The eighties. Although as a child born in 1991 I was never able to experience that particular decade myself, its remnants made up the bits and pieces of my early life nonetheless. The radio was still abuzz with one-hit-wonders like a-ha's "Take on Me" and Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny," my mother somehow forced me into watching every John Hughes film, and the cartoons — oh, the cartoons — were alive and well on our 32" Toshiba tube TV. Every Saturday morning, my siblings and I could watch adventures unfold, heroes emerge and villains be brought to justice in the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats.
Saturday Morning RPG is an eighties cartoon that plays out on your present-day TV. To hammer the point home, the structure is in the form of episodes, of which there are five. When the game was originally launched on PC, the episodes were released one at a time. Here on Xbox, we have the luxury of playing them all back to back. Since Saturday Morning RPG is a video game that is not shy about paying homage to the cheesiness and outrageousness of decades past, we're willing to accept, embrace and even love this cliche.
Its premise is just as preposterous as any children's television show. In a dream, the completely-average high school kid Marty Hall is given a magical notebook by a mysterious (and righteous!) guy named The Wizard, because the evil Commander Hood has stolen Marty's dream-girl. Marty uses his newfound powers to vanquish the Commander and save the day, but there's one problem. In the morning, when he wakes up from the dream and goes to school, Marty discovers that he still has the powers that were granted to him by the magical notebook and the maniacal Commander Hood actually is trying to take over the world.
Just like it is Marty's key to success, the magical notebook is also the player's guide to the game. It's your hub, where you'll keep track of everything from your stats to your items, and even the quests on which you are currently working. The game uses it to gently introduce you to the interactive combat system, which you can customize to your playstyle by equipping different items. Each battle begins by asking you to scratch off your scratch 'n' sniff stickers. You can have five of these equipped on your notebook at any time and there are over 160 different varieties to find. They each come with a stat boost, or perhaps an enemy de-buff, and you only have a limited time in which to scratch them.
Hmm, what would be more helpful here, a toilet or a half-eaten gingerbread man?
Whichever stickers you managed to scratch off during the time limit will be active during the battle. There is a catch, though; better stickers take longer scratch off. There's almost no chance of you scratching off five high-rated stickers, so most likely you'll end up with a mix of a couple of really good ones and several basic stickers that provide minimal buffs. Every battle starts out fresh and new. If you finished the last battle with just a scrap of health remaining, or all of your items were used, you'll automatically be back up to 100% health with full items in the next engagement.
The combat itself is turn-based and interactive. Instead of just tapping a button to activate an attack, you'll be frantically mashing every button on your controller to fill up your multiplier, breaking your joysticks to get that last sticker scratched off, and perfecting the timing that is needed to block the various enemies' attacks. There are two bars to which you need to pay attention, your health bar and your power bar, and management of each is key. With an empty blue meter, you won't have any energy to boost the damage of your attacks. Without any health, you'll die and have to retry the fight. It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the turn bar in the top-center of the screen. Depending on the speed of your character and enemies, you might be able to take several turns before they attack you, or vice versa.
Marty is clearly versed in film and TV cliches
If you don't like all of this interactivity, the game does have a set of options that range from no-interactivity to full-on button mashing. For example, boosting your multiplier can be done in three different ways: simply pressing a button that will up the ante for you, using a gauge-based system where you watch a meter fill up and press a button when the meter fills, being careful not to let it go back down, and also the aforementioned button mashing. That said, the game encourages interactivity. Mad button-mashing skills can gain a multiplier of more than five, whereas using the "just press the button" method won't even get you to three.
The same goes for weapons, of which there is no shortage just like stickers. Some just activate and go, whereas some require you to press as many buttons as you can. Some require pressing with impeccable timing, whereas others might ask you to press a designated series of controls in succession. Aside from weapons, you can also use your trusty fisticuffs, which will just require you to time the attack.
Buddy, can't we talk this out at lunch? I'm late for math class...
The items that players can use are varied and often hilarious. They are all seemingly random objects, like a pack of fruit-flavored gum, a floppy disc or a stuffed animal. Only basic information is provided about each item, like how many times you can use it per fight, or if it's a weapon or defensive item. However, it won't tell you exactly what it does, so you'll be left to your own experimentation. This leads to some chuckle-inducing surprises and references. I shot my own eye out with a BB gun, a la A Christmas Story, and gave Jenny (from the Tommy Tutone song) a call on my cell phone mid-battle. She was surprised to hear from me, but proceeded to chat with me using lyrics from the song while my opponent waited.
Although the combat is fun at first, items are exciting to try and the battle is never particularly challenging (after completing the game, I didn't even have the achievement for dying 20 times), it gets to a point where there are so many lengthy fights that it becomes grueling. Almost all enemies require players to build up some sort of multiplier to be able to kill them. As it gets later in the game, every fight pits you against multiple enemies at once, causing even the simplest of battles to become tiring. Toward the end of the game, I found myself sneaking past enemies because I was frustrated with this incessant battling.
Dial numbers during battle for practical or completely impractical reasons
Alongside all of the combat, you'll be exploring Marty's hometown, Shadow Valley, and other locations to which the story takes you. Here you'll be helping and talking to the kind folk along the way in the form of quests. Completing quests, battling and exploring all earn experience that goes toward leveling up. Leveling up means that you can increase one of your stats, such as magic, defense, strength or speed, making combat more favorable to you. Exploration will reward you with new stickers and items.
The quests are quite standard fare — talk to this person, talk to that person, defeat this individual in a battle, fetch two or three of these. The quests can become repetitive and I felt pings of exasperation every time that I'd have to backtrack through five loading screens to complete some fetch quest or other. They will probably not entertain you so much as will the dialogue that is earned from each quest. There is no voice acting in the game; all of the dialogue is in written form. However, the soundtrack is so excellent that it took me an hour before I realized that no one had said anything yet. The game is also dripping with references. The aforementioned Jenny is just one of the famous numbers that you can dial on the cell phone, and A Christmas Story is just one of the many films that earns a mention somewhere in the dialogue or combat. To give away any others would be spoiling so many smiles for future players.
Robot car things! My only weakness!
Aside from the campaign's five episodes, you can also try your hand in the game's two other modes, which are Arena and Endless Battle. Arena will have you facing off against buffed-up versions of your favorite baddies from the episodes. Endless Battle is just as it sounds -- choose your items and stickers and get ready to fight until you drop against increasingly-difficult opponents and groups of opponents. Unlike the story mode, health and power will only be minimally-refilled after each battle and your item uses are limited. Although these extra modes do add some play time, especially if you're an achievement hunter, they're not varied enough to want to revisit over and over again.
To earn all 85 of Saturday Morning RPG's achievements, you'll have to complete all five episodes, test your skills in the Endless Battle and Arena modes and collect all 168 stickers. You won't just be playing each episode once, though — some quests have two or more achievements attached to them that all require completing the quest in a different way. Then there are achievements like Hood Genocider, for killing 400 Hood Soldiers (a particular enemy type). I didn't even crack 100 killed on my first playthrough. I also didn't hit level 20 on my first run, and there is an achievement for obtaining level 50. With how much replaying of the episodes is encouraged, the game is in dire need of a solution to skipping dialogue aside from just rapidly clicking the button.
How come I never had an arch-villain in high school?
There are also dozens of achievements for experiencing certain things within the game, like dialing numbers on the telephone, utilizing a particular weapon and even a time-specific achievement for a battle that only appears after 11 p.m. real-time. Grindy achievements aside, the list is fun, but do be warned that there is one unobtainable achievement as of this writing. The May's Report achievement is not unlocking upon completion of a quest as it should. The developer, Mighty Rabbit, has acknowledged this on social media and have stated that they are looking into a fix, so hopefully this isn't one that we'll have to write off forever.
SummarySaturday Morning RPG's welcome nostalgia trip to the eighties provides five fun episodes and two bonus modes for its players to sink their teeth into. Although its combat eventually grows tiresome and its quests verge on lackluster, the well-written dialogue, outstanding music, constant infusions of humor, and nonstop pop culture nods keep it from feeling like it overstays its welcome. If turn-based RPGs and throwbacks to decades past pique your interest, it's easy to put aside the game's flaws to justify a purchase at only US$9.99.
- Experimenting with weapons is a blast
- Well-written dialogue loaded with humor and references
- Great soundtrack
- Budget price
- Combat eventually becomes tiresome
- Uninspired quests
- Unobtainable achievement as of this writing
EthicsThe reviewer spent over 12 hours throwing floppy discs, nuclear weapons and rainbows at her opponents. All five episodes were completed along the way, earning 50 of the game's 85 achievements. She has proved herself in both Arena and Endless Battle, and is currently working on replaying the episodes to experience the multitude of quest endings. An Xbox One digital code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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