Shaking trees, mixing ingredients, and more hinder this colorful GBA adventure game.
If there's one thing the Game Boy Advance needs right now, it's more games. I don't care if the DS is the handheld of the times. The Game Boy Advance is a perfectly capable system with a monstrous installed base, and developers should be making more games for it. Thankfully, Oribtal Media answered the call, bringing Juka and the Monophonic Menace along with them. It looks as if a lot of love went into the game's creation, but the fruits of the development team's labor might not be as sweet as they hoped for.
The game is a linear romp through seven overworld areas. Juka, our hero, is a young alchemist who has been charged to find people missing from his village. Menace machines have recently invaded the area, and the item necessary to defeat them, a magical staff, just happens to be in Juka's possession. Though there is combat in the game, it's primarily about adventuring from point-to-point, solving basic puzzles, collecting necessary items, and eventually saving the world. You know, the usual hero stuff. The fighting system is broken up between machine combat with the staff and human combat with potions.
The machines shoot projectiles of different shapes and colors, and the only way to defeat them is to absorb the projectiles with the staff in a certain order. Getting hit by something or absorbing the wrong shape will cause the chain to be reset, forcing you to start again. Once completing the combination, Juka can throw that stored energy back and poof the bad guy off the screen. Since enemies shoot a preset pattern of shapes, there will be times when it's necessary to stop and wait for the enemies to cycle through the firing pattern to pick up what's needed to finish them off. It can be boring and slow, especially in the beginning, when there are only one or two enemies to provide a source of shapes.
Later in the game you need to string together more shapes to charge the staff with a shot. More enemies also appear, but they provide a greater source of shapes. It will still be slow when you want to finish off the last remaining guys, but when there are a crapload of projectiles flying around at varying speeds, that slowness will be appreciated It can get pretty hectic, and the added projectiles will make it easier to get hit and lose some points off of your life meter. Thankfully, Juka's staff has the ability to recharge its built-in shield by using the B button to absorb unwanted shapes. It's a little easy to tap away on the button and walk around protected, but you run the risk of missing out on the shapes you need to attack.
Fighting against non-machine enemies is another matter entirely. The staff doesn't work against bipeds like thieves or solders, so Juka's alchemy comes into play. Using ingredients collected from around the game world, Juka can mix up a variety of potions to deal with the enemies. Potions are also used to help Juka get around the game world. You'll need to make these potions yourself using recipes collected throughout the game, which is the cause of three annoyances.
First is the act of acquiring the ingredients necessary to make potions. Trees are the most readily available source of the ingredients. How do you get them out? Walk up to a tree, press the A Button, move the D-Pad left and right and shake the goods out of the canopy. Repeat with the other seven or eight shakeable objects in the immediate area. With six different types of ingredients, you'll need to stop and hit up most of the trees you see to ensure you'll have an ample supply of potion materials. There are a lot of trees. The majority of the game is walking around and trying to move on to the next area, so the tree shaking slows down the pace considerably.
Second is creating the potions. The recipes you get are stored in a list, accessible via the game's somewhat confusing pause menu. There are a lot of potion recipes, and memorizing them all isn't something you are likely to do. Therefore, every time you encounter something that needs a potion to activate, unlock, or repair—all of which produce the exact same result of opening a door or pathway—you must stop and open the menu, then select the journal, find the recipe you need, switch to the backpack, load up the mixing pot with the right number of ingredients, then hit the red button to produce the solution to your problem. This process happens many times during the game, mostly because you won't know what to mix until you are presented with something that needs a potion applied to it. Trying to plan ahead and mix a lot of every potion can be done, but that means you'll need to shake more trees to get the extra ingredients needed to keep your stocks at healthy levels. It slows the game down no matter how you do it.
Third is using potions for "combat" purposes. You don't really attack organic enemies, just avoid them using sleep or disorientation potions. They can still attack and hurt Juka directly, though, so engaging them becomes a race to disable them before they knock you out completely. Making things harder, you have no means of defending or recharging your shield like you can against the machines. All you can do is rely on natural cover or diving underwater, because their projectiles always home in on you. It does help that many of these enemies drop life-replenishing muffins when you take them out, but they usually give back less health than what the soldiers take away. These types of fights don't occur too frequently, thank goodness, but when they do you'll wish that they weren't so frustrating to begin with.
The potion problems bring down the rest of the game's brighter spots. Along the way, you'll find Yetis that will give you special ingredient-producing instruments if you can beat their mini-games (but only after mixing potions for them—yeesh), which include timed tasks like a scavenger hunt or a swimming race. These breaks in the action are fun to do (even if you will only do them once or twice before winning), and you get a portable source of ingredients for your efforts. The game itself looks very nice, and it'll take around eight hours to take all the sights in. That's a decent length for a pocket-sized adventure game.
Even with all of the little problems that litter Juka and the Monophonic Menace, I still had a good time with it. The frantic battles with the menace machines were enough for me to continue on to the final stages. I would still recommend the game to those who are craving more titles for the Game Boy Advance and have already played all of the other stuff available on the portable. With so many other GBA games out there, however, I'm not sure if that statement applies to many people.