By Phil Schipper / September 10th, 2014
|Title||Terrian Saga: KR-17|
|Publisher||Digital Tribe Games|
|Release Date||July 9, 2014|
There’s an indie ideal in some circles of going back to gaming’s retro roots. But then there’s Terrian Saga: KR-17, which takes it to a whole new level. Welcome back to the early 90’s, folks. What we’re looking at could have been a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis title, easily, but it is, in fact, a throwback that came out recently on the PC. Does it live up to the quality it’s trying to emulate?
When you look at the trailers (ignoring the rapping for a second) the first and most obvious connection is to the Mega Man series. It is, indeed, a side-scrolling platformer that focuses on robots shooting each other. Running, jumping and firing lasers is pretty much the way you would expect, but there are also some actions that are a little more specific.
Besides your normal Laser fire, the robot you play as (KR-17 himself) is equipped with four different secondary weapons. The first, though, is often the most useful — a Grenade that KR throws at a slight curve. It explodes either on impact or after it’s done rolling, but, either way, its ability to get over low walls makes it a great complement to the Laser, which only fires sideways. The second is a brief Flamethrower blast, which is powerful, but extremely short-ranged. It also fires directly to the side like the Laser, so it doesn’t add anything new really. The other two are slightly different types of Mines. One detonates by a second press of the button, and the other detects enemies touching it and you can place more at a time. Most enemies block your path more than pursuing you, though, so there are just not many times you’ll use them. The Grenade just feels like the only secondary weapon you want.
There is one more way you can take out targets, and, in some situations, it’s actually required as a sort of puzzle. Meet J1M, KR’s little rocket assistant. Besides being your companion and spitting out tutorial information at you, J1M can also be used as a weapon. Upon firing, your controls shift over to controlling his path in the air. There’s no limit to how long he can stay in the air, either, as long as you don’t crash him into anything. This makes him the perfect weapon a lot of times, and the only way you’ll be able to reach certain areas to blow open a new path. However, firing him once costs three units of energy — your secondary weapons take only one — so, unless you are standing by a refill station, it’s important to use him sparingly.
The other main control is the Jetpack. If KR-17 has the Jetpack, he can use it to float around the stage with no worries about it ever running out of fuel. Obviously, you want to get that. But it’s not as simple as a normal upgrade. Possession of the Jetpack works on a level-by-level basis. In some levels, you’ll be required to grab the Jetpack in order to finish them. In others, they’re optional and either make it easier or give you access to some hidden gears (purely completionist items scattered around everywhere). There are some levels that have no Jetpack at all, and even some where you start out with it and have to focus much more on avoiding damage. What it does is consistent, but the reason for it changes.
There are other things to find in most of the levels. Colored key cards are scattered around, often in hard-to-reach places, in order to open matching doors. Meanwhile, you may see some objectives in the top-left, objects you have to find and interact with before the exit will open. Some objectives are mere buttons to press, others are objects you have to destroy, and they may or may not explode. While the key cards tend to limit what you have access to in a level until you have all of them, the objectives can be done in any order. Of course, some are on the way to the end anyway, but both of these conspire to make levels a little more complex than just a trip from Point A to Point B.
Speaking of journeys, you may be wondering what exactly the story of Terrian Saga: KR-17 is. In the beginning, we are presented with a tale of warring planets. The enemy is coming for the human race, so we prepare to send out an army of robots. Unfortunately, this fails miserably, and all of them are taken by terrorists when they capture the base. All except for the one that failed to activate at first and didn’t go onto the battlefield, that is. KR-17 is the one who simply lucked out, but there’s no clear reason why he alone should be able to tackle everything ahead of him. It’s also kind of unclear what the journey has to do with this exactly–you are shown a map between each major zone, but all you can see is that you’re taking a roundabout path around this island.
Smaller story moments are like this, too. There are few other characters or actual intelligent enemies, so all dialogue is basically KR and J1M yelling at each other. It might be something like “Holy cow! That giant spider is destroying that bridge!” or “We need to destroy the oil pumps before they pollute the ocean!” These interjections serve the gameplay of certain levels very well, but don’t come together into a very cohesive narrative in any sense.
By the way, the giant spider I mentioned is a real moment and it introduces the first, er, “boss” in the game. It’s an example of what roughly half of the bosses in this game actually do. In that stage, the spider plows through a long sidescrolling area quickly, occasionally causing explosives to fall and destroy a column of blocks. Some of these blocks are what you have to stand on, requiring you to move quickly, while others are barriers in front of you, so you can’t get too far ahead of the process. At the end, the spider runs into an obstacle and is defeated simply because you won the “race.” While there are certainly bosses in this game that you must fight the traditional way — using KR’s weapons and dodging attacks — this isn’t the only time you’ll be simply surviving in a boss fight. While these areas are fun, not having a chance to actually fight them feels like a wasted opportunity.
OK, so my complaints on this game sound pretty big so far. But, considering what this game sets out to do–give us a sort of cheesy, over-the-top blast from the past in this genre–maybe they don’t hold that much weight. The variety of enemy and level types based on relatively simple rules, the mix of combat with platforming, exploration and even some puzzles all make this game really fun to play at any given moment.
The graphics and sound, needless to say, are the biggest ways that this game makes itself scream “Early 90’s.” In addition to the 32-bit style, there’s also the little moments when you realize that almost everything that’s destroyed in this game goes out with a big fiery explosion (including yourself when you die). In dialogue and the game art, you’ll notice that KR and J1M always have angry, menacing looks despite their normally lovable designs, sort of like what happened to Kirby series box art when they hit America. Meanwhile, the music and especially the sound effects could be even older than the visuals. Even when certain enemies give off a little battle cry before charging at you, it sounds like something that even 80’s technology could produce. It just fits.
So, at the end, what have we got? There’s a lot of great and some not-so-great going on here. Ultimately, for this type of game, I think the parts that are most important coincide with the ones that are done best. I took about 15 hours from start to finish, although the constantly on-screen clock for each zone suggests that speedrunning is encouraged, so your skill has a lot to do with that. It’s not easy to beat no matter what difficulty setting you use, though, so consider that another factor there. On a mere $4.99 USD price tag, think about getting this game. The best in it is worth that much.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Digital Tribe GamesKR-17PCsidescrollerwonderfling