By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on October 26th, 2016. Also available on PS4, PS Vita, and Steam
Developer: Mighty Rabbit Studios Publisher: Mighty Rabbit Studios
Let’s face it. These days the “retro” is all the rage. Even though games are getting bigger and better with each generation that passes us by, we still have the occasional desire to reach back into the past to try and grab hold of glimmers of our collective childhoods and shape them into new “retro-style” game releases. The trademarks of this style usually include a combination of pixelated graphics, chiptune soundtracks, old school gameplay difficulty, and most likely a healthy dose of pop culture references about the time period being emulated. And why not? As human beings, we take a lot of comfort in the familiar, so it makes sense for game developers to try to create something that can evoke feelings of nostalgia in the players. As a child of the 80’s, Saturday Morning RPG hits all those high notes.
Saturday Morning RPG tells the story of Martin ‘Marty’ Michael Hall, your run of the mill, average high school student. That is, until a mysterious stranger called The Wizard (who looks like he’s wearing an NES Power Glove!) gives him a magical notebook that bestows him with equally magical powers. Now Marty must use it to fight the dastardly Commander Hood (no relation to Cobra Commander) and his forces of evil whilst protecting his hometown, Shadow Valley. The game is made up of five different episodes, each with a self-contained story. All of your data carries over from one episode to the other, with enemies scaling to your level so you can actually complete them in any order you feel like doing them in. I recommend playing them in the order they are numbered in, though. The way the episodes are laid out have a good flow to them as is. There are two other game modes you can play to earn extra money and experience, called Arena Mode and Endless Mode. Arena Mode lets you chose a challenging enemy to fight, but as of this writing, there are only two battles available. Endless Mode has you fighting waves of enemies, one after the other until you die. At best, the two modes provide a minor diversion to the main game, as they are very light on content.
There are a ton of 80’s pop culture references in this game. Every fiber of Saturday Morning RPG’s being is completely saturated with them. Even the main character’s name is a riff on two of the era’s famous cultural mainstays; Marty from Back to the Future, and Anthony Michael Hall, known for his role in John Hughes classic coming-of-age dramas, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, among others. Even in the achievement list, there are plenty of references to be found. Some of my favorite achievement names are: You’ll Get The Horns, Total Protonic Reversal, Wild Stallions, and 16 Candles. Extra points to the readers who get all those references without resorting to Google! Honorable mentions go to the achievements that can be earned by winning a certain amount of battles. Win 50 for the Lundgren achievement, 100 for Van Damme, 150 wins for Stallone, and last but not least, 250 wins for the Chuck Norris achievement. All those subtle, and not so subtle pop-culture nods and a heck of a lot more are sprinkled liberally throughout the game just waiting to be discovered.
As a role-playing game, there are plenty of familiar elements in Saturday Morning RPG. I mean, come on. It even has RPG in the name, so you should have a pretty good idea what to expect. Taking control of Marty, players will explore the environments in and around his hometown in a top-down view. The graphics are made up of pixelated character sprites in a 3D environment, which gives the game a clean look while simultaneously keeping the retro feel. Enemies roam around the map and combat is initiated when they are bumped into, you can get an attack multiplier bonus if you can sneak up on them from behind. Beating enemies nets you some experience, and money that you can use to buy items from the vending machines scattered around the various locations. When leveling up, you can choose one of your stats to increase, somewhat similar to the Mario and Luigi games on 3DS. If you want to earn some extra XP and cash, there are some eccentric characters to be found in each episode that offer some downright strange sidequests, from defeating Christmas-themed spirits to helping a group of robot mobsters find a replacement for the lead singer of their band.
Combat is an important component of any RPG. I have seen RPGs with perfectly good stories ruined by sloppy, uninteresting combat. On the other side of the coin, I have seen RPGs with subpar stories saved by having a great battle system to draw people in and keep them playing. This is why I always tell people (at least anyone who will listen) that combat can make or break an RPG. Saturday Morning RPG does a great job of keeping players invested in the battles with some mechanics taken straight out of Super Mario RPG. This game uses a form of active time battle system, with your speed determining how quickly Marty gets to attack. Your basic attack is a punch, and just before you strike your opponent a gauge pops up. This is where the game starts getting all “Super Mario RPG-like”. Depending on where you stop the marker on the gauge, you can either do normal damage, extra damage or miss your attack completely. When enemies attack you, you also have a chance to lessen the damage with a well-timed button press.
Now, in most RPG’s you would have armor, weapons, and accessories to equip, but this isn’t your average RPG. Instead, Marty can equip up to five everyday items to use as special attacks in battle. Through the magic of the notebook they gain powers so they can be used against your enemies. Most special attacks have their own minigames, such as pressing a button at a certain time or mashing the buttons to fill up a meter up for more power. Each item can only be used a certain amount of times per battle, the number varies from item to item. In battle, you have the option to charge up your attack multiplier by expending your mp(magic points). You can do this by choosing one of three charging options; a quick charge that increases your multiplier by a set amount with no minigame needed, or one of the other two, which require either button mashing or pressing a button at a certain point of the gauge for bigger gains. You can level up the attack multiplier up to a maximum of 10x so you can really smash your enemies for a lot of damage but be warned, your multiplier resets to 1x after one attack, whether you hit or miss. You can also make small gains in the multiplier by making good or better-timed attacks and defenses, but it also drops a little each time you make a poorly timed defense. Mastering the timing of the defense prompts and attack minigames will go a long way to helping you survive.
There isn’t much item management to worry about here, after every battle your hp and mp are restored, and your status effects are cleared. While exploring you will come across items to help customize different facets of your notebook and give you even more of an advantage over your lame enemies. You can change the cover picture of the notebook, each cover giving you a plethora of different bonuses such as extra health, defense, or experience. Another interesting feature is the scratch stickers. You can place up to five different stickers on the cover of your notebook. Each one can enhance your stats, grant you experience or monetary bonuses, debuff your enemies in some way, or... do completely nothing. At the beginning of each fight, you have only a precious few seconds to rotate the left stick as fast as you can and scratch off the stickers to activate each bonus they represent. Each sticker has their own scratch difficulty, the better the bonus, the longer it takes to scratch. It’s better to mix and match high and low difficulty stickers so you can get them all scratched before the time is up.
The pulse-pounding soundtrack was composed by Vince DiCola and his partner Kenny Meriedeth, and it just screams “Saturday morning cartoons”, which is no surprise, as DiCola was the composer of the original Transformers cartoon movie from 1986, not to mention other famous classics from the same time period like Rocky IV and Staying Alive. It provides the perfect backdrop for Marty’s wacky adventures. When all is said and done, Saturday Morning RPG is a nostalgia-filled road trip to the 80’s and back. It doesn’t take very long to finish, certain episodes can be done in one sitting, even with all the sidequests involved. It’s a perfectly fun, bite-sized RPG, which is a nice change for people like me, who are used to plunking down 40 hours+ in other RPGs that aren’t even half as entertaining as this one. So if you’re a lover of all things 80’s, or simply a person who loves role playing games but is strapped for time, pick up this righteous RPG and rock it like it’s Saturday.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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