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Developer:
Neko Entertainment
Publisher: O~3 Entertainment
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Release Date: December 12, 2006

by Felipe Faria Lemos




Back to Stone on the Game Boy Advance is, above all else, a good surprise for the fans of the action genre, with a little RPG spice thrown in for good measure. There are several technical achievements in the game, pushing the Game Boy to output some beautiful graphics in a great frame rate. Unfortunately, there are also several flaws that hinder the software reaching a true AAA title quality.


According to the legend, there was a world where a highly developed society lived, and had forgotten the meaning of starvation, war, and illness. It was in this period a single man unburied an ancient book and unleashed its power, evoking demons to come forth and destroy all mankind. The game starts out with the main hero (whom cannot remember his own name) in a prison, centuries after the obliteration of humanity. The few survivors are the slaves of the demons, and many are subject to black magic experiments. The hero was the victim of such an experiment, and because of it he now possesses the power to transform flesh into stone, and in his very core, is the essence of a demon.


The story of Back to Stone is fairly entertaining. With a little more attention, it could have been expanded further, allowing players to be more interested in the developments. As a handheld game, however, it does its job and sets the stage for the main idea of the protagonist: revenge. The quest for the aforementioned revenge should take players between 10-15 hours of gameplay, which is good for a portable. In between those hours, players will go through varied terrain, such as deserts, villages, forests, lost cities, etc.


These environments are presented in an isometric point of view, simulating a 3D engine, with a surprisingly smooth frame rate. There also are a good number of cinematics and dialogues with NPC characters. Although these sequences are technically impressive with a good sense of art, it lacks quality in the translation of the text. It is terrible to see misspelled words in a finished game. Pictures and animated sequences are rather nice, and look good on the GBA screen. Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual on-screen characters, including the playable character, the animation is rather stiff and limited on the number of frames. The special effects in the game are satisfying, such as explosions, wind, superpowers, etc. It is a shame it isn’t used more often.


The sound in the game is passable, with its soundtrack not being catchy, and the average sound effects present. This is a category that neither adds nor detracts from the experience, since quite often portable games are played with sound off, either because of where you are, or to save battery life.


Almost certainly the main flaw of the game is its lack of an internal battery. Given the fact that Back to Stone is a portable game, saving should be a breeze, and an easy-to-access feature. This is hardly the case, since all the saving in the game is done by the use of a 10-character-long password, which makes it impossible to memorize and time-consuming to write down (find the paper… find the pen…). This is horrible if you have to shut the system off when it is your turn in line, or for whatever other reason. This is by far the biggest drawback of the software, which makes it look 10 years older than it is.


The mechanics of the game are somewhat original, but rely on a style that is not. Here’s why: your protagonist is in his very core an evil being, and he fights to rid himself of this curse. This could very well be used in a way to make the game very interesting, filled with twists and turns, but it is not. Also, he has the ability to transform all the enemies into stones. Here is where the game draws back to the old formula: push stone blocks on a perfect grid disguised as the background, and with them solve puzzles. Push them on a switch to open a gate, push on a switch to activate an elevator, and so on. In other words, the potential for a truly decent game is there, but it was, for the most part, wasted.


In the end, there is a good amount of material to be seen within this cartridge. Some of it is above average (art style, technical achievement, story), and others are disappointing (sound, mechanics, block-on-grid puzzles). The one truly abysmal flaw is the lack of an internal battery to save the game, which is unacceptable for today’s standards, even more so in a portable system. Back to Stone can be enjoyed by the hardcore action fan, considering you can get past the bland (and erroneous) text, unimaginative block puzzles, and lack of save files.


Final Score: 58%




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