Given the well-known ability of the Evangelion franchise to market and sell absolutely anything to which it puts its name, it's a little surprising that it's taken so long for an Evangelion-based rhythm game to hit the market given the popularity of such titles. Still, it's a case of better late than never as the first two Rebuild of Evangelion movies find themselves used as the basis for developer Grasshopper Manufacture's take on the genre.
The result is Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: 3nd Impact - and no, that isn't a typo, the "3" is pronounced in Japanese as "san" to create a play on the word "sound" while also paying homage to the show's concept of "third impact". Such grammatical pondering put to one side, the game itself makes extensive use of the soundtrack to both Evangelion 1.0 and 2.0, with a number of the tracks from Shirou Sagisu's original background music remixed to both add a little value to the title and make for a more challenging gameplay experience. In charge of this task is Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, but the final product is a bit of a mixed bag musically - there are some terrific upbeat, dance-esque remixes on show across the game's xx levels and the overall quality is pretty decent, but also some decidedly half-hearted efforts that sound more like the original tunes programmed into a MIDI application, giving the impression of being either rushed or done on the cheap.
Of course, you won't simply be sat there listening to the music, and perhaps one of the more notable elements of 3nd Impact is that it tries its best to add variety to its offering by mixing up its gameplay offerings. Essentially, the game sees you taking on each of the Angels depicted in the two movies around which the title is based using the power of music, complete with a proper Evangelion-style "trailer" for each series of tracks you unlock.
Typically, your first task will be heading up the initial military assault against each Angel, as said weird and wonderful being dances around while spewing out "notes" that you then need to match in a kind of "Simon" style. Get too many wrong and it's game over, emerge victorious and you get to mash some buttons to fire as much ordinance as you can at the Angel come the end of the song to gain yourself some points. After this, you're presented with a more introspective (and slightly surreal) task, as you enter the inner psyche of one of the Evangelion pilots set to some ambient music - presented with a kind of cardiograph mixed with a game of Worm, you need to control the "beat" moving across the screen with your joystick while pressing a button to hit marked points on the screen; success in which will elicit phrases of dialogue from the character in question while increasing your view of the video footage from the movies in the background. Frankly, these particular segments are mind-numbingly easily, and by far the weakest part of the 3nd Impact package from a gameplay perspective.
Each section of tracks concludes with a final battle against an Angel, with your rhythm marked out on these occasions by AT Fields on-screen which require combination button presses to ensure that you smash them at the correct time, while certain bonus fields allow you to gain the change to view very short video clips from the original movies, and completion of a battle brings another button-mashing game as you punch seven bells out of the Angel's core.
Further levels of the game seek to shake things up further via games where you need to time an Evangelion unit's jumps in time to the music (as part of the lead-up to defeating Sahaquiel in Evangelion 2.0), or via levels where notes extend down a long trail or via a Blockbusters-esque interface in time with a tune. Complete all of the levels on show, and an additional "hard" mode is unlocked for the entire game for you to try your hand at. Each time you complete a level, you'll find yourself praised (or lambasted) by one of the show's characters, be it Gendou or Misato.
As a big fan of Evangelion's soundtrack for some time now, 3nd Impact has obvious interest for me as any excuse to listen to that soundtrack is something I'll happily grab with both hands, while the inclusion of remixed tracks is undoubtedly pretty cool. Visually, 3nd Impact's aesthetic is a pretty spot-on representation of the Evangelion universe in terms of menu design, while the in-level artwork varies from simple regurgitation of images and video from the first two Rebuild movies through to a few segments which utilise 3D graphics with varying degrees of success - the Evangelion units and Angels look pretty decent in this form, but Mari (the only character to enjoy any 3D screen time) far less so.
Probably the biggest complaint that can be levelled against the game is that it's far, far too easy - even though I'm a bit of a klutz when it comes to rhythm games I breezed through all of the levels in around an hour or so, and although the prospect of a hard mode and fighting for higher scores offers a fair amount of replay value there still isn't much to be getting on with. Given that the film and image footage consists of items that Evangelion fans will have seen before, there isn't really a huge motivator to play new levels either unless you're a huge fan of the franchise's music, in which case I have to admit that getting to play along to some of the tunes or hear some of the better remixes it offers is a pretty big selling point.
For all of its slick menus (most of which aside from the core game instructions are in English, making it easy to navigate but requiring a little guesswork on how to play some of the games) and nice ideas, I just can't escape the feeling that this game was either rushed or produced on a smaller budget than it perhaps deserved. You expect anything with the Evangelion name attached to it to offer something a little deeper and more time-consuming, and although it succeeds in shaking up the typical repetition found in rhythm games quite nicely there just isn't enough content on show to support it. Perhaps had they waited to create a game consisting of music from all four Rebuild movies we might have had more to get excited about - then again, I doubt many of us will still be making regular use of our PSPs by the time the fourth film hits the UK....
Credit where it's due to 3nd Impact's attempts to add variety to its genre, but the game is too short, too easy and occasionally too lazy in what it offers to make for an exciting title to all but the most ravenous of Evangelion fans.