developed & published by Konami/2003.09.13
1 Player (2-4 link battle)/Cartridge, w/ built-in solar sensor/GBA
“In a place not too far from here and now, the end of the world approaches.
The Undead appear, breaking the natural cycle of life and death.
The evolution of species ceases, and one by one they become extinct…”
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand is the brainchild of master game designer Hideo Kojima (creator of Metal Gear): a vampire-slaying quest-adventure in the vein of Zelda with the hide-and-sneak shooting action of Metal Gear. This alone makes Boktai fun but what makes it great (as the title suggests) is the added unpredictable element of the sun.
The Importance of Sunlight
Inside the cartridge a solar sensor detects sunlight, which affects the game world. The sensor only works with genuine UV rays, resulting in the first GameBoy game to force the player to make use of its portability! When playing you must be outdoors, or at least near a window. While it is possible to play portions of the game at night by storing the sun’s energy ahead of time in “Solar Stations”, you need the power of the sun to destroy the bosses. Therefore, the player starts to organize their schedule around the game, to think like the Immortal-hunter “Django” who must hunt by the light of day.
The power of the sun is most evident in the Gun-del-Sol, Django’s weapon of choice, which is powered by sunlight. As you shoot the gun, its power becomes depleted, but gradually recharges as the solar sensor picks up sunlight. You can also charge it quickly by pressing and holding the A button (when the sun is shining), or by refilling at a Solar Station (after sundown). The Gun-del-Sol is highly customizable, with 4 separate categories for various add-ons and power-ups (elemental lenses, grenades, extra solar batteries, and shot-modifying frames), adding an RPG element to the game.
From Dusk til Dawn – Realtime Clock
When Django is indoors, the only way to charge his gun is by standing under rare skylights, which appear only when the solar sensor is detecting sunlight. In rooms with windows, the room will be pitch black until some sunlight is detected, at which point it brightens up allowing you to explore without fear of what lurks around the corner. The Vampires themselves must be destroyed using sunlight via the “Solar Piledriver”. And (as any seasoned vampire hunter will tell you) it’s best to sneak in during daylight hours when it’s reasonably safe, than to go bustling through when the dark slimy things start stalking about. The game’s internal clock allows natural passage of time from day to night, providing the exact time of sunrise to sunset through your timezone. There’s just something cool about entering a creepy castle and being told: 1 hour, 14 minutes to sunset…
Interview with the Vampire Slayer
With the guidance of the wise Otenko, a floating sunflower with a face, Django must venture through undead catacombs and spooky forests to reach a number of evil lairs, where the Immortals sleep in coffins by day. Sneaking inside the castles, even by day, will not be easy. The halls are often haunted by throngs of undead servants; drones easily provoked should you pass within their line of sight or make too much noise. And like in Metal Gear, rooms are often mazes filled with drones who must be distracted by making tapping noises against walls. Traps reminiscent of Metal Gear’s VR Missions will also put your stealth skills to the test.
And if all the ferocious monsters and booby-traps infesting each area don’t get him, Django must also put on his thinking cap to solve infuriating puzzles, from downright evil block-pushing exercises to mischievous riddles. Once he’s found the Immortal, often a boss battle ensues. If by some miracle he survives, Django must physically drag the unconscious demon’s coffin all the way back outside! Along the way, the coffin might become restless, and if you leave the coffin alone for too long (to fend off poisonous spiders for example) it will start nudging its way back to its original resting place! Monsters that come in close contact with the coffin become more active, and will try to steal the coffin and take it back to its crypt.
When the coffin has been successfully dragged out into the daylight, it’s time to power up the Solar Piledriver! Massive mirrors flip to reflect and focus the sun’s rays at the coffin, awakening the Immortal inside. Immediately the evil presence leaps out, engulfing the battlefield with its shadow! Each individual mirror must be maintained at full power, or the Vampire’s dark energy may physically flip the mirror away. If you can keep the mirrors pointed at the Immortal long enough, the sun’s rays will incinerate it for good.
The Sun – Friend & Foe alike
After all is said and done, nothing the game throws at you can compare to the unpredictable and unreliable nature of the sun itself (not to mention bad weather, which can really put a damper on your slayer schedule). Even with the skill of ten Belmonts, if the sun ain’t on your side, then you can’t progress. Therein lies the game’s charm and its vice – for though it can often be an impediment to progress and therefore annoying, the solar sensor is the key to new and unique game play ideas. Luckily, playing the game at night is equally fun, since you must strategically conserve solar power when facing even tougher challenges. And, old lairs often have areas which are only accessible once you have an item from later in the game – meaning you can go back and complete them with or without the sun.
Graphics, Sound &… Voice?!
In order to maximize the game play mechanics, the game makes use of an isometric perspective, creating a pseudo-3D effect. The characters and enemies are simple but stylish, and animate convincingly, and the settings are filled with nice little touches for background details. As usual, bosses are paid special attention, with several animations for their various attacks. Sound is exceptional, featuring dozens of real voice clips (a rare treat in GBA games), and the music is above the standard GameBoy Advance fare. With the beloved New Game + option, players can begin quests on harder difficulty settings with all their equipment and upgrades in tow.
The Final Nail in the Coffin
All in all, an excellent package – Konami shows there is more to vampire hunting than their own Castlevania – a lot more. Boktai ranks among the top of the GBA’s extensive library, and is one game you have to track down and play. It really is that good.
Quick Run Down
- The solar sensor stuff can be fun
- Metal Gear-style sneaking works well
- Zelda-style puzzles are very well designed
- Many optional areas to sink your teeth into
- Unique twist on the Vampire theme
- The solar sensor stuff can be frustrating
- Some of the block puzzles can be tough
- Has to be played in the summer if you live in colder climates
One Sentence Review: By incorporating a solar sensor into the cartridge, Boktai provides a gaming experience unlike any other that shouldn’t be missed.
One Word Review: Brilliant!
Points of Interest:
Boktai is the first and only series to implement solar sensor technology, uniquely incorporating the power of sunlight into its game design. It spawned two sequels on the GameBoy Advance, with the 2nd game being released outside of Japan (but not the third). A fourth game in the series was released for the Nintendo DS retitled Lunar Knights.