Nostalgia is a powerful force and one look at what's currently on the market for gamers can attest to what a soft spot consumers have for it. The downloadable market is flooded with games that emulate everything from 16-bit RPGs to 2d platformers. Kickstarter has brought us updates and sequels to the games we grew up on and some of the key titles that defined the childhoods of 90's gamers have received HD re-releases. While some games simply play the nostalgia card to give us the warm fuzzy feelings that get us to open our wallets faster than an inebriated middle aged man at a strip joint, others use nostalgia as a vehicle for humor and personality. Saturday morning RPG falls into the latter category.
Following an interesting episodic structure, Saturday Morning RPG places players in the role of Marty, an average teenager who is given a magic trapper keeper by a power glove clad figure called The Wizard in order to face off with Commander Hood. It waste's no time conjuring images of Fred Savage and a certain band of real American Heroes. Each episode plays out like an episode of your favorite 1980's cartoon with some sort of malicious force attempting to carry out a destructive plan and your Hero's journey to thwart their efforts. The episodic structure is actually quite interesting, your level and inventory carries over between episodes and players can go back to previous episodes to uncover missed items and sidequests. Also there are a couple minor cases where something that your character does in one episode carries over in another. The narrative elements are minimalistic but some characters carry over between episodes creating a bit of continuity. The problem is that characters have very little personality, they instead lean too heavily on what they are supposed to reference. Players who are unfamiliar with the source material used to create these characters will find little interest in them and some of the jokes centered around some of these characters read like overused memes.
Unlike most RPGs, Saturday Morning RPG doesn't dwell too much on it's narrative and in instead a bit more focused on combat and it managed to offer a surprisingly robust system for a small budget title. Aside from sharing an acronym with Super Mario RPG, Saturday Morning RPG borrows heavily from the timing based combat system in Mario's first role playing outing. Timing button presses during attacks yields greater damage and timing a button press at the last second can help players avoid major damage. Almost every special attack has some sort of mini game that requires a bit of skill and dexterity to make the most of. In addition, turns can be sacrificed in order to charge Marty up, giving him a damage multiplier. The charge function can be used in one of three ways, the first and most effective requires players to rapidly press buttons to build the multiplier, another requires timed button presses to make the most of the multiplier's potential and finally there is a charge function that requires no interaction but yields the smallest multiplier. Being able to dish out five times the damage in a single turn makes it well worth foregoing an action. Additionally, there are dozens of items and up to five can be equipped--each giving Marty a new special attack. Their abilities recall the abilities that Final Fantasy's Blue Mages are capable of learning and provide a mix of offensive and defensive skills.
The final piece of the combat puzzle comes in the form of stickers and covers for Marty's magic trapper keeper. The cover can be swapped out for a stat buff and up to five scratch and sniff stickers can adorn the front. At the onset of each battle, a fixed period of time is allotted for players to scratch each one of these stickers. Doing so can further buff Marty's stats or debuff your foes. The catch is that the more rewarding the buff or debuff, the more time it takes to scratch the sticker so finding the most beneficial combination of stickers that you can feasibly and consistently activate before each battle adds an appreciable degree of strategy.
The problem with this whole system is two fold, the first of which is that fact that it can make the game exhausting to play. Starting each and every battle furiously smashing our analog stick back and forth to scratch stickers then mashing the A button like a coked out woodpecker in order to gain the highest multiplier become taxing. It should be noted that Saturday Morning RPG was originally designed with phones and tablets in mind so some control input issues are not surprising. The other, more serious problem however is that the game is simply too easy. Anyone who is reasonably quick and has respectable timing will breeze through the game largely unopposed. It is completely feasible to build a multiplier in one turn and knock a boss out with your second action. There is one fight however that is an appreciable test of your skills and ability to strategize to be uncovered.
Rounding out the trip down memory lane, Saturday Morning RPG features a hodgepodge of graphical elements to recall games of the past. Characters are composed of 16 bit style sprites but inhabit a 3d world recalling the look of Paper Mario. The environments are rendered in simple 3D with a cartoonish aesthetic. Unfortunately the environments can appear too simplistic at times with blocky geometry and flat textures. Being a mobile device port, it's not surprising that the tech isn't up to scratch but a little more spit and polish for the PC release could have really given Saturday Morning RPG an invigorating style. Audio is generally strong however with a soundtrack composed by Vince DiCola of Rocky IV fame and Kenny Meriedeth.
Saturday Morning RPG a solid and enjoyable game for those familiar with the pop culture of the 1980's and early 1990's but gamers unfamiliar with the bag from which it pulls it's gags are less likely to be tickled by it's appeal to nostalgia. Even so, the robust combat system and episodic gameplay make it really enjoyable to play and if you feel so inclined, replay. It's just unfortunate that players who want a bit of a challenge have to dig for secret boss fights to find it and that your favorite input device may fall victim to the harsh stick waggleing and button mashing required to play. Even still with a budget price, four complete episodes to enjoy and a fifth and sixth on the way, the good exceeds the bad and if you are of the right temperament, you may even find the experience totally righteous.
Posted: February 24th, 2014