X-Com. There, I said it. Nearly every preview, review, and article surrounding Rebelstar Tactical Command has drawn comparisons to the old PC strategy classic, because a good portion of this new titles’s development team was involved in X-Com’s creation. But Rebelstar is not X-Com, and so all comparisons will stop here.
Rebelstar is the latest entry into the turn-based strategy genre that has flourished on the GBA in recent years thanks to games such as Advance Wars, Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem. The game follows Jorel, an Earth rebel who lives to fight the Arelians, a race of aliens which has conquered Earth and its population. A chip has been implanted in each human, who is then abducted on their 30th birthday. Yet, some of the chips have malfunctioned and a few people have been spared, allowing the resistance to grow. In addition, there are several other alien races who are entering the fray, such as the technology-savvy Fraylars and the Zorn, who act as the Arelians’ henchmen.
In your first several chapters, you’ll take Jorel and some pre-selected characters through a few training levels which are viewed at a ¾ camera angle. Throughout these tutorials, your hand is held and you’ll learn about some of the unique aspects of Rebelstar. Initially, it’s just mop-up duty and shooting some unarmed bots, but in the process you’ll get the hang of your basic movement and attack commands, along with commands such as Overwatch, which allows you to set up in an “offensive-defensive” position. This allows you spring traps and open up on unsuspecting enemies that turn the wrong corner. They’d be upset about your trickery, if you hadn’t already “snap bursted” them to death.
While the tutorial is extremely helpful, it’s also slightly frustrating because you’re required to keep your characters alive while playing what feels like hide-and-seek against bots. This requirement is lifted around Chapter 10, allowing you to take more risks with your characters to succeed in your mission objectives. As you continue to play, you’ll grow to a team of eight, many of whom have specialties. Sapphire, for instance, already has some Medic skills, and Carlos is known for his stealth and close combat abilities. Further in the game, you’ll gain the ability to equip and deploy your team as you see fit.
Your team gains experience by attacking and healing. As they gain experience, your team will get the opportunity to level up, adding abilities and strengthening the ones they currently have. It pays to determine early on how you’ll want to use your character throughout the entire game, as later levels reward strength in certain areas such as close combat and leadership.
The difficulty curve seems very reasonable. You’re given three game save blocks, and are allowed to save in one slot during active battles. Abusing your mid-battle save in battle could be a big mistake if you’ve already used one and don’t even know it, leaving you to start over from the beginning. Even if you find yourself failing a mission a couple of times, it’s often because you messed up, and not because the game is cheating you.
That is with the exception of Chapter 15, which has a critical “someone on the QA team got fired” style bug in it. If you use a fire weapon, you can’t beat the level. Unfortunately, fire weapons are very effective in this mission, and most gamers are unlikely to realize why they can’t advance. So if you’re picking this game up after this review, NO FIRE WEAPONS IN 15. You’ll enjoy your experience much more.
The graphics are slightly above average for the GBA, but look pretty rustic if you’ve been playing the DS lately. The game itself plays very slowly. Turn-based strategy games are pretty slow to begin with, but Rebelstar’s engine totally chugs. Not only do you have to watch your team move at a snail’s pace, you get to watch your enemies do it during their turn when they’re in your field of vision. Sometimes the engine shows nothingness when you’re getting shot and that’s an annoyance as well, especially if the shot is in your line of sight. In addition, the engine occasionally seems to get overwhelmed, causing it to run even slower depending on what’s going on in the level, something that feels like it has no place in a turn-based strategy. The sound and music is generally forgettable, but the background music reminded me of Red Alarm on the Virtual Boy, if that counts for anything.
The gameplay is fairly solid, the controls are relatively easy to pick up, and while the game has a few quirks, they’re pretty easy to overcome. Whether it’s a turn, a drop, or an equip, every action you take costs action points and sometimes that’s easy to forget. Once you perform an action, you can’t get your action points back until your next turn, sometimes leaving you to accidentally equip the wrong item, then equip the right item, and then find out you don’t have enough points left to actually shoot. Oops.
In addition to the Story Mode, there’s a Skirmish mode which will allow you to play maps against the CPU or against a friend. You’re able to select from any of the four races, and go at it. Ideally, a single-cart multi-player mode would’ve been available, but we’ll take what we can get.
Rebelstar manages to add a satisfactory twist to the turn-based genre on the GBA. It is not the best turn-based game on the system, but it’s nevertheless a steal at $20. With a little more polish, this game could’ve been an 8, but with the engine slow-down and the enormous progress-stopping bug in Chapter 15, the score has to brought down a notch.