With all the excitement of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS I haven't had much use for my trusty old Game Boy Advance. Despite the fact that it houses some of the best portable games of all time it just sits there on my counter collecting dust. But now that I have Juka and the Monophonic Menace I have finally have a reason to wipe the dust off and sit down with my Game Boy Advance.
These days Juka is kind of an anomaly when it comes to GBA titles. Now that there are more powerful portable game systems on the market it seems like the only GBA games to hit the market are either sequels to popular franchises or games made around licensed properties. Juka is neither; it's a fresh new adventure game that actually manages to offer a few fun game play innovations while telling an interesting story. This may not be embraced by every type of gamer, but I have a hunch that the younger set will eat this game up thanks to its cute characters, easy puzzles and engaging action.
As the title implies, you play as Juka, a young Alchemist in training who must use his powers to save the world. What are his powers? Well, he appears to be proficient at concocting a bunch of different potions that will take out enemies, alter the environments and solve a lot of puzzles. As the game player you actually have to use the right ingredients to make these potions. As you progress through the game you gather the various ingredients from all around the world, such as shaking trees, diving in the water and so on so forth. If you have enough ingredients you will pull out your backpack and dial in the quantity and push a big red button. If you do it right a potion will be added to your inventory, do it wrong and you get to start all over. Thankfully you won't have to remember how to perform all of the potion instructions; you have a notebook that you can pull out at any time to refresh your memory.
Creating potions isn't the only thing Juka has going for him, he also has this cool weapon called the Sound Staff. This staff allows gives you the power to literally absorb sound waves, which comes in handy when battling all of the enemies/machines scattered around the world of Obla. At first Juka isn't excited about going around and saving the day … but he has the Sound Staff, who else is going to do it?
Obla is a world that just got out of a giant battle between good Alchemists and Dark Alchemists. As the game starts Juka learns that a lot of his fellow townsmen and women have gone missing. To make matters worse, soldiers are starting to patrol the surrounding areas and they don't take kind to people getting in their way. Concerned that something sinister is at play, Juka decides to head out and get to the bottom of this mystery. Soon enough he uncovers an evil plot by one of the only remaining Dark Alchemists and must use his potions and Sound Staff to restore order to Obla.
When you see a game like Juka and the Monophonic Menace it's easy to be reminded of The Legend of Zelda series, but Orbital has done an excellent job of keeping this game fresh and original. Although the look and art style is somewhat similar, the actual game play and story couldn't be further from Nintendo's classic franchise. Certainly Juka takes a few cues from past adventure games, but for the most part I found that this Game Boy Advance game was different enough to not make it feel like I had been there dozens of times already.
On top of that, the story in Juka is extremely important. At least, that's what they seem to suggest with all of the cut-scenes full of dialog. Every few minutes something important will happen that will trigger a scene where two (or more) people talk for a few minutes. This tends to keep the story moving along at a brisk pace. While we're not dealing with the world's most exciting storyline, the plot is interesting enough to keep your attention from beginning to end. Some may get turned off by the non-stop dialog, but Juka does a good job of keeping you engaged with the plot.
Speaking of non-stop dialog, you perhaps it's time to introduce you to the game's single most annoying character: Bufo. Bufo is a talking frog that will contact you whenever he feels like it via a wireless radio. The problem is that Bufo needs to find a new friend, because he is contacting you all the time. There are moments in the game where it feels like he talks just because he likes to listen to his own voice (not that there's any voice acting in the game). He'll just go on and on and on about completely pointless subjects that could have been summed up with a lot fewer words. This would be fine if you could skip his non-stop chatter, but you can't, and you will quickly grow to despise Bufo and his boring comments.
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