Sunday, October 4, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Run Saber

Retro Game of the Day! Run Saber

Run Saber, by Atlus for Super Nintendo, developed by Hori Electric and released just a couple of years ino the system's life in 1993. Hmm, what does this game look like then?

Yep, you guessed it, sharp-eyed retrogamers - whatever a Run Saber is supposed to be, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Capcom's Strider (although that game, in it's 16-Bit arcade form at least, only showed up on the Sega Genesis, whereas this Run Saber games was a SNES-only exclusive). I don't know how that works - was Capcom angry, did they even care (did they even notice?) Though this game was warmly received by critics at the time, it quickly faded into obscurity along with all of the other noise - Strider, like it or otherwise, has left much more of a lasting impression in gaming history (though being a Capcom brand from that time period will certainly smooth that over!)

Onto the game itself - yes, no matter how you slice it this is certainly a Strider rip-off. But that is fine, we never really saw much of those (why did we never get a proper 16-Bit sequel to that game anyway?) Run Saber fit the bill quite nicely, presenting an appropriately strange, detailed world inhabited with weirdo characters, and a pair of heroes who performed an array of dizzying acrobatic offensive moves. The game was fun to play, as (like Strider) you could easily climb, leap, and somersault all over the place, and swing a powerful crescent weapon to elimate your foes. The worlds were built appropriately enough to encourage such things - it's a fun playground!

The game is not without it's share of strangeness though, and this - in a way - is where it suffered a bit. You had developers like Konami making Contra III, in a very similar Post-Apocalyptic Futuristic Techno-wasteland, taking full advantage of the SNES' capabilities to render a compelling world. In comparison, the Run Saber world hits all the marks (nice, detailed graphics, lots of personality) but an overall feeling of flatness kind of covers the whole experience. I don't know how to put it - this was still early in the 16-Bit period where devs were still finding their feet with the relatively newer, more powerful software (compared to the highly-restrictive 8-Bit CPUs of the previous generation) but rather than work hard to make things pop rhythmically, you had a bunch of stuff sort of thrown all over the place "ok, let's call it a level and move onto the next one." Again, studios like Capcom and Konami (and of course Nintendo) had a great understanding of how to handle this type of a delicate balance - perhaps devs like Hori were still wrestling with such philosophy. Not to sound picky, but you saw this a lot from similar tertiary devs back in those days, and it made the difference between a cool game and a GREAT game.

Similarly, the audio experience was right up the same alley. It all sounded nice and impressive, but with a lot of "hey we can just plug into tis formula and make it sound up to 16-Bit standard with the tools we have" - but nothing particularly catchy or flashy, like you'd witness in older games like Strider. Listening to it now, it's run-of-the-mill SNES synth chip - sounds interesting, kind of trumpety and hokey, but similar to a lot of otherwise forgettable games of the era.

It may be a bit picky to concentrate on these issues when discussing games like this, but they are necessary elements for a complete package - follow-through is very important, especially when longevity is concerned. Blaster Master is one of my favorite NES games, all the gameplay planning is spot-on, but if the game looked much simpler then I wouldn't have given it a second look. A game like Run Saber is fun to pick-up and play, and after you get a little sucked into it's world it becomes more compelling to push forward and see what's next - but with all the more, erhm, passionately assembled games out there to sample, it is pretty easy to see why this one never caught on in the big-time.

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