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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 Review

Derived from SNK’s 1989 rail gun arcade game Beast Busters, Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is an experience unique to the Neo Geo Pocket.  The game is a horror-themed, gothic action RPG, where the player controls the “Beast Buster,” who has entered the spirit realm and must create powerful weapons known as “Dark Arms” to combat the creatures of darkness.  The story becomes convoluted as the player must try to fill in the missing pieces, but the dark atmosphere and sound design immerse players into the world, and entice them into interacting with it to uncover its secrets.  The player begins in the Master’s House, where the game can be saved, weapons can be forged/evolved, the player can rest, or the player can venture out to an increasing number of dungeons.

In Dark Arms, the player begins with a weapon known as the “Catcher.”  Every enemy destroyed with the Catcher becomes “food” that can be fed to weapons once the player has forged their first weapon.  Toward the end of the first dungeon, and in subsequent areas, the player will collect “seeds” and oums.”  By combining these items, a weapon can be forged.  The weapons can then be evolved into more powerful forms by feeding them caught monsters, and will gain new abilities and increased attack power.  Weapons used will level up and increase in attack power as the player continues fighting enemies, but when it comes time to evolve them via food, they will revert to the first level with a new ability, making leveling them before their final evolution somewhat moot.

While the RPG elements in Dark Arms are an important aspect of the game, the true emphasis is on top-down action.  This is where being on the NGP is a major asset to Dark Arms, as the omni-directional stick makes control fluid and responsive.  The player is able to maneuver while shooting with relative ease.  When the player walks into a wall or obstacle, they automatically turn around and continue shooting in the opposite direction to prevent getting trapped or pinned by enemies.

Each dungeon in Dark Arms consists of both enemies and non-playable characters whose information can be vital to completing your journey.  These dungeons change depending on whether the player enters during the nighttime or daytime.  Typically, monsters increase in numbers and strength during the night, but the player must traverse the hazards to unlock all of the secrets Dark Arms has to offer.  Although there is a fair amount of exploration in Dark Arms, the overall experience is relatively short.  There are five dungeons and one optional dungeon which is much larger than the rest, but still lacks much depth.  The player may find themselves spending more time catching monsters and leveling weapons than actually advancing the game.

Dark Arms also features a versus mode which allows two players to link their Neo Geo Pockets together using a link cable to do battle in a chosen stage, although finding another player with both Dark Arms and a Neo Geo Pocket can be a challenge in itself.

While Dark Arms: Beast Busters 1999 may not be a game synonymous with Neo Geo or SNK, it is a unique action experience with interesting mechanics and often addictive RPG elements that many Neo Geo Pocket owners uncovered as a pleasant surprise in the handheld’s small library.

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