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Run Saber (SNES) artwork

Run Saber (SNES) review

"At first glance, Atlus Super Nintendo platformer Run Saber has just about everything I’ve ever wanted in a game of its ilk. You have tons of bosses, beautiful graphics and some fun levels that combine beating on subordinate enemies with skillfully maneuvering past indestructible obstacles. Unfortunately for me, it lacks two crucial elements that really would tie those positives together — length and challenge. "

At first glance, Atlus Super Nintendo platformer Run Saber has just about everything I’ve ever wanted in a game of its ilk. You have tons of bosses, beautiful graphics and some fun levels that combine beating on subordinate enemies with skillfully maneuvering past indestructible obstacles. Unfortunately for me, it lacks two crucial elements that really would tie those positives together — length and challenge.

Run Saber clocks in with a mere five stages of action, with none of them being extremely long. The typical stage involves your hero (either masculine or feminine) walking and slashing for minute or two, then fighting a boss — a process which repeats itself three or four times per level. Oftentimes, those “walk-and-slash” sections are forgotten, leaving with what amounts to a mini-gauntlet of bosses with little (or no) build-up to each encounter.

Few of those bosses (or lesser foes) will really offer a huge amount of challenge. Part of that is due to you having a life-meter that can be powered up to eight bars (along with a decent number of healing items), part of that can be attributed to you being able to hoard large quantities of your character’s powerful and efficient super attack and the remainder is likely caused by the simple fact that few enemies really have what it takes to put you out for the count. You’re a super-soldier stuck fighting mere drones — many of which look cool, but sure don’t impress while in action.

Take the end of the first level, for example. In keeping with the game’s theme of you attempting to stop an evil guy who has the power to create plenty o’ genetic mutants, you get to fight a genetically mutated plane in a battle seemingly designed to do nothing more than excite those who are easily impressed by objects rotating on a screen. Yep, the plane itself does little more than s-l-o-w-l-y rotate as you maneuver from one end to the other, slashing any strange forms that make the unfortunate decision to protrude from its surface. After whacking enough of these forms, you win the battle and if you have any degree of skill, you’ve likely won without getting hit once.

And many of the game’s bosses follow that basic template. Sure, they might be well-drawn, but there aren’t many that will do more than get one or (maybe) two hits in before getting saber-slashed to infinity. But what if you run into a tough boss? Like the gigantic fire-breathing slug-like thing at the end of the third level that is a real pain because of its ability to EFFECTIVELY counterattack your basic attacks?

Well, that’s when your special attack comes into play. If you’ve been a good little hero, you’ve likely picked up a bunch of little orbs and can use this powerful attack a ton of times. In the case of our friend Sluggy, just kneel down close to him and blast a bunch of special attacks (if you’re the guy, it will be a cool dragon spell) until he dies. Then, simply collect all the orbs over the next two levels until you have a bunch more attacks to help you easily lay waste to the final boss.

How can I justify this sort of strategy? Because of the simple reason that most of the bosses in this game operate under simple patterns, that if figured out, make them painfully easy. Look at the first boss of the fourth level — a robotic knight. At first, he may seem like an imposing foe, but it won’t take long to figure out that all you have to do is jump over him, slash him a couple times, jump back over him and repeat until he collapses into a hunk of scrap metal. Most other bosses have equally simple strategies, such as, “Jump onto the giant statue’s hand where only one of its attacks has a prayer of connecting with you.” The only halfway tricky battle is against a rival super-soldier that you fight a whopping three times. He’s quick and has a diverse series of attacks. If not for the fact that he really doesn’t absorb that much damage before falling, he’d be an actual DIFFICULT boss.

You may notice that I just spent a ton of time discussing the bosses (four whole paragraphs). That’s mainly because there isn’t that much else to this game. By my count, there are 20 major encounters (denoted by the word “ALERT” that appears on the screen right before the fight begins), which doesn’t leave much room per level for anything else. All of the minor enemies seem to be footnotes, with the only interesting features of any level being the tricks and traps thrown into to prevent you from encountering the next big baddie.

In the second level (named “Tong City”), you’ll have to scale a number of giant heads, each designed to emit waves of fire or lightning in an attempt to persuade intruders that throwing in the towel and turning back may be the best course of action. Later in the game, the fourth level is loaded with fiery pits and spiky balls attempting to do their part to prevent you from advancing from one boss to the next. And as you approach the final boss, you’ll maneuver up and down an extended series of mobile lifts while slashing (or avoiding) a seemingly infinite number of strategically placed guns. Sure, there are a number of “regular” enemies to fight, such as scientists with guns protruding from their heads, animated statues and clay men, but these standard foes seem to be afterthoughts as you are hastily spirited from one boss to the next.

And it’s a shame that everything moves so quickly, as the world of Run Saber has many areas that you’ll wish you could linger in to savor the atmosphere. The deserted mountain ranges of Jodvalley, with the ruins of ancient Incan (or similar tribe) dwellings in the background, have an eerie beauty; while Tong City seems to be a sci-fi reincarnation of an ancient pagan city. While the other three levels tend to be jaunts through basic enemy bases, there still are plenty of truly enjoyable moments — such as when you are chased by the final boss of the fourth stage through a narrow corridor, only to then have to chase the ape-like mech up a building while assaulting it the entire way. Yes, it’s yet another easy boss battle in a game that’s full of them, but it’s also a fun and innovative fight.

Your characters also are pretty innovative in the way they can be controlled. You can grab onto walls and ceilings and move along these surfaces — a tactic that not only makes your surroundings interactive, but is necessary for survival in a number of areas. You also are able to use your body as a supplementary weapon, as one move involves you altering a basic jump into a powerful kick.

And in the end, a lot of these cool things, such as the way your characters fight and the many neat sections of each level, really just serve to magnify my problems with Run Saber — namely that it is too short and seemingly only focused on catapulting you through bunch of bosses as quickly as possible. I didn’t want this game to end quickly. I could have battled through Tong City for hours without getting tired of that place — but I was only there for minutes. I would have loved to endure an intense level climaxing with a brutally difficult boss fight that took all my skill to overcome, but instead I got repeated battles that looked great, but had no substance. Through its appearance, Run Saber seems to promise that it will be something special — a gaming experience you’ll never forget. Through its ease and lack of actual gameplay between many of the plentiful bosses, that promise is revealed to be a lie.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (October 01, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Masters posted January 07, 2009:

Nice work Rob. I always wanted to check out this game and haven't, but having read this review... I'm okay with that. Question: how did you get through the review without mentioning Strider?
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overdrive posted January 07, 2009:

It's not that Run Saber's a bad game. It does have its moments. But it's really short and I think there are too many boss enemies for the length of the game. It's kind of the SNES version of Street Fighter 2010 in that regard.

And there's a good reason I got through without mentioning Strider: it's been so long since I've played any Strider game that I never even thought of it. I think the last time I have was maybe the early 90s when I borrowed my friend's NES version and busted through it in a day or two. But now that you mention it, there definitely are tons of similarities in the two games.
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Masters posted January 08, 2009:

Maybe when I feel like retro-ing it up, I might give it a few minutes of my time. Re: Strider... really? As soon as I saw the flashing sword animation all I thought of was "wow, cypher rip-off!"

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