A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX Review
A fast-paced love-letter to classic 2D action games
There has been an empty void lately in the 2D Action/Platformer genre since Capcom ceased making Mega Man games; while plenty of Indie developers continue to innovate or pay homage with their 2D-focused games, few carry on the spirit of the Blue Bomber's gameplay jump and shoot mechanics. While many fans are anticipating the crowd-funded Mighty No. 9, it will be a while yet before we can experience the successor to Kenji Infafune's original series.
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda was a recent overlooked effort that combined the look and feel of the original Mega Man and its spinoff series Mega Man X. Now rebranded as A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX, the developers at Extend Studio have added new features and an additional playable character in the hopes of gaining the attention of oldschool fans looking to shoot down robots, jump over bottomless pits and gain weapon upgrades.
The story centers around Ares and his partner Tarus, two combat-ready robots who are tasked with infiltrating the Minos station, an orbital space station that has been seized by the terrorist group Zytron. With the station's human personnel held captive and the worker robots reprogrammed to eliminate outside threats, the two robots and their AI partner Valkyl must proceed through Minos' sprawling layout and destroy any opposition that gets in their way. The story is a bit more involved compared to similar games in its genre, with cutscenes interspersed in each area, but the conversations are brief moments of exposition that don't interfere with the fast-paced action.
For those who have never played a Mega Man title before, A.R.E.S. follows a similar structure by placing players in a 2D environment where they must run, jump, double-jump and dash through various obstacles while shooting down all manner of robotic enemies. Players can shoot directly or use a controller/mouse to fire at multiple directions, giving the game a bit of Contra influence as well. Practicing to move and shoot in every direction is key, as the enemies can be quite tenacious and are stationed in every possible direction. Defeated enemies also drop gems, which acts as a currency to upgrade weapons and abilities but also as the sole means of replenishing health; when sustaining damage, players can spend 100 gems to restore lost health, thus creating a prudent mindset about whether to spend the currency to heal or save up for the next upgrade. Fortunately, the game has frequent checkpoints and also carries over earned gems/items after death.
The game is far from a cakewalk, however; in typical Mega Man fashion, A.R.E.S. features a purposeful placement of enemies and platforms that combine to create an oldschoool feeling of frustration, as one wrong move can send players to an instant death, or another wrong move can deplete them off their life while trying to evade pitfalls and potshots. The game's boss encounters are especially grueling, featuring large foes with multiple weak points to shoot as well as multiple phases. To make things even more challenging, boss encounters will only allow players to replenish their health once in battle, making things more hectic.
The difference between a frustrating game and a satisfyingly difficult one is measured entirely by how it controls. For the most part, A.R.E.S. features a sufficient control scheme, with both characters possessing different weapons as well as different weights to their movement. Unfortunately, jumping isn't as precise as it should be; early on in the game you'll receive an air dash that allows for both dashing forward and straight up into the air. The latter becomes a vital technique for evading certain obstacles and enemies, but the height of the jump won't always suffice in passing through danger. With enough practice, players can adjust to the flimsy jumping, but it may still result in some unavoidable deaths as the difficulty ramps up in later levels.
Fortunately, the gameplay remains strong enough to push through the more annoying parts. The action is fast and frantic reminiscent of classic action platformers, and each level has branching paths that can lead to new items and upgrades (and in typical modern 2D fashion, there are areas that are inaccessible without returning with the required ability). The level design is a bit bland with similar-looking structures, but traversing through them is always fast-paced and the framerate never dips below 60. The soundtrack is especially enjoyable, with an emphasis on head-banging butt-rock that would fit right at home in a Guilty Gear game.
A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX may not be the most polished homage to 2D Action/Platformers, but it's still an appreciative love letter with a brisk pace and a rocking soundtrack. The experience is short and sweet without overstaying its welcome and with enough variety between the two characters to encourage two run-throughs.