I'm going to be honest. I was extremely busy all last week, so I wasn't able to sink as much time into Run Saber as I would have liked. But I do feel I have enough of an understanding to talk about it. Developed by Hori Electric and published by Atlus, it was released in 1993 for the SNES. Now, one of my greatest flaws as a retro gamer is that I have yet to sit down and play Capcom's Strider for more than a minute or two, but even I can tell that this game has been heavily influenced by it. But is this game worthy of being called flattery, or is it just a pale imitation?
Well, first lets discuss the story, which is not even hinted at in the actual game, except for a few still shots if you allow the game to sit at the title screen. In the future, humanity has allowed pollution to ravage our world, creating an almost unlivable environment. This, as you may well have guessed, causes humanity to begin colonizing space. Fortunately, one scientist has a plan. He will launch a rocket into the atmosphere, releasing a gas that will counteract the effects of pollution. Unfortunately, that was all a lie. The scientist actually released a mutagen which quickly transforms the remaining humans into monsters ready to serve in his army for world conquest. Earth's last hope rests on three cybernetic warriors, called Sabers, to save the day. So, of course, one goes rogue, and it's only natural that the remaining two must stop both the scientist and the other Saber. Typing that out, I feel it may have been for the best that the story was pretty much left out of the game. It's a bit ridiculous and could be simplified a good bit. Thankfully, the story doesn't really effect the game much.
Graphics are much more important, and they aren't bad, just very unremarkable. When I got to this section of the essay, I had to go back and replay the game for a bit, because I felt like the game had pretty good graphics, but I could not for the life of me remember them. I was able to remember that the game takes place across five levels: a military base, a futuristic Asian city, a jungle, another future city, and finally a cavernous area on a newly created island. But other than a few bits, none of the levels really stood out.The enemies, and even the player characters themselves, are very much the same. They serve their job, but aren't very memorable. However, the game does animates really nicely, and most of the movements look very fluid. The only animation I take issue with is the running animation, or lack there of, and that's only because there are some many actions that are animated distinctly.
While the presentation and story of the game are fairly lack luster, the game play itself is definitely above average. You pick one of two characters: Allen or Sheeva. The only difference I could find between them were the angles of their attacks. Allen's blade slashes out horizontally, while Sheeva's slashes upwards right in front of her. The real difference comes in the area of effect. Sheeva's attack can hurt enemies in front of her in a wide angle, while Allen, on the other hand, attacks straight out. To balance this, his slashes are able to effect enemies directly above him as well.
The choice of characters effects how you approach enemies, but not how you approach the level. Both Allen and Sheeva are capable of climbing walls and on the ceiling. This gives the player a greater feel of mobility, and it is really easy to grab onto either when one wants. Unfortunately, it can be a bit tricky to get off the ceiling once you're there, especially if you are trying to do it quickly. The positive side of this is that the levels are large and sprawling. The downside is that sometimes, the levels force you to follow a specific path. To explain what I mean, imagine an upside down 4. Rather than allowing you to go down and to the side, the game will occasionally force the player to go farther down and double around an area arbitrarily. And even if you reach where you are going early, the game won't let you move forward.
Annoyances with the level design aside, your characters definitely feel like high powered cybernetic ninjas. Besides the standard attack, which can be powered up by finding the sword orb, your characters are able to preform a jumping spin attack by pressing up and jump, or by doing a drop kick by pressing down while in mid air. Much like the bomb in a schump, pressing the X button on the controller summons an elemental attack unique, in look, to each character. Allen summons a lightening dragon, while Sheeva summons blades of ice. No matter how it looks, the effects are the same- all enemies are damaged. Health is a little different in this game. The player starts out with three points of health, but can gain up to seven by collecting rare health drops from enemies.
Of course, other than bosses, damaging your enemies is not a hard task. Most take only one hit before dying, while others take at most three. And although, there are a good number of enemies, a patient player will have no trouble with them. The challenge of the game comes from the bosses, and there are several in each level. When approaching a boss the music will change and 'ALERT!" will flash on the screen.
The bosses are fairly challenging until you realize that there is generally a spot where the player can stand and simply hack away without being touched. The final boss of the second level is a good example. Initially intimidating, this undead bride summons fire which scorches the bottom of the screen and laser beams that bounce around. But if you jump on her hand and shift a bit so that the character is standing on her wrist, you can whack away undamaged by the fire and finish her off before the beam reaches you.
The game has been called a Strider clone, so perhaps it is fitting that the music reminds me of a Mega Man game. The music is very fast paced and very rocking, but like most of the other parts of the game, it is fairly unmemorable. The sound effects aren't bad, save for the constant yelling the player character does once their weapon has been upgraded. It's mildly annoying at worst, but worth a mention.
So is the game more than just a Strider clone? Unfortunately, I can't answer that. Some day, I plan to be able to, but for now all I can do is say that Run Saber is a game that is very forgettable. It isn't bad, but there is nothing to really latch onto and say 'this is great' about. It's fun, it has co-op, and controls very well, but I know that as soon as I finish this, I'm going to forget it all again.