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.

Review: Golf Story

I do not do sports. A slightly sad statement, but most traditional sporting activities do not fall under my purview, and I especially don’t get the extreme fandom some people go to with it. Being British, this is especially true of Football, which, while fun to actually play on occasion, constantly baffles me.

An aspect of this bafflement has been sports video games, I mean if you want to play Ice Hockey or Football, just go actually play the sport. There is, however, a caveat to this: Golf. It is the one real world sport that seems to translate to the screen perfectly, with easy to understand mechanics and just a single player to contend with. I haven’t played a golf game in many years, but I remember always having a good time with them.

When Sidebar Games released Golf Story onto Switch, I picked it up as it seemed a  great take on the golf game. An RPG but you are a golfer? Sounds cool to me, and it is for the most part. The game has some issues, and a back quarter that is a serious slog, but the writing, graphics and depth of its version of the sport do makeup for a lot.

You start the game with your character leaving his wife. It sounds depressing, but she is pretty unsupportive and he needs to go and become a pro golfer to to fulfil a legacy to his now deceased father. It is a pretty simple setup, but it works, and from that point you travel to various locations and taken on challenges to get better and improve.

In many ways, it is a lot like what you might think of when the term RPG is used. The differences being that battles are now golfing challenges, which might be hit balls in a specific set of holes, or use only one type of shot to sink a ball, or get a ball into a certain area. Each golf course has its own challenges, both in terms of those and aspects of the terrain unique to that area.

For example, Lurker Valley, the second course, has tar pits and fossils that can affect your shots. It also has cavemen as other players and course officials. To say Golf Story doesn’t take itself too serious is an understatement, it is goofy and fun in all the right places, and this gives a unique twist to each new course.

The representation of the sport actually does have a lot of depth, as there are various shot types and clubs to choose from, and have to take into account things like ball bounce, wind speed and direction and green slope. It makes for a lot to take on board and learn, but the game does a bad job of telling you about these things, and I kept forgetting I could curve balls and all sorts of other things that would help with the most difficult holes.

There is an overworld you navigate with the odd secret as you travel to each course, each course has its own visual style and characters, and with each successful challenge you earn XP to upgrade your stats and become a better golfer.

Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to break down. It at no point explains what the stats really do, and how they affect your game. Most RPG’s stats are relatively obvious, with things like ‘Damage’ meaning you hit harder, and ‘stamina’ meaning you can do things for longer. Golf Story’s stats are: Power, Purity, Strike, Ability and Spin. A couple of those, like Power and Spin, are fairly self explanatory: add more points to Power to hit harder, but the rest are confusing, to say the least.

This is compounded because you can take points out of the power stat at any time and place them into the any of the other four, meaning you have a less powerful drive but be better at something else. The problem is that you can’t do the reverse, once those points are spent on the other stats, they remain there. Since it isn’t obvious what they do, it is very easy to slip into a mindset that doesn’t help you play the game, and can cause you problems as you get towards the end game.

I ended up having to look at a FAQ to figure out what the stats did and how best to arrange them, but I had already put twenty hours into the game before that became something I had to do to try and figure out why it was getting so hard, and even then I was still at a loss as what most of them did.

This might speak to the universal language of games, and the players that understand it. I can look at a game like Final Fantasy and understand the upgrades and stats almost immediately, because they relate to a standard gaming activity: Combat. Attempting to translate those same mechanics to something more real world is more a challenge than one might think, because the fantasy bit of fighting monsters is easy to understand, but how do you represent the skill of a human playing golf?

Golf Story unfortunately does fail to find the balance with this, and the leveling system becomes something you have to do, but not something you want to do. You never want to discover just how strong and powerful your character can get, or I guess how good in this case, because you just don’t get how it works.

Another issue is one that is given away in the title: Golf. Now yes, if you don’t like the sport or don’t want to play a game about it then maybe it was obvious this was an issue, but for those who want to play for the opposite, then the issue is simply the amount.

Apart from playing ‘disc golf’ which is basically frisbee, everything you do uses the golf mechanics. While this means that you naturally get good at playing through sheer repetition, it also means there is a lot of golf, and combined with a last course that is almost unfairly hard, burning out is a real problem. I slogged through for review purposes, but honestly the game could have done with one less course and a much lower difficulty spike on the final one.

That last course is basically ‘the final battle’, but honestly is so ridiculously hard that it requires an almost perfect run to get through, and I threw myself at it for most of the last five hours of the thirty five I spent with the game. The perfection required grew frustrating, and I almost put the game down forever before I finally got the run I needed.

It adds to the feeling that the whole thing is just a little too long, and there is just lack of variety of things to do. To be fair, the game does make up for this by throwing scenarios at you that require light puzzle solving and talking to various characters, and those are well written and funny in spots, but it just isn’t enough.

Golf Story is a good game that misses out on being great due to a lack of task variety and an end game difficulty curve that is just way too steep. It’s just a slavish dedication to the idea of golf that ultimately lets it down, just a few different challenges and a slightly shorter overall play time would have led it to be something so much better.