Recently, Konami has truly been introducing a slew of new games to the market, with something for everyone. One of their more recent additions came as something of a surprise, a game called CY Girls. Developed by Konami Japan, the game revolves around two characters, Ice and Aska, and is based off a line of toys (yes, action figures that came before the game, not vice versa) created by Takara. The toy line was popular enough in Japan that Konami decided it needed a video game to bank in on that success...how's that for doing things backwards?
CY Girls is a futuristic action thriller revolving around two characters, codenamed Ice (Cracker in the original Japanese toy line, but given the fact she's a blonde haired, blue eyed bombshell, one can easily figure why they changed her name) and Aska (Ninja in the original Japanese...not the most inventive of codenames, but it tells you what she does). Each character gets her own disc, her own storyline, and even her own style of play. In many ways, CY Girls is actually two separate games in one package, which is actually fairly nice. Ice is a professional 'thief,' typically hired to break into corporations in order to find and retrieve (or destroy) information files, while Aska is a ninja (yes, it's actually kind of comforting to know that there will still be 'ninja' almost a hundred years from now, isn't it?). Ice uses an assortment of guns, while Aska has her handy dandy katana (yes, I know, katanas are samurai blades, not traditionally used by ninja, but if you're going to nitpick everything before even starting the game, then perhaps you'd be better switching on Tenchu).
The one thing both girls have in common, however, is their 'unique' ability to "CyDive," to psychically dive into the world of cyber-space, making them truly elite hackers. Now, neither girl can bring any real world weaponry with her into the cyberworld, but armed with a variety of brawling maneuvers and the addition of special files you can download to increase their arsenal of abilities, this really isn't that big of a problem.
Continuing with the theme of duality that seems to be the cornerstone of the game, CY Girls comes with two discs: Ice & Aska. Yep, each girl even gets her own disc all to herself. Considering that neither girl is really a good "team" player, this certainly makes a certain sort of sense to me. But then again, I tend to like little gimmicks like this.
The game (either one) begins with an introduction to the current state of affairs, a brief sequence telling you about the world, of the day all power across the globe went out for a single day and sent the world into a panic. The game itself begins decades after this, but seems to have recovered just fine, presenting the typical futuristic view of the world towards the end of the century. Depending upon which character disc you are playing at the time, the voice over is done by the voice of the main character, Ice or Aska.
When you begin the game, it also includes an introductory sequence, flicking back and forth between Ice and Aska in stylized action as the opening credits play. If you feel like you've suddenly been thrust into an episode of Charlie's Angels, well, go with that feeling, because the CY Girls are just that...a futuristic agency of gorgeous women wearing skin-tight outfits, kicking butt and taking name.
The opening CG sequence for the two characters quickly introduces just how vastly different the two girls are. Aska's game starts off with her zipping through a forest, alongside her brother, in the 'traditional' "I'm a swift ninja superspeed" moment, while Ice's game starts off showing her in her high rise apartment, caught naked in the shower (with naughty bits strategically hidden behind the shower steam). Aska's first mission takes her through a ninja fortress, while Ice's first mission takes place in a series of corporate offices. If you have the idea that the girls are teammates, well, you're right and you're wrong. They don't know each other at the start of the game, and indeed only Aska is a full member of the organization known as CY Girls, and she's gone rogue in order to avenge the death of her father...yes, I know, another cliché, just go with it for now, okay?
Overall, the opening sequences set the mood for the two different characters and do a decent job at getting you interested in the action. One and a half thumbs up.
When I said that CY Girls seems like two separate games in one, I was not exaggerating at all.
While you're playing as Aska, your primary weapon is the katana, and you are also armed with numerous items such as throwing stars, knives, grenades, and ninja 'specials' that temporarily give you special abilities. Ice is the mistress of firearms, enabling her to wield small, medium, and even large firearms; she can even go forth with two guns blazing, which although it's rapidly entering into the state of game cliche as well, it's still bloody cool. You can freely switch between Auto and Manual combat modes; in Auto mode, you automatically lock on to your targets, while in Manual mode you have to swing the camera and target your attacks yourself. For Aska, it's best to stick in Auto mode, as she has instant kill attacks. When she's above someone and strikes, if you attack someone from behind, or if you hit the attack button at the right time when you're in a group of enemies, it slips into a cut scene of Aska going 'super ninja' and taking out her foes swiftly. For Ice, on the other hand, Manual is definitely the way to go, and it's advisable you get used to it quickly. Ice doesn't have the instant kill super attacks, but a head shot with her guns will take out foes just as quickly. Otherwise, it's going to take a few shots to take out your foes.
Both girls wear special sunglasses, and not just for style reasons (although there's no doubt there's just something stylish about a ninja wearing sunglasses). These sunglasses provide a HUD (head's up display), for target locking and communicating with annoying...er, helpful...voices of people trying to aid in your missions. One nifty little feature of the HUD is that for each targeted enemy, a miniature screen-in-screen appears, showing their actions in blurred pixelization. It's a small touch, but a fairly nice cosmetic one that I greatly approve of.
You'll end up picking up a good variety of different objects, ranging from various types of grenades to shuriken and throwing knives (Aska gets the shuriken and throwing knives, while Ice gets a wider variety of grenade types). They're pretty generous, even in the harder areas, with giving you these little extras, however, no matter how much you collect on one level, you're not able to keep it through the next level. On one hand, this encourages you to use it if you have it, but on the other hand, there were many instances where I didn't need to use anything (such as the objects to restore health), collected a bunch of them, but then had to start the next level with just the basic starting out allotment I'm 'assigned' for the mission. I would have preferred getting less in game, if it meant that I got to keep them from one level to the next.
One advantage that Aska has over Ice is that with her sword, she is able to execute a guarding maneuver, which blocks all attacks coming at her from the front. A meter in the lower left hand of the screen keeps track of the how much she can block against, before she is unable to block any more. Objects in the game enable her to restore her Guard Bar, which is good as there are some areas in the game that you're going to need every inch of that bar.
The advantage Ice has over Aska is in her variety of weapons, most of which she picks up from fallen guards through the game. From single pistol to double pistol, to submachine guns through rocket launchers, Ice is definitely a girl with a gun fetish. But to date, she's also the most graceful gun fighter I have seen in any video game yet. She can run and fire behind her, aiming beneath her arm; dive forward and land flat on the ground, firing away like mad; if she's knocked down on her back, she can lift her arm and fire, roll over, or get up. It has to be some of the most fluid third-person gun fighting I've yet see any game company successfully pull off.
In an interesting twist, about half of the game takes place in cyberspace, via both girls unique ability to "CyDive." Mentally projecting themselves into cyberspace, the girls deal with an entirely new environment. However, in this case, instead of thinking Matrix, go more with the Tron vision of cyberspace. No, I'm not kidding. Tron. Straight lines, funky pixelated security programs, even down to the glow emanating from the girl's costumes: Ice in Blue, Aska in Red. My first thought in seeing Aska in glowing red was 'BLOODY HELL! It's She-Master Control!' And yes, that makes Ice 'She-Tron.' Most amusing.
In cyberspace, the two girls play pretty much the same, with only a few cosmetic differences (Aska uses martial arts-style combat, while Ice is more of a brawler). As you progress through the game, the girls find and download new ability files, giving them an increasing variety of special moves they can execute in cyberspace, such as higher jumping, bursts of speed, paralyzing security programs, breaking through barriers, and the like.
Many of the locations are shared between the two girls, as each moves through her own series of missions. The story is linear for both, however, so don't expect to be able to choose where you want to go, or what exactly you are doing. You have an objective, or series of objectives, and you will do them. Otherwise, you will end up running around the same level for hours, fighting endlessly respawning enemies, and gnashing your teeth in frustration as you try and figure out what exactly you need to do next. Oh. Wait. Expect to do that regardless.
The character animations of the main characters, Ice and Aska, are very nice. But considering they're the focus of the game, that's to be expected. The animations and graphics for the goons and villains, however, are a bit stale and flat; nothing truly all that extraordinary. Most level design is also similarly rather bland, with a few notable exceptions, such as a rather stunning (and blinding) effect of sunlight glinting through an office window as you enter a long hallway lined with windows. There are some other nice atmospheric effects, such as speed blurring and trace fire from ammunition, but unfortunately the level design is mostly uninspired, particularly in cyberspace, where everything is just skeletal mapping of the level accomplished with green or blue lines that make navigation a bit difficult at times.
For different parts of the game, the girls are attired differently, ranging from a ninja outfit to spacesuit for Aska, and infiltration and prison garb for Ice. Later on, after completing the game once, you can go back and replay your "favorite" levels, choosing what attire you want to wear, so if you really wanted, just for giggles and grins, you can have Aska wearing a space outfit as she infiltrates the ninja fortress.
The FMV scenes are crisp and smoothly animated, with lovely lighting and graphics, but for the most part they aren't really anything that sticks with you for long afterwards. Pretty, but like a marshmallow, it's mostly just more fluff.
Music & Sound
Aside from the opening credits sequence, with a suitably pop melody (that I've already forgotten, so it's not really memorable), there is the typical subdued atmospheric music at appropriate moments in the game, particularly when you are in cyberspace. Largely forgettable, I'm afraid.
The voice acting of the main characters is nicely done, with Aska having just the faintest hint of an oriental accent, without it being an overpowering, stereotypical bad accent. Some of the voice acting, however, is...well...if you play through the introductory mission for Aska, with her brother constantly chiming in on her head's up display (via the sunglasses the CyGirls wear)...well, his voice gets annoying after awhile, and you begin really looking forward to the point where he's going to get captured and killed. (Trust me, this isn't a big spoiler...and if it is, where have you been for the past 20 years? Remember that word, cliché? Clichés are clichéd for a reason!) Some of the other various voice actors varies from being annoyingly cheerful to liveable, but as they have the nasty habit of repeating the same 'hints' over and over and over and over and over again...well, you get the point.
The only extras I've discovered in the game, thus far, are unlocked after you complete the game. By beating Aska's story, for example, you unlock the ability to go back and replay any level in the game, either as Aska, or as her arch nemesis, an evil male ninja. Now, considering CyDiving is a vital component to solving pretty much every level, and only the two main characters are theoretically capable of doing it, I'm wondering how this works, but I haven't been curious enough to actually try it out. The level selection is actually rather nice, however, as it gives you the ability to control a number of variables for the level, even down to the point of which costume the character wears (if you are playing Aska or Ice).
It's a decent little extra bonus, but I'd be more inclined to say screw playing the game levels again, I just want to watch the movies again. But that doesn't seem to be an unlockable that I've yet to discover.
Now, you can play this game on various difficulties, but after beating the game once and discovering the twisted story, you're probably not going to want to play the same character again. This is where the two different characters, on two different CDs, with two different playing styles, different objectives, and the like comes in very handy. Instead of playing Aska a second time, you can play through the game as Ice, finding out the other half of the story, using guns instead of a sword, doing different missions and going to different locations. Although some of the locations are the same, you are often put in a different section, and definitely given different objectives and tasks to do. The replay value, in this way, is excellent. But playing the same character through the same set of missions a second time? Well, I don't see any advantage to it, but your mileage may vary.
CyGirls is a decent game. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It's a good distraction, and has some very interesting story elements and plot. I wouldn't put it up there on my Top 10 releases for 2004, but it might be there in my Top 25.
That said, if you want some decent hack-and-slash/third person shoot-'em-up, then pick up CyGirls. If for no other reason than these "Cool Girls" could outclass Charlie's Angels with their hands tied behind their backs.