CIMA: The Enemy [Game Boy Advance] – Review

CIMA The Enemy - Game Boy Advance - North American Cover

I’ve wanted to play CIMA: The Enemy since reading about in Nintendo Power around its November 2003 release. It’s a “bucket list” game in that sense, in this case personal rather than universally agreed upon. Initially, it was such a disappointment as my perception of it had been as a more straightforward action-RPG (perhaps in spite of the marketing that touted it as something new and unique). About three hours in, I was ready to call it quits. I planned on writing a scathing first impressions article since my experience to that point had been mostly unenjoyable.  Around this time though, things clicked. My understanding of the various gameplay systems coalesced and I was able to successfully execute plans. It was formulaic to a fault and routinely frustrating but I’m glad I saw it through to the end, if anything for closure.

Opening with a pronoun-heavy exchange between a few characters in a crystal harvesting facility, I was clueless from the outset. The following sequence introduced me to a train full of settlers bound for the frontier and the trio of Gate Guardians protecting them. Controlling the rookie Gate Guardians Ark and Ivy, I had the opportunity to have a brief meet-and-greet with those aboard the train. Naturally, disaster struck immediately afterward. The train was sucked into a portal transporting everyone to the realm of CIMA, hope-sucking humanoid foes. Searching for an escape, the Gate Guardian leading the group sacrificed himself to a foe, leaving Ark and Ivy in charge. While they were able to make it back to the train safely, the settlers weren’t. And so, one by one, Ark and Ivy rescued the settlers from pop-up dungeons created by CIMA.

CIMA The Enemy - Game Boy Advance - Bossin'
Using up to three waypoints I could guide the settlers. In this case, to a switch to solve a puzzle.

Entering with Ark and Ivy (and whoever I’d rescued up to that point), I’d go through a couple floors hacking and slashing my way through enemies, directing the rescued settlers who accompanied the duo, and solving basic progression puzzles. About halfway through, the party would encounter the abducted settler and work to save them before they fell to attacking enemies. Reunited, the expanded party would continue until they reached exit, where Ark would fight the CIMA who created the dungeon (or a summoned creature) and then escape back to the safety of the train. Additionally, after the party had grown to encompass a few members, they’d split up once in each dungeon, leaving me in control of two separate groups. With few exceptions, these events were repeated in every dungeon. It was a nice change of pace playing as different characters and in retrospect, served as preparation for the “all-for-one” final dungeon.

Combat revolved around hack and slash swordplay reminiscent of SNES-era action-RPGs like Sword of Mana and Soul Blazer. Hit detection, especially when fighting bosses or controlling a firearm-equipped character was lacking but I quickly learned mashing the attack button was an effective strategy. Infinitely spawning enemies littered the dungeons and while not generally a threat to whomever I controlled, they could easily kill a settler. I directed the setters’ specific movements (individually or in groups) up to three waypoint s at a time. They’d proceed along the designated path as lemmings, fending off nearby enemies if armed, pressing switches, or frustratingly getting hung up on corners. Guiding the settlers safely from one floor to the next constituted my major responsibility and was quite unique among action-RPGs. Although it could be gratifying, it rarely felt like anything more than a chore and I usually resisted moving the settlers until I absolutely had to.

CIMA The Enemy - Game Boy Advance - Dialogue
Some of the dialogue was dreadfully asinine.

I can finally cross CIMA: The Enemy off my bucket list. Having waited so long to play it I’m a little disappointed by the less than stellar execution of Neverland’s lofty ambitions. Combat was plagued by shoddy hit detection and lacked depth, causing me to resort to tedious but effective button mashing. Bosses were a mixed bag; either nigh-impossible to beat or rarely able to withstand my manic slashes. Fortunately, most were in the latter. Managing settlers was impressive in theory but little more than a chore in practice. Still, as the party grew and the number of settlers increased, so too did my sense of satisfaction after safely guiding them through dungeons. Progression was laughably predictable and the overarching narrative was obtuse. Thankfully, the interpersonal relationships of the settlers were a highlight, in spite of some dreadfully asinine conversations. In the end, closure wasn’t the sole reason I completed the game. Blemishes and all, this was an ambitiously flawed, yet enjoyable, action-RPG that I couldn’t put down towards the end.

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