holding down your attack button, but as you gain more abilities, you will have to utilise all your tools in order to take them down. The battles are very similar in style to the Zelda and Metroid boss battles and some of them require a surprisingly varied use of many of your abilities at once. These are possibly the best moments of the game, and they will make your trekking all the more worthwhile. The final boss has got to be one of the toughest for a portable game too!
Once you have finished the game you unlock a harder difficulty level, and upon completion of that you unlock another one, and then yet another. Each time your run through the game it will always be the same thing though, except your protection drains faster and enemies do more damage. There really isn't any incentive to go at it multiple times, and it would have been better if the difficulties were selectable from the outset.
To be continued?
Scurge is clearly inspired by the Metroid saga in every way, but this is in no way a negative thing. Although a more original backstory would have been nice, it is different enough from its inspiration to warrant a play from any gamer lusting for another "begin weak, become strong" action-adventure. The isometric viewpoint can make targeting harder than it should be, the virus element which was put in to give a sense of urgency doesn't really work well (unless you replay at higher difficulties), and the overall polish and presentation is just not there.. yet.
DS vs. GBA? The big difference is that you can easily view the map on the 2nd screen instead of having to flip to the menu manually. It's no real biggie, but I prefer being able to know where I am on-the-fly. DS wins. But the GBA version is definitely a worthwhile investment if you're not DS savvy just yet.
Will there be a follow-up? ... With such an impressive effort already made by such a small team, I wait in keen anticipation to see what magic Orbital can pull out of their sleeves next time, and hopefully with more originality too.
7.0/10 - A solid mix of platforming and exploration, with some interesting boss fights to round it off
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Scurge: Hive (US, 11/01/06)
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