Review: Saturday Morning RPG

Sometimes you come across a game that just misses the point. Either in its execution of systems, attempt to ape a bigger game, or the purpose of a given story type. Saturday Morning RPG is such a game, and while it has some entertaining stuff and a distinct sense of humor, those points it misses are too glaring to ignore.

The setup is simple, you play a guy who likes 80’s Saturday morning cartoons. If you’re of a certain age, think things like G.I.Joe, Transformers etc. You play as Marty, who is given a magic notebook that grants him the ability to fight using various objects as weapons, as well as his fists. This being an RPG, fighting is the primary mechanic of the game, the problem is, it sucks.

Most RPG’s, especially turn based ones, gradually ramp up your abilities and weapons as the game progresses, giving you the capability to take on ever more difficult foes while also selecting buffs and power ups from a menu. Those power ups might be a higher form of armour to increase your health, a fire imbued sword or a potion that grants a temporary bonus.

Here, those bonuses are granted via scratch stickers, obtained as you play. When you engage in a combat encounter, the first screen you are shown is the one containing all the stickers you currently have equipped, and you have a set time to scratch them before the games moves you into battle. When I say scratch, I mean it - you have to rub the Switches touch screen as fast as you can or move the left stick just as quick. You will never scratch all the ones equipped, and you will never find an upgrade that grants longer time on this screen.

This is compounded by the fact that each one comes with a scratch rating, so the better the sticker the longer it will take to scratch. It means that adding a decent modifier to your health might take up most of your time on the that screen, not allowing you to use any others, but then you can’t pick which ones you can scratch first, you place all the stickers you have, the screen pops up and it will just decide which one is the first one you can use, so any strategy that might come from careful use is thrown out of the window.

Once you get past the stickers, you are in proper combat, which is turn based. There is a series of icons at the top of the screen that shows you who goes next, and you have various options open to you. Marty has the ability to ‘charge up’, giving him a multiplier to his attacks. There are a few problems with this, most notably it screws you over.

The idea behind powering up at the start of a fight is sound, but it takes turns to do that and you only get so much of the stamina meter needed for it. To get a full x9.9 multiplier can take three of your turns, by which point enemies are already attacking you and in the late stages buffing and debuffing you. Sure you get to unleash that first attack at an elevated power, but with half your health gone, accuracy lowered, attack lowered with burn applied and the enemies with increased HP, increased accuracy and increased attack you might take out one of them max, even with a multi hit attack.

This doesn’t get better over the course of the game either, that same loop exists at the start as it does at the end, and can mean you have to restart basic encounters multiple times. If you had the ability to heal on a regular basis it would have worked better, but you don’t. There are items that grant healing, but it is a max of three uses and the only one I found as a 25% heal. It helped, but wasn’t the full heal that would have helped in the tougher encounters.

Things you pick up in the environment count as weapons, so there are some obvious ones that do not obvious attacks, like the sword that calls down a lightning strike, and some not so obvious ones. The pencil compass, care bear and straight up Optimus Prime are examples of the some of the crazier weapons, all the while ramming home that 80’s pop culture reverence that is the games bread and butter.

You can block attacks with a well timed button press, which also gains you back some meter to power up, but that isn’t telegraphed as much as needed and the amount gained back is minimal for most attempts as all but the most well timed blocks will grant any kind of decent restoration. Even then though, the block mitigates most damage not all, and if the turn order works out that the enemies have a bunch of turns stacked up (it's rarely 1v1) it can still cause you problems.

Missed points are most evident in the combat. You can find slightly more powerful weapons in the environment, but not without exploring every inch, gaining nothing but XP from winning fights. This is a creative choice and I get that, but RPG’s should provide a continual sense of getting better. Traditionally, this is due to a fairly steady rate of new weapons and gear, though recent years have seen it become getting to grips with controls and frame priority. Either way, you get better over time.

I never felt more powerful in Saturday Morning RPG. Even after several hours with the game, Marty was about as powerful as he was when I first started, and the weapons never became that “Ama gonna mess you up!” spectacle that the best the genre has to offer provides. It made the combat worse than boring - it was a slog.

Having said all that, there is a sense of humour to everything that makes it a light and airey affair, it's all dumb, with the types of baddies you found in fact find in cartoons back in the 80’s. From the Cobra Commander styled Commander Hood to the takes on various Transformers, it really does nail the 80’s nostalgia kick. I am just sad that the game wasn’t a better RPG, developers Mighty Rabbit Studios concentrated just a little too much on the style and nostalgia rather than nailing a quality, if short, RPG.

If the 80’s tinge tickles your fancy, there are certainly worse ways to spend your time, just don’t expect a game that delivers on power fantasy, that game could exist, but isn’t this. Instead you get a few hours of time wasting, but nothing that will stick with you.