By Aaron Collier
My journey into being a geek started, without a doubt, on Saturday mornings. I would get up early, turn on the television, and get to the channel that had the first cartoon of the day. Sometimes I would even get up a bit too early, and instead of brightly colored animation I would get infomercials, leading me back into my room to get an arm full of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbuster toys that would help me pass the time, before the real Saturday mourning could get underway. I would watch my favorite cartoons, play with my best actions figures, and eat my sugary cereal of choice. More often than not they would all align under one property as I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, played with TMNT figures, and ate TMNT cereal. Some mornings even my pajamas matched the show I was watching.
In short, Saturday mornings, as a kid, rocked.
This scene illustrated above is everything that Saturday Morning RPG strived to recreate. Not just in name, but with how the presentation, characters, and dialogue worked to bring back the nostalgia of being a kid rolled up in an RPG flavored candy. And it works for the most part as developer Mighty Rabbit Studios gives you more then enough throwbacks to classic 1980-era cartoons, television shows, and movies to make the little kid in you jump up and take notice. From the name of the protagonist, Martin “Marty” Micheal Hall, to your character screen being a Trapper Keeper, it all makes for a fun and humorous ride that pays homage to those shows of yesteryear that inspired a whole mess of geeks today.
The game is broke down into five episodes that are lovingly crafted like a Saturday morning cartoon. You select a mission and the menu moves into an old school console television that gives you the blue screen like an old school VCR would. It flashes the title screen with the name and writer of the episode. The game begins with Marty attempting to save his crush, Samantha, from the nefarious Commander Hood. Marty finds he is weak agains the forces of the Commander, until the mysterious Wizard (and, yes, he has a Power Glove) shows up with a Trapper Keeper like item that makes you the powerful hero you need to be to save Samantha.
Each of the following episodes will find Marty fighting with Commander Hood and his forces of evil. The episodes all follow the familiar Saturday morning cartoon plot, with Marty faced with a task he must finish, while defeating the minions of Commander Hood who are trying to stop him. Each episode is full of pop culture references ranging from Transformers, GI Joe, and even Chris Rock (You will know it when you read it and it will make you laugh). The game is a love letter to the time period and it adds a ton of charm. For someone that grew up in this time period, I was constantly smiling at the dialog and the pop culture references. The characters you encounter are memorable as they remind you of popular characters. Bobby Jett is one of my favorites as he is a bounty hunter that tries to get you do his job. You also have to save the workers of a dam, that is named Jean Claude Van Dam. I enjoyed a lot of the characters and the interaction you have with each. The dialog is the best kind of corny, as it made me chuckle and laugh numerous times throughout each episode.
Mighty Rabbit even pulled in Vince DiCola and Kenny Meredith, the composers of 1980’s Transformers: The Movie, to do the soundtrack. They also added guitarist Grant Henry (Steven Universe), better known as Stemage, to add to the soundtrack as well. It is a well composed soundtrack as you can imagine and continues to add to the nostalgia drip.
Much like the nostalgia the game evokes, the game mechanics are heavily influenced by Super Nintendo and PS1 era JRPGs. Each episode gives you new areas to explore with a main storyline to follow with side missions sprinkled throughout. They even give Marty a hover board, that I found extremely fun as I zipped through the later stages.The NPC dialog is great and had me chuckling throughout each episode. There are special stickers that upgrade Marty’s abilities and attacks that you can find to equip him with (more on both later). One reward that, to my knowledge, I’ve never seen a game do is an XP bonus when you explore the majority of the map. It was pleasant surprise and something that I thought was a great way to reward the player for investigating each level.
The goals of each episode usually involves around talking to one NPC that needs something done. Once finished you are rewarded with an item that will help the next person on your quest. This can become a bit tedious, but I don’t know what else they could have really done in terms of gameplay to help it. You can’t ignore the pattern each episode follows, but the battle and upgrade systems are really where this game shines along with the aforementioned writing. And, if we push nostalgia aside, the PS1-era RPGs we fondly remember follow the same type of structure. If all the other aspects of Saturday Morning didn’t work so well this becomes a bit more of a problem, but everything else works so well that it doesn’t take too much away from the quality of the game as a whole.
Upgrades come from “scratch n’ sniff” stickers you find as you explore and you can upgrade Marty’s abilities from your Trapper Keeper. You also get an ability boost from the actual artwork on the front of the Keeper as well. You have six covers to choose from with each giving you an upgrade in a speed, HP, etc.
From my experience you can only carry five stickers so the traditional JRPG upgrade strategy applies in terms of choosing how you want Marty to play, but Mighty Rabbit decided to get a bit creative in the way you activate those stickers. I mentioned above that each sticker was “scratch and sniff”. Before each encounter you have a set amount of time to scratch each upgrade, by using your finger on the touchscreen or the Switch’s joystick, until they become available. Some stickers are super easy and quick to scratch away while other take a lot of time and scratching to become active. Most of the stickers that have a longer scratch time give you a big boost in a stat or gives you a buffer against a certain attack, making it more tempting to find stronger stickers, for Marty to use. The issue is that if you have a bunch of stickers that have a longer scratch time then you may only get one or two, versus activating more upgrades for Marty using stickers with shorter scratch times. It’s a unique system that gives the game a bit more depth.
Combat is traditional turn based JRPG reminiscent of the SNES or PS1 classics we grew up with, but they throw in a couple of mechanics that make the combat more enjoyable. To go along with the standard attack and special commands you also get a multiplier option. The multiplier takes a turn just like the other two, but it makes your attacks more powerful. When you select this command you have three ways to execute it: one button press for a quick, but lower upgrade, a button mashing mode that pushes up the multiplier, and a bar that you press a button to stop with the higher up the bar you stop it the bigger the multiplier. This becomes the most important part of the game in my opinion due to being able to do this multiple times during battle even if it drains your SP. You can do a 3x multiplier and then attack the next turn or use two or three turns to get your multiplier all the way up and finish off your enemy with one big attack. RPG also adds a bit more emphasis on defense as well. You can push the command button to defend against attacks. The kicker here is that with each successful block your multiplier goes up by a tenth. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up especially when you are running out of SP and may not be able to complete a full multiplier. The addition of this mechanic made defending worth something instead of just a number to increase with XP.
The game gives you a couple of modes to play aside from the main game. You have five main story episodes, Endless, and Arena. Endless gives you waves of enemies to defeat while Arena gives you two boss battles to play against a Hood Goliath and the Badbot Sunscreen you will meet in Episode 3. Both allow you to master Marty’s skills and experiment with different upgrades and attacks. I didn’t play much of either mode as I’m not a big fan of them in any game, but the modes do give you a good grasp of what the combat will look like once you jump into the Episodes. It’s a nice touch by Mighty Rabbit to add a bit more to the game for players to enjoy.
Saturday Morning RPG evokes all the best of the 1980s we remember and love. Mighty Rabbit builds a unique battle system and uses great writing to give you an enjoyable RPG adventure. It is also a perfect game for the Switch whether it’s docked or undocked (my preferable way of playing). If you like the traditional SNES and PS1 RPG gameplay and grew up watching your favorite cartoons early on Saturday morning then let Saturday Morning RPG be the sugary cereal of nostalgia you eat in front for the television.
Saturday Morning RPG was played with a provided retail download code for the Nintendo Switch by Mighty Rabbit. The game was also published by Mighty Rabbit for the Playstation 4, Vita, and Xbox One. It was also published for iOS by Joystick Labs. The game also received a limited physical release through Limted Run Games that is no longer available. All Saturday Morning RPG images are the property of Mighty Rabbit.