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Saint (Wii) artwork

Saint (Wii) review

"Sain't happening"

Saint (Wii) image

I will admit that the sight of a discount bin strips me of my pride. I roll up my sleeves and dig unabashedly through scores of disposable releases in the hopes of snagging a juicy sleeper hit or an aged hit I missed out on when it fetched top doller. Long forgotten cartoon licenses usually line the walls of these veritable dumpsters, along with Madden, FIFA and WWE games from years past. However, I've also spied the occasional promising budget title. One of them might strike a nostalgic chord with some gamers, especially those who owned a Genesis and/or one of NEC's creations: a scrolling shooter entitled Saint.

Thematically, it's not your standard space ace-style shmup. Rather, the game draws from the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West," placing you in control of the character Songoku. Each stage begins with a cutscene in which he discovers an immense floating fortress, and subsequently develops an urge to murder the castle's proprietor. The ensuing action promises content seen in ancient shooters, complete with claustrophobic scenarios and 2D, retro graphics.

In regards to presentation, the game mostly succeeds in its quest to fondly recall the past. Its visuals serve as a fitting throwback to 16-bit shooters (albeit with more advanced imagery), sporting a variety of colorful, simple sprites and a lively art style. Enemies and surroundings borrow from Buddhism and Hinduism, featuring a multitude of monks and priests, not to mention massive stone deities and structures decked out with culturally relevant details.

Saint (Wii) image

The only problem is that most of the environments outside of boss stages--which is almost the entire game--are vapid and repetitive. For the most part, levels feature a basic, underwhelming background, such as cloud cover or a vast jungle. Sadly, there's a dearth of gorgeous scenery or the kind of intricate backgrounds we saw in the shooters of yore.

You might hope that Saint's mechanics make up for its lackluster environments, but the game is nowhere near as pleasing as its older brothers. For starters, the protagonist's sprite is large and awkwardly shaped, making it needlessly difficult to deal with the barrages of projectiles, suicidal villains and multi-hit foes that each level throws at you. Such challenges would be welcome in a well made scrolling shooter, where you are allotted just enough space and resources to handle every obstacle, sometimes by the skin of your teeth. That's how difficult games are supposed to roll, anyway. This shmup, however, loads you up with too many occasions where you cannot reasonably weave around swarms of bullets or properly deal damage in return.

However, it tries to make up for this misstep by providing you with a health bar, five lives per credit and save points between stages. In other words, its features greatly nerf its challenge factor. While it's nice that you don't need to avoid every missile to be successful here, this also makes for more mindless, clumsy play. You stumble through most stages, but ultimately end up not caring much about damage mitigation. Rather than fast-paced and exciting, the experience proves tedious and chore-like.

Saint (Wii) image

I would prattle about the specialty firepower you acquire, but the game biffs it there, too. Sure, there's some decent add-on weaponry available via in-game shop, like a spread shot, but power ups perish the instant you lose a life. Worse, you only receive two opportunities per stage to purchase unique arsenal (not counting shot upgrades, which appear throughout the level), so the game provides little time to experiment with its various munitions.

It might sound like I have enough material to wrap up this review, but I've only covered about one-third of the content in the above paragraphs. You see, each world sends you through three types of levels: a standard side-scrolling segment, a rail shooter stage and a boss encounter. Believe me, the ride only gets worse from here...

Where I merely dislike the side-scrolling levels, I abhor the rail stages. In screenshots, they may appear to be endearing head nods to Space Harrier, in which the camera rests behind Songoku as he soars to his opponent's abode. Sadly, though, this is where the bulk of the game's technical errors crop up. Projectiles and adversaries are nearly unavoidable, as it's difficult to tell whether or not they're close enough to collide with you. Eradicating foes is also tough, as you need to place yourself in the line of fire in order to dispatch them. You'll likely find yourself committing more to self-preservation by avoiding combat.

And who wants to play a shooter where you avoid shooting?

Worse yet, these stages are horribly repetitive. Every one of them involves swarms of the same enemies flying towards you, then scampering off. Repeat this process ad nauseam (along with the aforementioned act of pacifism) for three to five minutes and you have the rail sections.

Saint (Wii) image

You might imagine that the experience would utterly disintegrate once you meet a boss, but honestly Saint's boss fights are its best feature. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying its bosses are brilliant. Rather, they are more comparable to a light poke in the ribs, whereas the rest of the game is akin to being impaled. Some of the bosses present stiff competition, expelling a multitude of fireballs whilst executing devastating melee maneuvers. At this point, the screen perspective returns to a horizontal view, so evasion is actually possible. The only snag is that you can actually shift directions during these segments, which causes the screen to scroll in the opposite direction. While that might sound like a neat feature, it's actually quite damning. For one thing, you can't fire at your adversary while moving backwards. Instead, you either have to fly towards him or hold still and basically accept any firepower coming your way.

The latter of those two strategies can actually be too helpful against certain villains. For instance, you can easily defeat the second boss by holding still in a certain area in front of him. Few if any bullets pass through this zone, so you're free to hold still and mash the fire button until he's dead. I neither discovered this strategy on the Internet nor through repeated playing and experimentation; it was obvious from the get-go.

Less than a decade ago, you could spot literally dozens of copies of this game in clearance and value dump bins. Even as I pen this review, you can still find it for less than $2 USD online. Stores are practically giving it away, and it's not hard to see why. It may showcase lovable 2D visuals, but Saint plays like it was tossed together without any consideration for how its features function in tandem. Its side-scrolling challenges are ham-fisted in execution and its rail shooting goes against its genre's principles. This title once again reaffirms the point that a low sticker price doesn't magically improve a broken game.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 27, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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