With the proliferation of specialty cable TV channels, networks which once ran hours of cartoons as a way of kicking off the weekend for children across the country eventually shifted to other programming, and the era of the Saturday morning cartoon show has all but faded from memory.
But Mighty Rabbit Studios remembers.
The result of their reminiscing and nostalgia (not to mention a successful Kickstarter campaign) is Saturday Morning RPG, a JRPG-esque title that pays loving tribute to the 1980’s. This includes Care Bears, The Smurfs, He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and even the Fensler Film parodies of G.I. Joe’s public service announcements, among other pop culture landmarks both within and outside the realm of cartoons.
You play as the teenage Marty, apparently named for the protagonist of Back to the Future, though he looks more like Spike Witwicky from the first two seasons of the original Transformers. The game starts with the Hood (a spoof of Cobra Commander) kidnapping Marty’s girl and laughing at his futile efforts to get her back. Then a mystic entity known as “The Wizard” (clearly based on Lucas from the 1989 film of the same name, Power Glove and all) grants Marty a magical notebook (a Trapper Keeper) which allows him to fight with powers drawn from different items.
No fighting in the halls!
It’s very much like Nintendo’s Mario RPGs, with timed taps and button-mashing items, though not without some flaws. In battle, you’ll often need to charge your attacks, using energy from a meter. It’s difficult to gauge when to tap for defense, which is important for refilling your meter. Even then, the act of charging calls for serious button-mashing– and this can feel unpleasant when you’re mashing on a glass screen.
Incidentally, the items you use for attacks provide more entertaining parodies, including a version of the Care Bear Stare, a Michael Jackson-inspired dance move, and a “Botchanger,” which allows Marty to transform into a giant tractor-trailer and mow down his enemies.
While encounters aren’t random (thank goodness), they tend to be frequent, unavoidable, and rather tough as far as RPG encounters go. Often enemies will get multiple turns before yours, and your finger is likely to be sore in no time from all the charging… unless you ease off, in which case your attacks won’t be as effective. Meanwhile, defending is sometimes complicated by cuts to close-ups of the enemies initiating their attacks, which can screw up your timing.
First, I must reveal my entire evil plan.
Regretfully, the first episode’s big boss encounter (there are smaller encounters with baddies based on Skeletor and Evil-lyn from Masters of the Universe) with The Hood is quite brutal, though surmountable. The problem is that he calls upon these Cobra Trooper-esque minions who are inexplicably as tough– or tougher– than he is. In fact, we took The Hood down with little effort the first time, but the troopers stuck around and posed a much greater threat, eventually putting an end to our resistance.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that continuing forces you to enter battle just as you did before. If you want to try using different items, you have to go back to the main menu and reload your save from before the encounter. And without random encounters, there isn’t really a good way to grind to increase your levels before trying again. Naturally, you can improve your stats through in-app purchases.
Visually, the game largely utilizes a style resembling 16-bit graphics, but in 3D, allowing for turning, zooming, and scaling of the sprites across 3D backgrounds. And the soundtrack is absolutely to die for, with tunes from Vince DiCola, who performed the instrumental pieces from Transformers: The Movie in 1986, and Kenny Meriedeth, who had a hand in such legendary Saturday morning (and weekday afternoon) television scores as X-Men, Power Rangers, and DuckTales.
Based on the first, free episode, we think Saturday Morning RPG has some promise, though those who didn’t grow up in the 80’s probably won’t get as much out of it. Even if you like Saturday Morning RPG’s style, the battles can be really tough and drawn out, so you’ll have to be at the top of your game in both reflexes and finger-mashing endurance to stand a decent chance.