As someone who was born with only 12 days remaining in the 1980s, I missed out on the boom that was Saturday morning cartoons. Growing up, I still had them sandwiched in between SM:TV Live or Dick & Dom in da Bungalow, but by then, the whole premise of them being shown on a Saturday morning was in decline. Saturday Morning RPG is an attempt to jump-start the nostalgia of waking up at 7am to run downstairs, switch on the family CRT and, what would now be referred to as, binge watch cartoons until your parents woke up. All presented in an episodic RPG adventure.
Back when this game launched in April 2012 on iOS, it featured just two episodes. But like any good cartoon they have been able to churn additional ones out and the Xbox One version contains all five episodes that are currently available at the moment. In the game you play as Marty, a teenager who lives in the fictitious Shadow Valley. One night, in his dreams, a cool looking wizard gives him a notebook filled with magical power. Power he needs to wake up and save his girlfriend from the evil Commander Hood. Then he wakes up, and his girlfriend never was his girlfriend, just a girl in his high school. However, the magical notebook was indeed real. He takes it with him to school but inadvertently triggers the release of Commander Hood at his schools bake sale. The rest of the game continues on as Marty tries to take down the now very real Commander Hood and save the world.
The game is presented as a traditional RPG with a main quest for each episode and lots of side quests, the latter of which involve running back to earlier areas on fetch errands. There are the occasional secret area with a mini-boss to fight, but these only really offer padding to flesh out the episodes.
Throughout his adventure, Marty can collect special ‘scratch and sniff’ stickers to adorn his notebook with. These provide buffs at the start of each fight to help him or debuff his enemies, all provided he can scratch them quickly enough by spinning the left thumb stick round. Other inputs that can occur during a battle are quickly mashing the ‘A’ button to increase the damage multiplier, or timing button presses to block attack or boost a critical hit. These inputs certainly add extra layers to the turn-based attacks and while they can really help if you get them spot on, you will just as quickly find yourself in hot water if you keep missing them.
All this is a moot point however considering the major flaw with the battle system: the random number generator of the damage aspect has a range so large that sometimes even with the multiplier over 4.5, the damage exacted is less than 10. It can really throw any tactics you have out the window with what is on the whole a good twist of a turn-based system.
With that said about the battle mechanics, the overall difficulty is fairly easy, especially through the main story. There are Arena battles and Endless battles that provide a decent challenge away from the five main episodes, but after a while in the main story you do develop a complacency with the battles because they come around too quick and are too easy.
Aside from the gameplay, Saturday Morning RPG incorporates an unusual graphical style. On the field screen, all characters are re-created in 16-bit whilst the field itself is in real-time graphics. But then in the battle screen all characters are designed with a bit more detail and depth to them, but still retaining the 16-bit style.
In keeping with the 80’s theme, there are dozens and dozens of pop culture references, each funnier than the last. Once you reach Episode 3, you are able to visit the town of Shadow Valley. Walking round this comparatively large area had me giggling away at all the shop names. This is where the charm in the game lies, as there can be blatantly obvious references, or well-hidden and obscure ones, and it’s a joy to find one of the obscure ones (like a speech bubble appearing from a rock named Chris).
Overloading on the 80s now, but well worth mentioning, is the soundtrack. Created by Vince DiCola, who was responsible for the animated Transformers movie, his soundtrack to Saturday Morning RPG helps bring the 80’s vibe even more alive; if you were to shut your eyes and just listen to certain tracks you would be able to picture which scenario they were being used for simply because they fit so well. This game is so 80s it hurts. The only thing missing from it is a mullet.
Even the achievement list is chock full of 80’s references, whether that be a famous person from the decade or a memorable film quote. There are 85 achievements in total, with plenty requiring multiple playthroughs of episodes, some times as many as four, with a few more traditional achievements for winning a certain number of battles, levelling up Marty, and performing special attacks whilst in battle. None are particularly taxing but they can be a bit of a grind. Some are currently glitched however, but developer Mighty Rabbit are aware and have promised a fix. However, for the price of $10 (not currently available outside the US) this game is a bit of a steal. Even blitzing through the main story should take around eight hours, which still offers a fair deal for the price you are paying
If being a kid in the 80s was half as fun as this game was then I need to get on the phone to the Doc and build me a time machine. Sure, the battle mechanics may not work all the time, and they get tedious after so long, but it has real humour in almost every aspect. It’s one of the very few games that has actually made me laugh out loud. Humour is perhaps the one things games have continually struggled with on the whole, but Saturday Morning RPG nails it. The story is interesting enough to keep you invested because of the wide range of characters that transcend all genres and for the price you really would be a knucklehead not to pick it up.