|Saturday Morning RPG
|Joystick Labs, LLC
|Mighty Rabbit Studios
Kickstarter and mobile gaming. Mentioning either of these terms in any gaming forum is the equivalent of shooting a paintball gun at a hornet’s nest. I never understood the hate myself. I think both Kickstarter and mobile games have a great amount of potential. Infinity Blade demonstrated that you can have some deep experiences on tablets. Similarly, Indie Gaming: The Movie and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams demonstrated that Kickstarter can yield some very good products. Saturday Morning RPG is a mobile game that was funded by Kickstarter, so people are automatically going to loathe its mere existence. It’s really unfortunate, because Saturday Morning RPG shows a lot of promise for RPGs on mobile devices.
I’ve often found myself saying that it’s like Paper Mario if it were drenched in 80’s nostalgia. It’s a traditional turn-based RPG similar to titles like Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario that pays a loving tribute/parody to the 80’s. Despite the title, Saturday Morning RPG doesn’t stop at Saturday morning cartoons of old. In the first few minutes alone, you’re blitzed with references to G.I. Joe, Back to the Future, The Wizard, and even to things like Trapper Keepers. The latter of which actually serves as a central gameplay mechanic, which I’ll get back to in a moment.
Even the soundtrack is a loving tribute to the 80’s. If any of the tracks in Saturday Morning RPG sound familiar to you, they should. The people who wrote the soundtrack was none other than Vince DeCola and Kenny Meredith, who’ve written the soundtracks for The Transformers: The Movie and Power Rangers, respectively. Some of my favorite tracks from the game thus far include the Boss Battle theme and the theme for Shadow Valley. I wouldn’t be opposed to an iTunes release of the full soundtrack.
The story of Saturday Morning RPG is fairly simple. You play as Marty, a high-school student who happens upon a magical Trapper Keeper given to him in his dreams by The Wizard (a reference to the movie of the same name, with the power glove and everything). He uses his newfound powers to stop bad guys whenever they show up. The plot isn’t very deep or quite as witty as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but it did get a chuckle out of me every now and then.
The gameplay is just as straightforward. It’s the usual RPG fare; wander around the environment, partake in quests, find items/quest objectives, etc. Perhaps moreso in this game, Saturday Morning RPG places an emphasis on exploration. Episode 3 even gives you a hover board, similar to the bikes from Pokemon, to make traversing through the world faster. This becomes very important, as the environments in Episode 3 are much bigger than the first two episodes. The game rewards exploring the environment as much as possible with bonus EXP, hidden side-quests, and more stickers and items for you to collect.
Also, remember when I said that Trapper Keepers are a core gameplay mechanic? Well, this item helps you out in battle by bringing various toys and items you’ve collected to life. Outside of battle, it acts as your menu, allowing you to swap out covers for different in-battle effects, manage the items you collect, keep track of your quests, and swap out scratch-and-sniff stickers that you scratch before battle starts to give you other in-battle bonuses.
This brings me to the battles. Enemies can be seen on the overworld, so there are no random encounters. Most of the enemies are in fixed spots that you have to fight in order to progress, but you can avoid several enemies if you don’t want to fight them. What’s more, you can even approach an enemy from behind and initiate a sneak attack, starting you off with more attack power. For some reason, you don’t get the first move like in other turn-based RPGs.
As for the combat itself, it plays out like Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario. You can use regular attacks that have timed screen-taps and special items that come with their own mini-games. You can also defend yourself during the enemy’s turn and reduce the amount of damage taken. Unlike Paper Mario, you also have the ability to spend a turn to charge up your attack power and do even more damage.
Unfortunately, this highlights Saturday Morning RPG’s biggest problem: the combat is incredibly taxing. The moment combat starts, you have to scratch furiously at the screen if you want to get those bonuses. Some stickers are harder to scratch than others, meaning a lot more effort is required. This happens at the start of every single battle. Some of the items you can equip for battle are equally as tiring. The Thundercats-esque sword in particular requires you to channel the spirit of Woody the Woodpecker and charge up your attack power. After a while, this will leave your arm incredibly tired, which isn’t exactly fun. I already exercise my arm from my regular piano practice. I don’t need to add furious screen-tapping/scratching to my daily arm exercise.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the battles didn’t drag on as much as they did. Without any attack multipliers, your attacks won’t do shit. This means you’ll have to waste a turn charging your attacks while your enemies wail on you. What’s worse, most enemies have this nasty habit of going two or three times per turn. It gets to the point where you’ll have three enemies wailing on you, applying buffs to themselves, and applying de-buffs and status effects to you while you’re trying to get your Thundercats sword ready so that you have to channel Woody the Woodpecker again.
It doesn’t take you long to get through each episode of Saturday Morning RPG. The first episode in particular is criminally short, clocking in at just under an hour. However, after you complete each episode, you get a report showing how many secrets you’ve found. You’re very likely to miss a few items or quests during your first playthrough, so you’ll want to explore each episode multiple times to find all its secrets. If you get to a point where you find going through an earlier episode is too easy, you can set the difficulty to scale to match your own character automatically or set the enemy levels as high or as low as you want.
Also, Episode 3 gives the game a new feature in the form of Endless Battles and Arena Battles. Endless battles are wave-based battles were you pick a set of enemies from each episode and fight until you drop. Arena battles are special boss battles that are much more challenging than the bosses in the main game. These guys don’t screw around, either. As of this writing, I still haven’t beaten them. Both of these features are guaranteed to give you some additional replay value.
Despite it’s flawed combat, I found myself enjoying Saturday Morning RPG. Considering that it’s an episodic series, it’s likely that the flaws I mentioned will be fixed later on. The game is available now on iOS as both a free pay-as-you-go deal for each episode after Episode 1 or for a flat $4.99, which covers all the available and future episodes. Mighty Rabbit Studios even updated the free trial to offer the $4.99 from within the app so that your save data will carry over to the next episodes. Bottom line, if you’re a fan of old-school RPGs with a sense of humor or if you are a child of the 80s, you’d do well to check this game out.