Saving Throw: Saturday Morning RPG (Switch)
Saving Throw is a series which has our staff reviewing previously reviewed titles to either reflect on those experiences, or to analyze it for the first time through a fresh pair of eyes.
Our first Saturday Morning RPG review, written by Phillip Pinyan, can be found here.
Who doesn’t like the weekend? Well, I suppose those that consistently have actual obligations may think otherwise, but I digress. Let’s set aside those potential differences and all go back to the days where life was simpler. For me, long before the days of cutting-edge gaming and the Internet, this meant getting uncomfortably close to our family’s faux wood-trimmed CRT television for some cartoons, with a Carnation Instant Breakfast in hand. I tell you, those were the days.
Saturday Morning RPG kind of embodies that idea – a nostalgic, cheesy, adventure-filled show that would have been commonplace back in the ’80s and early ’90s. It takes things a step further though, by inserting you in the front seat of these endeavors by way of Marty, an average school-goer that is about to embark on a not-so-average journey. This is the dream of any child, right? Find out how Marty fares after this quick commercial break!
The main campaign of Saturday Morning RPG uses an episodic format, with recurring characters and locations spanning multiple episodes. There are a total of five episodes, starring Marty, which have him attempting to solve rather large problems, often formulated by the villainous mastermind himself – Commander Hood. Like any truly maniacal villain would, Hood does everything in his power to bring about “bad” to both Marty and his hometown. From kidnapping Marty’s love interest, to stealing the town’s Christmas presents – Hood’s diabolical plans know no bounds. Hood isn’t the only thing to worry about – Marty will have to confront other evil creatures, such as the Transformer-esque Badbots, along the way.
The player is welcome to tackle these episodes in the order of their choosing, save for the first episode (which, I believe, plays by default). While the freedom is appreciated, you’re better off playing them in order so that you can pick up on some of the minor ties across each scenario. Your progress carries over through each episode, and can even be used in the game’s lesser arena-like game modes. Saturday Morning RPG is full of lighthearted humor that references lots of pop culture from the ’80s, but you don’t necessarily have to be in-the-know to enjoy it. The storytelling is “cheesy fun,” and as long as you aren’t expecting something other than that, you should have a good time.
Saturday Morning RPG bills itself as having an ACTIVE turn-based combat system, and that is pretty accurate. Similar to games like Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario franchise, Marty’s abilities – both offensive and defensive – often require timed button presses to achieve maximum efficiency. A potency modifier can further improve abilities a single time, charging up through an action that expends MP, or by performing well-timed blocks. Additionally, the beginning of each battle has you frantically scratching stickers, which act as small, equippable buffs/debuffs that will become active for that fight – IF you can scratch them in time. These changes to the standard turn-based format makes each of the many possible encounters that much more interesting in execution.
The aforementioned stickers are only a small part of Marty’s arsenal – through combat, exploration, and vending machines, he will come across all sorts of doodads. Trapper keeper covers can be collected and swapped out – these provide small bonuses to Marty’s stats, while pencils, basketballs, cookies, and other goods serve as his combat abilities. These skills are not created equal – many feel unnecessary and are likely to never be used. On the other hand, some abilities provide substantial boons when pitted against certain enemy types. You’ll want to experiment here, as you can only equip a certain number of skills at a time, and their actual usefulness, unfortunately, cannot be determined by their descriptions alone.
Whenever Marty levels up, you are allowed to upgrade one of two (seemingly) randomly selected stats, including strength, magic, defense, and speed. It is worth noting that the game does not inform you what these stats actually affect – assumptions can be made, but who knows what some of them really improve, specifically when it comes to the magic stat. You can assume it increases MP, but does it affect “magical” or “ranged” attacks as well? This lack of information isn’t uncommon in indie RPGs, but I wish more developers would provide it organically to the player, rather than having to scour the Internet for details. Either way, your choices don’t seem to hold that much weight due the default enemy scaling. This feature can be adjusted to better suit your needs through the options menu, but I found the consistent, albeit low, challenge of the game to be fine.
Outside of the field of war, Marty can choose to take on the main objective, or go off the beaten path for various side quests, treasures, and exploration bonuses. You’re bound to come across townsfolk in distress, each with their own needs. Their requirements are generally easy, and on the way to the main task, so you might as well do some as you go. They lose a bit of their luster at higher levels however, as the rewards seem to peter out as you grow in power. It pays to comb each map though – Marty can find lots of toys, stickers, trapper keeper covers, and good old EXP through simple exploration. Being thorough definitely pays off in the long run.
From a gameplay standpoint, Saturday Morning RPG isn’t revolutionary, but the added emphasis on exploration – via meaningful rewards – and the tweaks to combat help push it a step above many other budget-tiered, traditional-styled RPGs.
Saturday Morning RPG dons, what many might consider, a divisive aesthetic – you’re either going to love it or hate it. And I get it – the 2D sprites on a rather rudimentary 3D field sounds like something that wouldn’t work, but I absolutely love it. For me, it compliments the cheese factor of the overall theme and narrative nicely – kind of like when you return to old TV shows years later and realize, “wow, this is a little corny but I still like it.” The soundtrack is well done, pairing up appropriately to the previously mentioned graphical approach and the time period the game aims to replicate. As a whole, the presentation will absolutely not be for everyone, but count me as a fan.
Saturday Morning RPG is the kind of game that is an easy recommendation, but is certain to have that one friend of yours – you know who you are – laughing at you for liking it in the first place. Naturally, those with nostalgic ties to the ’80s and early ’90s will have the most fun with the story due to all of the subtle (and not so subtle) references, but it can ultimately be enjoyed by anyone looking for a more humorous outing. That said, the rather unique aesthetic and some questionable design decisions – specifically when it comes to the viability of some abilities, stickers, and the lack of an easy comparison between any two abilities – somewhat muddies the water of an otherwise great package for the budget-minded RPG fan.