“You’ve got the touch! You’ve got the power! When all Hell’s breaking loose you’ll be riding the eye of the storm!”
Do you know the title of the song? Did you hear it in your head when you read this? Were you singing the song with? If so, then you definitely want to step inside, as this game was made just for you.
Story: It is the 1980s, and Marty is just a normal high school kid getting by in his classes and taking it day by day. He has all the normal interests of the day from playing radical 8-bit video games to a crush at school. But one day his entire life is turned upside down as a guy known only as “The Wizard” gives him a totally awesome trapperkeeper and through this piece of school equipment magic powers, turning him from just some normal guy instantly into the toughest guy in school.
But nothing of this nature comes without a cost, and it isn’t long before Marty has also gotten the attention of Commander Hood, leader of Hood, an evil organization bent on taking over the world. Come! Follow Marty’s adventures as he squares off with his new nemesis in this exciting new series!
Does this sound like the kind of cheesy description you would see on a VHS box about the cartoons of the 80s? Because this, just like everything else in the game, is doing it’s best to emulate that. The plot of this game is divided into 4 parts, each meaning to be an episode like the old cartoons, complete with an origin story that gets all the “boring” stuff out of the way so they can have fun with a new and bizarre plot every week. There is very little to tie each episode together, so there is really nothing to keep any one of them from making sense on it’s own. But at the same time, nothing big picture EVER gets resolved, and like so many cartoons of the day, there is no real ending to the plot… just room for more episodes should the developer feel like making them for DLC. So, if you are coming here expecting a full story with a complete ending, you will walk away VERY disappointed.
However, if you came here for the feel of and nod after nod to the 80s cartoons, you came to the very RIGHT place. This little game comes packed with so much nostalgia it is amazing! The enemies and friends you run into are all either fellow high school kids or blatant knockoffs from the biggest cartoon franchises of the day: GI Joe, Transformers, He-Man, or Carebares… well almost. There are a few exceptions to this rule in the last episode (which is Episode 4), but even that is a blatant Christmas special like we used to get in these cartoons for every holiday! And while the overall story is virtually non-existent, the writing and detail this is done with will make anyone who remembers growing up back then smile.
Graphics: Saturday Morning RPG is a rather odd mix graphically, choosing to use 2D sprites for all the characters and items, but a 3D rendered world for them all to be in. Back in the early 90s, this worked rather well for the FPSs we all played, but I think they handled this just a little better then, between a consistent resolution across the board and the fact that enemies always were flat to the camera. This game doesn’t quite get this right, as the game itself will render to the resolution of your screen and use it to the fullest with some of the best details to get a chuckle out of you. In the mean time, it leaves everyone feeling very low-res by comparison. The game world is also rather simplistic looking to be quite fair. It just seems rather empty at times, but then I guess we should expect that, considering this game actually released on iPad before it came to PC. Still it is worth noting.
What is also worth noting is the entire thing changes when you get into combat. Suddenly, everything fits together perfectly between character and background as the fight suddenly reminds you of a cross between fighting games and old-school RPGs. The characters are huge on the screen with a loving detail to retro style carried across all the sprites, while the background is a 2D image of the area you are in, often complete with bystanders (both enemies and friends) cheering you on like this is Guile’s level in Street Fighter 2! Add this to the exceptionally well animated attacks (and in your case, nostalgia driven ones) you and your opponents will use and you get an awesome tribute to the past! Suffice it to say when the action is happening, the game looks instantly better.
Sound: This right here is one of the big reasons I both backed this game on greenlight and bought it the day it came out. Simply put, I heard a sample of the soundtrack in the trailer and it sounded like the battle music from Transformers: The Movie. Suffice it to say, when I found out the game’s dedication to it’s theme included getting the man behind that music, Vince DiCola, to do the entire soundtrack, I couldn’t be happier about that… and he did NOT disappoint! If you have a fond-ness of these old scores, you will love every note this game offers you, as the entire game is full of music that could have been added into that movie and you just might not notice the difference. Fantastic job!
Sadly, there is no voice acting at all, and the sound effects are a lot more standard. Still, the variety even there is amazing for an RPG. There will be explosions, lasers pewpewing, swings of blades, whoosing of pencils, the “awe” sound of carebare stares, the shattering of glass, the windows bootup sounds, and likely a lot more… and that’s just in ONE FIGHT! While these guys seemed ok with using rather standard quality sounds, they had no problem cramming as much as they could to keep everything individual as literally EVERY WEAPON YOU BRING INTO COMBAT HAS IT’S OWN SOUNDS. It’s just a shame that there is literally no sound effects to go with the music while in the maps.
Gameplay: Saturday Morning RPG is, of course, an RPG title, and as such, most of the game will take place while either fighting enemies or wandering around the maps. These maps are for the most part nothing more then places to explore between points A and B. There are no random encounters in game at all for starters. Instead every enemy will either be standing and waiting for you to get close enough to start a fight or patrolling, in which case you can try to sneak behind them for a sneak attack and the related bonus at the start of the fight.
Everyone else will simply begin speaking when you get close enough. You can then choose to continue the conversation by hitting the button (in my case A as I was using my 360 controller for the game) or simply walking away. A few quests you can get this way have multiple paths and you choose them basically by this same mechanic. Case in point, there is a side mission where you go into a back-room where the cafeteria gruel is stored and you are given a choice: collect or destroy it. The person you talk to once Marty thinks about having a choice decides which way you go about it. It’s a rather clever way to be blatant about the choices without breaking the immersion with a “Yes/No” screen.
The game also doesn’t leave you blind (for the most part) about where to go for any quests either. At any time there is a defined direction, you will have at least one red arrow at the edge of the screen pointing you where to go for the main quest of the episode. In addition, if you have selected a side quest from your trapperkeeper, you will have blue arrows of the same nature, ensuring you are never wandering around aimlessly. This is doubly important since, as I said before, this game has no random encounters as wandering aimlessly would simply bore most players.
And that trapperkeeper is absolutely key to the game. Opening it up, you will have your standard in-game menu waiting with a save, a place to see your achievements, and to access the main menu of the game, leaving this session for now. In addition there are 3 tabbed pages. The first is your stats such as your health, your defense, or strength, your speed, and your magic power. It will also display a bar for your experience to show how much more you have to go before you get to your next level.
The second and third, however, are far more important to how the game plays, as they are your inventory and your quests. Your inventory is divided in half where the top half contains up to 5 items you will take with you into battle. These items will decide what special moves you have as well as how many times you can use them so choose carefully. These will completely change the way you fight and actually add a very high degree of depth to the game. Your quests tab is not as interactive, but equally important, as it will tell you what the central plot is as well as let you pick which side-quest you are getting directions for (if available) right now. Even the outside of your trapperkeeper is important as, changing the skin or stickers you put on it will offer bonuses while in combat. All of this is also collectable and stays with your character throughout the game.
But all of this is not what most people remember about RPGs. Rather, it’s the fight system and bosses that they encounter that will stick with them for gameplay, and Saturday Morning RPG will not disappoint, but it will surprise. When entering battle, you will be greeted with Marty running to meet his opponents, only to have the screen snatched away by the cover of the trapperkeeper and the command “scratch” at the bottom of the screen. You will then use the control indicated to scratch and sniff your stickers as fast as you can, gaining the bonuses for each one you succeed at before the time is up, adding a balance to the design of the game: the best stickers often take the most time to scratch.
Once done with this, you will be greeted with the main screen. At the top will be the health bars of all characters involved as well as a picture based display to show who’s turns are next. In addition, Marty’s side will also have a blue “magic” bar. At the bottom of the screen, there will be a multiplier number.
When your turn is up (usually first), 3 icons will be over Marty’s head: a battery, a fist on fire, and a fist. The battery is actually the option that uses your magic bar and opening it will give you 3 options: Charge with a button mashing mini-game, charge by just automatically charging, or charge by a fill the bar timing mini-game. Whichever you choose, you will spend magic to increase your multiplier. This can stack by multiple charges in a row up to 9.9X, and is actually a multiplier to the effect of whatever the very next thing you do is (in most cases).
The fiery fist, on the other hand, will open your special moves. You will have one for each item in your inventory you have equipped for a maximum of five. When you use one of these items, you do the special move it represents, using your current multiplier up to boost how strong it is. This can be anything from health back for eating a cookie to transforming into an 18-wheeler and literally running over your enemies. In addition, each item also has a different way it functions. Some will just flat-out do whatever the move is, while others will use a Quick-Time Event to effect how much you hit. Yet others will require you to mash the attack button over a short time to charge it up or even time a single button press to decide if you hit or miss. There could be many many more, as the items you get, find, or can buy seem to be random and I highly doubt I’ve seen everything this game has to offer in this territory. However, these weapons all have an additional balance and it shows in below their picture in the form of uses. You can only use a given weapon a maximum amount of times in a single fight as determined by the item. I’ve seen ranges of 1 to 6 on any given item.
And finally, if you have no other option or think it’s a better move, you have a normal fist, representing a normal attack. This can also use your multiplier but will also earn you magic power back if you hit.
When the enemy’s turn comes up, the battle becomes a timing game, as the better you time hitting the A button on the controller to defend the less damage you take from the attack. In addition if you time it best, you can even deflect most projectiles (read not bullets or lasers), sending them back at the enemies to make them take damage instead! But perhaps more importantly since it happens for melee and projectile, good timing while blocking will earn you back magic power you can again use to power up in your next turn.
Bugs: For my entire time playing this game, I ran into only one bug. Once when I loaded a saved game, I found the background music did NOT load for the map I was playing. Leaving the map caused the music to come back on the, both for the new one and when I came back to finish my quest, so it was clearly not a major issue.
Overall: Saturday Morning RPG is everything it promises to be when you see the store page on Steam. It is a love-letter to the pop-culture of the 1980s and has no apologies to offer for that. As an RPG game, it both is amazing and disappointing at the same time. The gameplay itself is surprisingly deep and something I can not recommend enough, but at the time, it is very short for RPGs (I finished it in about 8 hours) and the overall story falls very flat.
If you look back fondly on an 80s childhood, this is probably a game you should get your hands on, as you will enjoy it. If not, the strengths and weakness of this RPG kinda makes it a toss-up. But for the price, it just might be worth giving a shot anyway.