Going back to the early days of childhood, there’s always been a sense of escapism in Saturday morning cartoons. No school to worry about, just good old fashioned animated shows that promoted good values and the idea of anyone being able to save the world if they BELIEVE they can. Saturday Morning RPG embraces this kind of structure through the five-episode campaign that involves a Christmas episode, a trip to space, and much more. Through the turn-based combat, great music and quirky writing comes an extremely charming game that doesn’t always nail the concepts its going for and could’ve used a bit more polish in certain areas, but is definitely worth a play-through for any RPG fan. This is especially the case if you’re a person with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to 80’s movie references.
Graphics: The retro atmosphere was not created by music and themes alone, but by the retro-2D character sprites as well. These character models are mixed in with three-dimensional environments that serve to give players room to run around and explore. Even though these environments do provide a fitting environment to travel through, the lack of detail and sharp textures can stand out negatively from the visually-appealing 2D sprites. Unlike the characters, who were certainly designed with purpose, the environment looks somewhat outdated, especially when examined closely. On the positive side, the many different environments presented throughout the campaign do help add visual variety and easily distinguish particular areas so that the player knows exactly where they are.
That being said, whenever 2D is utilized, it feels well-executed and designed so that the game can maintain the decades-old graphical design without the models looking outdated or lacking in detail. Each character’s emotional reactions can be seen even though none of them have mouths or eyebrows (outside of select bear mascots and Snoozers), which is a testament to the design of the protagonist and the many NPC’s.
The 2D graphics add charm and nostalgia to the game, but the detail-lacking 3D environments hold back the overall solid art design.
Campaign: The story starts with Marty Hall, your average 80’s kid with a hoverboard and a belief in the importance of combating bad guys. Problem is, he’s a bit of a wimp. That is, until he’s greeted by a man known as The Wizard who gives him a magic notebook with magical power within it. Through this notebook, Marty finds the physical strength to go with his courage so that he can proceed to thwart Commander Hood’s evil plans and save the world from terror.
Each episode (except for the first one) starts with the initial setup/calm moments, then proceeds to the action after Marty discovers what’s really going on, leading to the conflict. The stories are typically quite simple, but are presented with charming characters and plenty of side missions to keep players in that particular episode for hours at a time. Each character has something to say and in order for players to get the full depth of each episode, you’ll have to search them out. Not only do they offer up plenty of charm on their own, they contribute to the final grade you receive at the ending of each episode.
The episodes are interesting, very much the “oh no, only YOU can save the world now!” kind of stories, and they’re very fitting to both the game and the 80’s cartoon aesthetic that the developers intended on following. Plot-wise, the storylines are undoubtedly straightforward with few twists and turns. This certainly fits the tone and stories they’re telling, but by the end of the final episode, you likely won’t feel much of a resolution or sense of fulfillment. The game is intended for multiple play-throughs in each episode to raise the player’s level, so it’s purposely designed that way. It may not give players a great sense of closure by the end, but the stories and characters that fill up each story offer plenty of entertainment for the duration of the campaign. If only there were more episodes…
SMRPG is all about turn-based combat that focuses on action-command timing and building up multipliers to heighten damage done to enemies. Every fight starts with you scratching your personally-selected stickers that offer stat boosts like +1 accuracy and -20% enemy health. You’ve only got a set amount of time where you try and scratch as many as possible before the notebook of stickers go away and then the fight begins. Much like Paper Mario, your ability to hit the A button (on the Xbox version) right on contact will guarantee success on the defensive side and the offensive side of combat. Depending on how perfectly timed your block is on an enemies attack, you’ll get a notice that states how good it was, ranging from “bogus” to “righteous.”
On the offensive side, you can charge up your multiplier using the many batteries ranging from a manual charge, quick-charge, and a time-based charged where you press “A” at the last possible moment multiple times to get the best charge. This helps any attack grow immensely in damage. The two kinds of attacks are the normal punching attack and the special attacks that come from the usage of everyday objects. Everything from a basketball to a (not) Transformer can be used in a very creative and visually interesting way so that no item utilizes the same stats and visual-stimulants. For example, I used a floppy disk to completely erase an enemy from the fight AND a Michael Jackson Moonwalk-and-punch combo to knock out the other. These kind of attacks were a great addition to combat as they added more visual variety within combat that would grow rather stale without it.
Each offers different stats with the categories consisting of damage, accuracy, and speed. Both the standard punch and special attacks utilize a great level of strategy and perfect timing. The special items have a set amount of uses that are available in that one battle, but the numbers of uses, as well as your health, will be replenished after the battle. If you lose the battle, you CAN replay it (and there isn’t really a consequence to doing so). Each battle then culminates with a grade that rates your battle based on the damage done, received, and battle speed. The grade will then act as an experience boost so that you can level up quicker and boost your stats.
The RPG aspect of the game DOES add to its depth by adding importance and incentives to each battle and grade as it could lead to you being able to improve your speed, magic (for the special attacks), strength (for punches), and defense. This helps motivate players to find every possible enemy encounter in each episodes (especially when the repetition begins to set in) as it means getting Marty to the best he can be. If you do make an effort to get involved in each battle, players WILL notice the repetitive nature of the battles over time, so be sure to experiment with the items you get because battles definitely feel too similar to one another most noticeably after a long play-through.
In terms of alternative game modes outside of the five episode campaign, there’s the Endless Battle mode that basically serves to keep players on their strategic toes as they must work with their limited amount of special attacks and health to keep on fighting to unlimited rounds. It’s a fun way to flex your strategic muscles even further, but it is limited to this restrictive format and never really deviates, leaving it with a lack of replay value.
The Battle Arena is similar with only a limited pool of enemies to fight against. It’s more of the same and isn’t particularly noteworthy.
Overall, the special attacks and timing-based battles bring great personality to every battle, even if the combat and game modes lack variety.
The major standout from Saturday Morning RPG is the soundtrack. The game’s soundtrack, composed by Vince DiCola of Transformers fame and his partner Kenny Meriedeth, is expertly-utilized and perfectly suited to the game’s visuals and tone. During exploration, the music has a more adventurous feel to it. When the final boss of the episode shows up, the music becomes intense to illustrate the building pressure on Marty. DiCola and Meriedeth’s soundtrack was a terrific addition to the game, and outside of some seemingly missing in-game sound effects (like when a rocket ship silently launches), the sound of the game is well-crafted with extremely catchy music (the end-battle tune that plays after you win a battle is permanently stuck in my brain).
The episodes and game modes are certainly designed to be replayed. The episodes end with the final grade that indicates whether you missed any collectibles, quests, or enemy encounters, leading to some players likely looking to rectify that in another play-through. Gameplay ends up being all about increasing Marty’s level and improving his stats. If that doesn’t interest you, or isn’t a strong enough motivator to keep you playing, then this may be a one-time journey for you. Outside of the side missions that are placed throughout the open areas, additional stickers and enemy encounters just aren’t worthy enough reasons to entice players to return to the campaign. Unfortunately, even though the writing and characters are very entertaining, they don’t exactly offer much motivation to replay through the entire story repeatedly.
Reviewed on Xbox One.