Saturday Morning RPG – What We Think:
Zip up your footie-pajamas, pour yourself a big bowl of sugar-coated, marshmallow-infested coronary time bombs, and strap in for hours of televised excitement. Saturday Morning RPG hearkens back to a time before cartoons were available on demand: You got up at 5 AM and sat, with your eyes glued to the cathode ray tube until the credits for the last toon rolled, and the boring old news came on at noon.
This was your time! You had to fill it with as much content as possible, because it would be a whole week before you could repeat the ritual.
SMRPG will likely induce some chuckles from anyone who grew up mesmerized by the weekend cartoon fare in the 1980’s. It’s bright, it’s loud, it’s colorful…and it takes great license with basic common sense. But why let that get in the way of a good time? It takes loving swipes at some of the most recognizable icons from the era, incorporating them all into a hodgepodge that gels surprisingly well.
It also lays an audible high-five on the outstretched hand of any inner child who ever dreamed that he could rise up to stand beside his garish, ridiculous heroes and fight the good fight.
These Dreams Go On When I Close My Eyes
The game opens with Marty asleep in bed, with the TV still on. The first chapter is his dream sequence in which he has been called upon to vanquish the evil forces of Hood (think Cobra, but safe from Hasbro’s lawyers). If he can’t accomplish this feat, the love of his life will for forced to marry Commander Hood.
The first battle results in Marty getting soundly trounced, as his lame punches barely manage to inflict any damage on his foes. Suddenly, the Wizard appears! He has taken time out from schilling shoddy gaming peripherals to bestow an ancient notebook on Marty. Suddenly, a selection of powerful magical and physical attacks are at his disposal. This gives Marty the fighting edge he sorely needs!
The first chapter is brief, offering up only a couple of side quests that are easily completed. Marty awakens from his dream, thinking nothing of his conquest in Slumberland…until he realizes that the notebook is still in his possession. His powers have come with him into his waking life!
At first, it’s implied that administering a sound comeuppance to some local bullies will make for an adequate use of these skills, but with great power comes some crazy over-arching quest in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and Saturday Morning RPG has that angle covered! Marty’s travels will pit him against the real life forces of Hood…who just happen to be his high school teachers.
Note Tote-ally Radical
If you attended school in the lost decade known as the ’80s, you had at least one notebook like Marty’s (if only in appearance). He can customize this most sacred of tomes in various ways. By switching out the cover page, a overall bonus is applied such as a +2 bonus to strength and defense. At the top of the book are five scratch-and-sniff stickers that can be interchanged with stickers found while questing.
Each battle will provide a 5-second-long opportunity for Marty to frantically scratch at these stickers. Succeeding in fully scratching will buff his own stats or debuff those of his foes. The rarer the sticker, the bigger the boost…though rare stickers will often require more scratching to activate.
The action plays out as a standard JRPG turn-based affair, though with some solid improvements. Cross the path of an enemy onscreen to enter a battle (there are no random encounters). Marty has a set amount of hit points at the beginning of each confrontation. Losing them all will result in a loss, but they are replenished at the beginning of each fight.
Marty has a standard punch attack, magical attacks, and a charge booster to select from at the beginning of each round. He can equip 5 magic attacks, and each of has a finite number of uses per battle. Additional magic spells can be found in various spots in the game, and some can be purchased from vending machines. To switch the attacks Marty employs, change them out in the Notebook between battles.
The magic abilities serve up some of the biggest laughs. In your travels, look for items that will release the powers of Rainbow Brite, Care Bears, and even Top Gun (to name but three). There are more than a dozen to discover, and each one results in an hilarious animation when used in combat. Destroy an enemy with a specific attack and an additional outlandish fatality sequence plays.
Boosting your attack power takes a turn, but it also increases a damage multiplier. Why lunge forward with a normal attack when you can put some stank on it in proud Super Saiyan fashion? Some healing items also benefit from a higher multiplier.
Highway To The Danger Zone
The battle sequences are more engaging than the JRPGs of yesteryear. For example, rather than selecting “defend” as an action, the player can throw up a solid defense by hitting the action key as a foe launches a strike. This not only diminishes the force of the impact, but also replenishes some magic points.
Many of the magic attacks will also initiate a mini-game. These might involve precise timing, mashing a button as fast as possible, or repeating a series of commands. Successfully completing these will greatly increase the potency of the attack. For those who lament the traditional downtime in JRPGs that occurs between selecting actions and having them play out, it adds a welcome sense of urgency. The effectiveness of all aspects of your confrontations contribute to your end of battle EXP bonus.
Mighty Rabbit Studios has created a ridiculous world in which the episodes take place. The town seems to be a send up of Back To The Future‘s Hill Valley, though it can seem a little sparse (this is by no means a sandbox game). Within this tiny burg, all of the beings – human, animal and …miscellaneous – all co-mingle freely. Your heroes are all here…in spirit, anyway. Yes, the Care Bears are referred to as the Share Bears and the Transformers are known as BotChangers, but it’s always clear what intellectual property is being lampooned.
Each chapter is completely self-contained; though the stats, inventory items and stickers associated with your save file will travel with you, there is no reason to approach the episodes in any particular order. Just as an episode of your favorite cartoon shows had a beginning, middle, and end that were all shoehorned in to a tight 22 minutes, so too is each chapter of SMRPG a complete story unto itself.
You’ve Got The Touch
As if the grand neon illusion wasn’t solid enough, the game’s soundtrack is written by Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth. DiCola is best known for his work composing the soundtracks for Rocky IV and Transformers: The Animated Movie. Meriedeth has contributed to the soundtracks for a number of cartoon programs such as Duck Tales, X-Men, and many others. The cheery, synthesized background tracks do as much to rekindle youthful memories as the numerous adept character homages.
RPG: Rightly Punking the Genre
This is certainly not the first game that spoofs gaming conventions and lampoons pop culture at the same time; Retro City Rampage also took on the icons of many past eras, while Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch – though it also aped more recent pop-culture – took a hearty slap at the structure of JRPGs (links are to our reviews).
On both counts, SMRPG makes for a more cohesive effort. By focusing the scope on this specific entertainment time frame, the theme of weekend fantasy is never lost or muddied.
Here Comes A New Challenger!
If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that the main game is far too easy. There were only a few occasions where a foe bested me, and in some cases I had allowed my focus to shift away from the game when I should have been tossing up my guard. Otherwise, opting to charge up before unleashing attacks and having a health bar that auto-replenishes at the start of each skirmish will ensure smooth sailing for anyone familiar with RPG games.
Fortunately, for those who crave more of a challenge than that offered in Story Mode, the game also features Endless Mode and Arena Mode. Endless pits Marty against wave after wave of foes, replenishing health and magic points slightly between rounds based on his combat performance.
In Arena Mode, bizarre mutations of existing foes take up arms. These titans hit much harder than their in-story brethren. As further incentive, both modes will net you EXP points that are added to your save file.
I Love Saturday Morning RPG. It’s So Bad…
Aside from the instructional first chapter, you can expect to get a couple of hours out of each subsequent installment. The humor is scathing, and will likely cause you to question why you ever held such reverence for your childhood role models. For fans of role playing games and retro weekend toons alike, Saturday Morning RPG is a welcome break from a far too serious week.