Retro Game of the Day! Actraiser
Actraiser - man, you really have got to love these "don't-mean-anything-at-all names," don't you - was an interesting hybrid of a game, the liks of which haven't really been seen before or since. It was released by Enix (years before merging with their rival Square) in the early days of the Super Nintendo's career (1990 JPN, a year later stateside, and another year after that for the Euro's. Man they got sticked-to-it a lot back then, eh?)
Anyway, here was the story - you were essentially a deity, and you had been awakened from your slumber to restore peace and prosperity to a world overrun by Monsters. The game was split into two main modes - City Scenes, where you'd guide your little helper Angel in making care of crops and vanquishing mini-demons and basically performing SimCity-Lite tasks to make the immediate area habitable for the denizens of the town - and then Battle Scenes, where you'd infuse a statue of a soldier with life and go forth to battle the monsters face-to-face.
It was an interesting idea - an odd one, to say the least - but they did a good job of pulling it all off and rounding out the entire package quite nicely. Yuzo Koshiro, maven of Sega Genesis Uber-Soundtracks back in the day (Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi) lent a hand in pushing the new Sony Sound Chip in the SNES to the test with a rousing, orchestral score the likes of which had never been heard in a console game before. Graphically, the game was a mixed bag - never "bad," but a fair mix of "plain and simple" with a touch of "some pretty amazing character graphics" now and then, and a fair mix of fancy Mode 7 scaling and rotation effects (only seen in arcades, in those days!). The SNES was still a very young system, so overall this was a good-looking game that I was very pleased to get my hands on.
So how did the thing play out? Well, I wasn't too keen on controlling a hovering Naked Baby over a city, so thankfully the game started off with an action segment, then throws you into the Urban Planning section following that. Honestly, the game was quite easy - my 16-yr-old self plowed through the entire game in a single weekend, never looking back - but never did I regret the purchase, the game was an enjoyable experience for all the parts that made it up. And as I noted, it's never been done again in such a fashion. On boot-up I was leery of the SimCity phase, but found them to actually be at least as enjoyable, if not more than the rather standard battle scenes. Overall, this game was short and sweet.
Actraiser never really went anywhere following this title - a sequel surfaced some years later, ditching the City Building segments and going for all-out action. The graphics looked gorgeous, but I never picked it up (it was said to be punishingly hard, and not in the rewarding way). Honestly, with the gimmick stripped out, I wasn't too keen on revisiting a game which likely was just going to be another Bland Actioner, when there was so much else to choose from at the time. Interestingly, Enix likewse followed-up with an RPG called Soul Blazer which looked like "this is where the Actraiser City Guys went next," and this always sounded interesting. For no good reason I failed to ever pick it up, but at some point I'd love to give that game a spin and see how it holds up. 16-Bit RPGs can still be very enjoyable to look at and play through.
Actraiser, or "Act-Lazer" as EGM originally referred to it, was an interesting experiment that failed to yield any long-standing fruit (as noted, we never really saw more bizarre "genre-mix" games like this that much). The game itself is a good time, I haven't looked at it in years but my memories of it are very pleasant. It's interesting to see how they pulled it off, this is a worthy detour down the History of Gaming.