Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-10-22 16:19:40
Rockstar's Finest: Austin Powers: Welcome to my Underground Lair
Rockstar Games have made a lot of gems in their time: Grand Theft Auto; Red Dead Redemption; and Bully, to name a few of their most popular IPs. But back at the turn of the new millennium Rockstar released an absolute gem that puts their other games to shame: Austin Powers: Welcome to my Underground Lair, a game that pushed the Game Boy Color to its limits in terms of its mind-boggling ambition and its crazy online features.
Anyone thinking that the GBC couldn't support online play clearly hasn't played Austin Powers - the game allows up to four players to battle cooperatively via a local or internet connection across sixteen colourful arenas. Austin Powers is a real-time strategy game that sees players control one of four factions: The Henchmen, British Intelligence, Studio '69 and The Clones. Each team has a variety of unit types to choose from: The Henchmen, for example, have typical foot soldiers, with 'hero' characters such as Number 2. British Intelligence has heroes such as Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell. Studio '69 has Goldmember, while The Clones has Mini-me.
Players will mostly be using basic unit types, but occasionally hero units can be sent in to wreak havoc. Austin, for example, can use his iconic 'mojo' to stun opponents briefly; Mini-Me, on the other hand, when fighting alongside Dr Evil doubles his stats, making him the perfect buff unit. Astonishingly, the levels are full of different terrains and represent various places from across the Austin Powers universe, including Austin's pad and the Moon Base. These areas are easily identifiable, despite the basic graphics the GBC could render, and each boasts some of Rockstar's quintessential cheekiness. There are more than a few tongue-in-cheek references to the movies, as well as past Rockstar games.
Austin Powers: Welcome to my Underground Lair is a surprisingly meaty package. There is a lot of game crammed into such a small cartridge, and it may be the only good RTS game on a handheld system until the much more powerful DS system. Austin Powers plays a lot like a Tower Defence, with the ability to set up walls and traps for other players to stumble into. Dominance is the name of the game, and destroying your opponent usually results in a funny quote from the film (which sounds hilariously crackly coming from the GBC's speakers).
With loads of style and plenty of things to do - the Endless Rush mode is as addictive as Tetris - Austin Powers may just be the perfect overlooked game. That it was made by Rockstar is incredibly interesting, as very few people know of its existence, nor consider it to be a landmark title in the history of the GBC. After playing it, however, I can't think of many games that were so ambitious, or made better use of a movie license. That Rockstar worked on it sweetens the deal - it's easily their finest handheld game, and, perhaps, the best game they have ever developed. Period.