At first glance, it’s hard to tell that Astro Boy: Edge of Time is a card game. If you skip the video and go straight to the page, there’s only the description calling this a “CCG” to clue you in. Judging from the rest of the page, you’d expect this to be a dark and gritty visual novel. It is, to some degree, but at its heart it’s really a dark and gritty Hearthstone-clone.
Hearthstone didn’t invent the card game video game, but it’s become the standard. Many developers seek to emulate its look and feel, such as Star Crusade and The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Edge of Time is no different, though it has a few aces up its sleeve. I took a gander at the demo and I came away with mixed feelings.
The game is based on the Astro Boy manga series. You know, the one about the mostly naked child robot? But much like the gameplay, it’s easy to mistake by just looking at the Kickstarter page. This isn’t you creepy uncle’s Astro Boy, this is something else entirely.
The quirky, cartoony art of the original series is gone. In its place are the dark and gritty trappings you’d find on a high schooler’s DeviantArt profile. There’s hard science fiction and there’s Astro Boy: Edge of Time. Everything is dark, literally in this case, with faint glowing lights that don’t give off any light. All of the characters wear either an angry poker face or a sadistic smile. You can feel the grit between your toes and in your undercarriage just by looking at the page for too long.
It’s an odd turn for the franchise, especially given that the son of Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy’s creator, has given the project his blessing. It felt like the time of game developers making dark and gritty reboots of franchises was coming to an end. It’s far too early to judge, but so far none of it feels necessary.
The plot follows the dark art style. The titular Astro Boy has gone missing after a devastating war, and with the cards down, “summoners” are roaming the streets. These summoners are people who can command hard light constructs using cards, and wield them like an army. It sounds like a flimsy excuse to make everyone fight with cards. It wouldn’t normally be an issue, but in this particular card game, story matters.
Cutscenes play out in visual novel style scenes with two characters conversing over a static background. It’s unclear if there will be any dialog options or any player influence on the plot. The demo didn’t contain any story elements, or maybe it did – more on that later.
The meat of the game is obviously the card battling system. Here, you come to realize Edge of Time really is trying to ape Hearthstone. At the start of each game, you draw four cards and can toss out whichever you want. You have a certain number of action points – called Quantum here – that grows with each turn. It costs Quantum to play each card, and the better the card, the higher the cost. Each card has an attack and defense stat, and will “sleep” when you first put them down and will only awaken after your opponents following turn.
The only noticible difference are the rows. There’s an “Enforcer” row as well as a “Guardian” row. This wasn’t in Hearthstone, but the principle isn’t exacty new. Enforcer cards are your attackers, they deal all direct damage. Guardians are your trap and defensive cards. If you have a Guardian card out, your opponent won’t be able to attack you directly, and may set off one your traps, such as landmines or more landmines.
Anyone who’s put any amount of time into Hearthstone will feel right at home. The only real difference is the sci-fi aesthetic and the funky music.
Developer Project Atom is going all-in with its staff. They’ve managed to snag Suda51, filmmaker Macoto Tezka, manga artist Hiroya Oku, and several other well-respected manga and video game artists to work on development. Their work so far, while on the silly side as mentioned before, is at least pretty. It’s true manga level quality art, as opposed to some of the Microsoft Paint level of visual novels we occasionally see pop up on Kickstarter.
When the chips are down, it’s hard to tell if this Kickstarter will be a success. This is mere speculation on my part, but I’m certain there’s some contingent of Astro Boy fans out there who will be less than thrilled with such a radical change in the series.
While the gameplay in the demo is serviceable, that’s really all there is to say about it. There isn’t much about it that stands out, except one thing. As you can see in the video above, I ran into two game breaking bugs. The first, off camera, was when I tried to end my turn but the game wouldn’t let me. In the second, which happened while recording, the opposing player wouldn’t end their turn.
I talked recently about Kickstarter demos often being demos for pre-alpha’s as opposed to a finished product. That’s true here as well. The bugs are forgivable, the bigger worry is the gameplay. It’s Hearthstone, and there’s nothing more to say about it.
Hopefully Project Atom can up the ante and inject some life into Astro Boy Edge of Time. They’ve got too great a team for this Kickstarter to fold, but not many people are willing to put their chips down. It’s off to a slow start and trending towards failure according to Kicktraq.
What a shame, because there’s a lot of talent behind this house of cards. It’s not hard to see why though. The visuals are garish, and it plays less like Texas Hold ‘Em, and more like Old Maid with marked cards. I don’t know if you can mark cards in Old Maid, I just wanted another card-based pun in there. Kenny Rogers.