Saturday Morning RPG Review
“No Risk, No Glory”
This game was reviewed using an eShop code provided by Limited Run Games for Nintendo Switch.
The 1980s is a place to which I’ve never been. I missed it by a couple of years. I had Star Wars, Transformers cartoons, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, and He-Man, but I had them all after the fact. Any ’80s nostalgia I might have is entirely from an academic perspective. For the folks at Mighty Rabbit Studios, however, the 1980s seems to serve as a repository for only the most cherished childhood memories.
Saturday Morning RPG is a love letter to everything 1980s entertainment, for better and for worse. As its name implies, the game borrows its formula from the Saturday morning cartoons of the ’80s. It’s divided into distinct episodes; each episode has a beginning, middle, and end where the hero must overcome a different villain of the week; the writing is as earnest and cheesy as one might expect; and there’s even a Christmas special. The main difference here is that this Saturday morning cartoon LOVES other Saturday morning cartoons and won’t let you forget about it.
If you weren’t a fan of Ready Player One’s near constant references, Saturday Morning RPG will be a tough sell. It can get to be a bit much. For example:
Hey, how about another?
This is just a taste. The game is built on these references and, frankly there’s not a lot else here to keep you going. The biggest incentive to keep going is to read the little jokes and see all the dialogue and it often doesn’t measure up to its responsibility. There is a limit to how many times I can say “Ah yes. I remember Gremlins.” This kind of thing will, of course, very in effectiveness from person to person, so I’d recommend potential players do some soul-searching to determine whether they’d dig it or not.
Each of the game’s five episodes lasts somewhere between 45 minutes and two hours, depending on how completionist you are. While there is a season-long plot that connects the episodes, each one is largely self-contained and has the credits roll at the end. While I would have liked a bit more cohesion, making the game feel like one epic journey rather than five discrete, small ones, being able to play one episode in such a short amount of time is nifty. There aren’t too many RPGs you can knock out in an hour and the Switch thrives on that length of play-session. It’s worth noting that the episodes were originally released one at a time over a period of multiple years when the game was still on iOS, so it was designed to be played with a bit of a gap between episodes.
If you don’t dig the plot, unfortunately the battle system isn’t quite robust enough to carry the game. Mechanically, the game functions like an early Paper Mario title. Battles are turn-based and the player-character, Marty, has three main options. The first is a standard punch that Marty can always use for free but does almost no damage. I’ve found that this is mainly useful for stalling while waiting for the enemy to do something. The second option is to use an item. These can do a significant amount of damage, heal Marty, or bestow buffs or nerfs. The third, and most interesting, option is the charge mechanic. Instead of punching or using an item, Marty can opt to spend a turn increasing his damage multiplier in order to release a powerful attack on the next turn. While interesting, this action proved problematic in an unusual way.
There are rhythm-based commands to execute in the middle of battle that can be used to augment damage dealt or taken. Usually, these commands are either pressing a button at the correct time or rapidly pressing a button as many times as possible within a short window. Charging Marty’s multiplier can be done a few different ways, but the most efficient by far is to do a minigame where you must push the A button as many times as possible within a period of about three seconds. This is probably an odd complaint, but I hurt my arm doing this.
In order to one-shot basic enemies (of which you will fight many), you will have to use the rapid-press charge mechanic and be good enough at it to get a multiplier of at least 5.0x. This means that you’ll have to push the A button at least 40 times in three seconds, multiple times per battle. I found this to be doable enough by bouncing the controller between my fingers and thumb so that my thumb hits the button and my fingers send the controller back to my thumb, but it is absolutely exhausting. As of writing, I finished the game over 24 hours ago and my arm is still sore. Sure, I could have done this less and still have won most fights in the game, but that would be the difference between one-shotting an enemy and two- or three-shooting them, which would make the fairly repetitive battles last even longer. Every battle is won simply by charging the multiplier and then using a powerful, single-target attack on each enemy. There are very few shake-ups throughout the game, so incentive for elongating these encounters is low.
When played in portable mode, there are touch screen controls available and, while I didn’t use them too often, I’m sure that this is the optimal way to play the game. This tapping system is one of a few remnants of this title’s beginnings being on iOS. Another is the visual style, which I honestly love. I need to stress that the game looks much better in motion than in screenshots. The very low-poly backgrounds propping up two-dimensional sprite characters is charming in its hand-craftedness, just as much as its kitchy dialogue and playful story. In fact, the area in which the game shines the most is how earnestly and unflinchingly human it is.
Key personnel involved in the development of this game also work at Limited Run Games, a publisher house that focuses on bringing low-budget indie titles to physical release. Limited Run, by design, will never make millions on a title. In keeping with their name, they only make a small amount of each physical game they make. While I’m sure they do well enough for themselves, what they do is done out of a deep sentimentality for what they love and this is reflected wholeheartedly in Saturday Morning RPG.
Three weeks from now, I probably won’t be thinking about the endless references or its basic, repetitive battle system (unless my arm is still sore). I’ll be thinking about how in love with the source materials that the folks at Mighty Rabbit must be. The references aren’t just there to test the player’s memory; they are there because they are loved. It’s abundantly clear that everything in this game is the way it is because it’s a distillation of some other thing the creators genuinely enjoy.
This is not the most solid RPG on the eShop, nor is it the best story-focused indie game, nor does it pass a requirement that I’ve been seeing more and more recently that a game must at least be about one hour per dollar spent. It is, however, sentimentality, compressed and distilled into game-form. Games can do a lot and, frankly, this one doesn’t do much. It does have a parody of Mayor McCheese, though, and I’m inclined to think that’s pretty special.