Saturday Morning RPG
Developer: Joystick Labs
Publisher: Limited Run Games
Release Date: 26 April 2018
Price: $9.99 / £7.19
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Nostalgia a powerful force. One look at the Nintendo Switch's library will attest to the soft spot we have for old-school style games. The eShop is flooded with titles that emulate everything from 16-bit RPG’s to 2D platformers.
Kickstarter has brought us updates and sequels to games we grew up playing, and key titles that defined us as gamers have received HD remasters or remakes.
While some games simply play the nostalgia card to give us warm and fuzzy feelings that open our wallets fast, others use this nostalgia for humour and personality. Saturday Morning RPG from developer Joystick Labs falls into the latter category and it’s all the better for it.
A Blast of Nostalgia In Your Face!
Following an interesting episodic nature, 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 against ‘Commander Hood’. The story wastes no time in conjuring images of Fred Savage and a certain band of real American heroes. Each episode plays out like a TV show of your favorite 1980’s cartoon with some malicious force attempting to carry out a destructive plan, and your hero's journey to thwart their efforts.
The episodic setup is quite interesting as your level and inventory carry over between episodes, with players able to go back to previous episodes to find missed items and side quests. There are also a couple of minor cases where something that your character does in one episode carries over into another. The narrative elements are minimalistic, but some characters feature in several episodes creating some continuity.
The problem is that many of the characters don’t have much personality and instead lean too heavily on their pop-culture references. Players who are unfamiliar with the source material will find little interest in them, and some of the jokes centered around these characters play out like overused memes.
Unlike most RPG’s, Saturday Morning RPG doesn’t delve too much into the narrative, instead the focus is on a surprisingly robust combat system. It borrows heavily from the timing based combat system from Super Mario’s first role-playing experience. Timing button presses during attacks will allow Marty to perform greater damage, whilst well executed presses when defending can help him avoid major damage. There are also special attacks that require a mini-game involving skill and dexterity to properly execute.
Scratch N Attack
In addition, turns can be sacrificed in order to charge Marty up, giving him a damage multiplier. This function can be used in one of three ways. The first, and most effective, sees the player rapidly tapping buttons to increase the multiplier. A second variation requires well timed button presses, whilst the third charges automatically, but offers a much lower reward. Being able to dish out five times the damage in a single turn makes it well worth foregoing an attack.
There are dozens of items to acquire, and Marty can equip up to five different ones to unlock a new special attack. These abilities are akin to those of the blue mages in Final Fantasy, and provide a mix of offensive and defensive skills. Lastly, the final combat mechanic involves stickers collected while adventuring which are stored in Marty’s trapper keeper, the cover of which can be swapped for stat buffs.
Up to five stickers can adorn the front. On the onset of each battle, a fixed period of time is allotted for the players to rapidly rotate the analog sticks in order to scratch the stickers, and in doing so, grant buffs to Marty’s stats or debuffs to his foes. The catch is that the more powerful the effects are, the more time it takes to scratch off the sticker.
When Michael Jackson Meets Footloose
The problem with allowing so many combat systems in play is twofold. The first is that it can make Saturday Morning RPG exhausting to play. Starting each and every battle furiously rotating the analog sticks back and forth to scratch the stickers or repeatedly pounding the face buttons to increase a damage multiplier becomes rather taxing. I guess it should be noted that Saturday Morning RPG was originally designed with mobile devices in mind, so some control input issues are not surprising.
A final, and more serious problem, is that Saturday Morning RPG is just too easy. Anyone that is relatively quick and has respectable timing should have no trouble breezing through all the episodes. It is completely feasible to build a multiplier in one turn and knock out a boss with your second action. There is one fight, however, that provides an appreciable test of your skills and requires you to strategize.
Rounding out the trip down memory lane, Saturday Morning RPG features a hodgepodge of graphical elements, recalling games of yesteryear. Characters are composed of 16-bit styled sprites, but inhabit a 3D world that looks similar to the Paper Mario series. 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 it doesn’t look the greatest, but by and large, the graphics still get the job done. The audio design is generally strong with a soundtrack composed by Vince DiCola of Rocky IV fame, and Kenny Meredith.
Overall, Saturday Morning RPG is a solid and enjoyable lite-RPG for those familiar with pop culture of the 1980’s and early 90’s. Gamers unfamiliar with the source material, however, are less likely to be thrilled with the nostalgia-driven direction the game takes. Even so, the robust combat system and episodic gameplay make it fun to play through, despite a few niggling shortcomings. If you have the right temperament, you may find the experience totally righteous.
Pros & Cons
+ Clever callbacks to the 80s and 90s
+ Robust combat system
+ Episodic nature aids the story
- Environments can be bland
- Gameplay can get a little repetitive
- Not much in the way of challenge