I am always interested in how developers work within limitations in order to make a solid product. This is the reason alone for why I am fascinated by impressive ports or intriguing translations of home console versions created for handhelds, such as the GBA takes on Max Payne, Doom, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. All of these got engaging adaptations through the developers working within technological restrictions. However, while there is an impressive aspect of trying to go beyond a console’s capabilities, I am always afraid of that ending up compensation for the overall quality of a project. Case in point, Asterix & Obelix XXL for the GBA.
Barely calling this a game
The plot is basically the same as in the console version. Asterix and Obelix are out hunting, but soon after discover their village being under attack by Romans and the inhabitants having been kidnapped. Since our heroic Gauls are such nice guys, they set out to travel around Europe in order to rescue them. This is it, with the included cutscenes just being there to tie together the events this journey contains. Aka, this story is only here to give you a reason for taking on this adventure, nothing else.
As for the gameplay, Asterix & Obelix XXL is a 3D beat’em up if you can believe that! You can jump, punch, and use the L and R buttons for controlling the camera. It all works well, and the camera will even slowly move behind your chosen character whenever you are running. That is all of the praises I have for this game, as it has no other redeeming quality in its mechanics. In fact, the biggest problem it has revolves around its main aspect; the combat!
There is barely anything to talk about here, because of how limited this setup is. Your hit detection is very generous, with the Roman enemies not differentiating at all in attacks or even approach. The only thing that will change, is how long it will take before you knock someone up in the air due to varied amounts of health. Since none of the AI will actively search you out or evolve in their behaviours and your punches can only be thrown while stationary, the combat becomes tedious and shallow. You will also have to constantly beat up a certain amount of fiends in order to proceed, meaning that the fights are unavoidable. I ended up actually mashing the attack button without looking at the screen in order to eat lunch on some occasions, and it always worked out fine.
Even acquiring helmets scattered around the world or from defeated enemies in order to buy moves from the shops is worthless, as they do not add anything to the combat. You can use them whenever you have filled up a combo meter by punching enough foes regularly, but the little impact they have makes this aspect forgettable. Actually, these moves are not even shown in the pause menu, so hope you got a good memory for these strange button combinations in case you want to try them out. If not, simple punches always get you far due to the mentioned issues. You can buy health upgrades and “ham” for gaining health back, but that is it otherwise. Not even finding strength potions for knocking out Romans in one hit for a limited amount of time is enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there are platforming and puzzles included within this title that are just as underwhelming. This comes from the general level design, and what pinhead thought these were acceptable? These are minimalistic to a core, but with a camera that is too high up to provide any good view for where to jump next over bottomless pits, this aspect becomes aggravating and dull simultaneously. This is especially frustrating when dying sends you back to the beginning of a stage. None of the platforming segments were good or creative, just having the bare minimum implemented. The traps are also garbage and easy to see, but their hit detection can be off and will instantly kill you as well if you are not careful, which piles upon the annoyances this game offers.
You can switch between the duo on the fly, but Asterix is the only one who can double jump, while Obelix can pull and push big blocks. This is it, making the “puzzles” incredibly mundane, and I never had a reason outside of the blocks to switch out to Obelix. I think I lost it when I had to backtrack one level to get a torch for lighting up a fuse by jumping over bottomless pits, just because of how miserable the whole experience was. This is pretty much the entire playthrough, and for a title lasting about three or four hours, this is simply awful.
The only true variety to find here, are the parts where you are using Obelix as a boat or sled while sliding down slopes or traversing in one direction on water, but these segments are underwhelming. No good obstacles to speak of, and you can only jump and break with little else to do. For a game with 25 stages and none of them being confident or barely functional, I just felt empty playing this title. There is nothing here that can be called fun or even tolerable.
Gameplay Score: 1/10
Impressive and nothing else
Since the GBA is a 32-bit system, 3D graphics are a possibility and Asterix & Obelix XXL is stunning with its take on it. Good animations, lots of colours, strong textures to provide varied locations to visit, everything is done surprisingly well. The diversity in the areas you visit are also neat and based on those from the console version, such as the marble floors and library in Greece or Normandy’s snowy areas with small huts. There are even appropriate enemies in each location included, such as the vikings up north.
Sadly, the enemies do not look good up close, and while there is an admirable attempt at making everything 3D, there are poor clippings and awkward overlays everywhere. It can be nauseating when the illusion is broken due to textured walls showcasing the unfinished visuals, but I cannot deny that this game is technologically impressive, despite coming with tons of graphical flaws and lifeless backgrounds. The cutscenes are taken straight from the console version and presented as still images, all looking passable.
The sound effects for collecting helmets are hypnotic and exciting, but the rest is pretty bad in general. While punching sounds solid, the effect is the same whether you are punching the air or an enemy, with all the foes sharing the same grunt (including the lions). Then we have the soundtrack, and it is a strange one. The developers tried to transfer the music from the console version, but every melody is stripped down and shortened, making them repetitive and ear grating. Only two songs were decent due to some variety in notes, but I ended up muting the audio completely in the end because of how quickly I would get a headache.
Presentation Score: 4/10
Not even worth your attention
In these linear hallways that can be barely called levels, you can find golden laurels that are far from difficult to locate and often discovered right in front of your nose. They unlock more bland sliding segments, which make this extra even more worthless to take on. You will also be ranked on the amount of helmets you found in the stages, but this just adds more tedious work to the player and turns the entire experience into an even slower burn. Who are you even going to compete your scores with?
Extra Score: 1/10
I applaud the impressive attempt at making a fully 3D title for the GBA, but no game should compensate gameplay for presentation. This is where I have to say that the only reason to even bother owning this product, is to set it as an example for the system’s capabilities. A terrible beat’em up that in no way pays respect to its console counterpart, its genre or its source material. At least, it is a great example of just because you can go beyond the distance, does not mean it is worth it.