Natsume releases a clever new dungeon-based adventure for Game Boy Advance.
CIMA: The Enemy is one of those smaller titles that will likely be overlooked, simply because it’s difficult to find and doesn’t have a lot of flash. It mixes elements from RPG, strategy, and adventure genres to create a unique style of gameplay that takes place mostly in puzzle-heavy dungeons.
The setting is a world being attacked by Cima, a race of humanoids from another dimension that are slowly taking over the world. These other-worldly creatures trap humans with inter-dimensional gates that suck people into dangerous dungeons. Here, the Cima are able to feed off of human emotions until they finally eliminate their prey. Ark J and Ivy F are Gate Guardians assigned to protect a train of pioneers heading to a new frontier. When an enormous gate captures the entire train and its passengers, Ark and Ivy must travel through sixteen dungeons to find all of the passengers and make their escape.
Gameplay in CIMA can be likened to a mix of Zelda and real-time strategy games, taking place almost entirely in trap-laden dungeons. You directly control Ark, who can move freely throughout the level, attacking Cima and opening passages in real-time. Ivy follows behind Ark and attacks automatically from time to time, and the train passengers move in parties of four that can be directed to move along paths through a point-and-click interface. As a Gate Guardian, your job is to protect everybody, and the game tends to make that as difficult as possible with unlimited enemies spawning from Cima Nests and puzzles that force you to put your party members into harm’s way. There are no resurrection items, and if a single person dies, it’s game over. In each dungeon, you’ll find a new passenger, who varies in strengths, abilities, and even weight, finally ending up with a full crew of fourteen passengers in addition to the two Guardians.
Controls are fairly intuitive for all the different tasks you need to perform. The simple interface system used for many of the menus is shaped like the control pad, allowing you to choose a selection by holding a specific direction and pressing A. In battle, pressing A allows you to attack, and B brings up a quick menu of the five items in your pocket. The point-and-click interface for moving party members is simple and efficient. L allows you to select one of your parties as the active party, and R lets you select individuals within the current party. From there, you can either move an individual party member or the entire group, using the cursor and the A button to plot out a three-point path. You can even direct all the parties to follow the path by using the R button to plot instead of A.
Each of the dungeons has its own unique set of traps, and the puzzles are usually based around how many party members you’ve gathered, and even on specific members’ traits. The children are the only ones light enough to walk across weaker structures and can also find buried materials. The weight needed to press down different switches varies, which requires you to carefully examine the passengers’ stats and place them in parties accordingly. However, you can’t take all the time in the world. The trickiest puzzles often need to be solved in time to rescue a passenger in danger, and you’ll need to solve them before the person’s health runs out.
There are multiple floors in each dungeon, and as you progress, you’ll need to find the passenger trapped in that dungeon as well as the key to the boss door. There are also times when your group gets split up, and you have to take control of Ivy or one of the passengers, going through a separate section of the dungeon to find your way back to the main group. At the end of each dungeon, Ark and Ivy have to defeat a boss to escape, and these bosses are no pushovers. Most of them seem more like something you’d see in a game like R-Type or Ikaruga: flying around in wild patterns and spraying out loads of projectiles. To defeat them, you need to learn their patterns well enough to avoid taking any hits, because the items in your pack don’t last long. Part of what makes them so tough is that unlike Zelda, which gives you a moment of invincibility after each hit, CIMA doesn’t pamper you. If three dragons pounce on you all at once, you’re going to take damage from all three... likely enough to send you to the Game Over screen.
The main story in CIMA isn’t spectacular, but each of the characters is given significant attention, and you really get a sense of each one’s personality and history, allowing you to gain a deeper connection with them. There are a number of ways to interact with the characters aside from the story sequences. A specific menu allows you to talk to any passenger with something to say, and their comments from room to room change, relating to specific dangers or events unfolding in the story. Passengers’ stats and inventory are just as deep as the main two characters, and it’s important to keep them equipped with health items, defensive accessories, and the best weapons and armor available. One of the more unique aspects of the character interactions is the Trust Meter. Each character you meet starts out with a certain amount of distrust (negative trust) for you, and you can increase their trust by defeating enemies in their vicinity... or lose it by allowing them to get attacked. There isn’t any benefit for getting a max of 100 trust points, but once you get a character’s trust level into the positive, that person will be willing to mix healing potions or other items for you, depending on his or her individual skills.
There are about sixteen dungeons in all, each one taking a little more than an hour to complete, which puts the game in at a healthy fifteen to twenty hours. There aren’t any towns (except for one stuck in purely for humor’s sake) or mini-games, so if anything, the game lacks variety. It may not attract top-tier attention, but CIMA: The Enemy is an engaging title that’s worth checking out for fans of puzzle, RPG, or adventure games.