SNES classic ActRaiser gets a spiritual successor that features the same unlikely combination of 2D action and top-down god game.
Wed never heard of it until last week, but this is the game weve been looking forward to for almost 30 years. One of our favourite games on the SNES was the extremely peculiar ActRaiser, a mixture of 2D action platformer and city-building god game. Theres never been anything like it since, including its own sequel – which ditched the god game aspects, and yet finally 2019 has produced a spiritual successor that tries to reboot the concept for the modern era. And its absolutely terrible.
You dont know how much it pains us to say that, especially as the basic gameplay and structure is so very similar to the original game. ActRaiser itself was by Japanese developer Quintet, who are now long gone, and since Enix was the publisher we assume the modern day Square Enix still owns the rights. That hasnt stopped Sega from ripping the idea off wholesale though, right down to an angelic main character that looks almost identical to the one from the sequel.
The developer of SolSeraph is Chilean studio ACE Team, who have done creditable work before with the likes of Zeno Clash and Rock Of Ages. Theyve certainly never made anything anywhere near this bad before, so we can only assume there was some kind of budget or time constraint keeping them back. The game certainly looks incredibly cheap and the low price tag implies that Sega knows exactly how awful it is. But if thats the case they shouldve done the right thing and just not released it at all.
If the mix of genres sounds peculiar thats because it is. Theres little connection between the two styles of play and they work almost like two entirely separate games. The plot has you as a servant of two benevolent elder gods who have left humanity to the less sympathetic attentions of younger deities.
What this means in terms of the 2D action is fighting left to right across the screen, with a very limited set of moves that include a sword, a bow & arrow, and magical attacks. Its all extremely perfunctory, but together with the clunky movement system is certainly reminiscent of the original. Thats really not a good thing though and is indicative of the games wrong-headed attempt to replicate rather than innovate.
To be honest though, the action sequences were never more than an entertaining aside in the original, with the most compelling element being the god game sections where you control your character from a top-down view as you fly around the map trying to nurture human settlements.
Originally this was mere months after Populous and SimCity (both of which were surprisingly popular in Japan) and years before Dune II or Command & Conquer. Given how nascent the concept was at the time that makes it all the more impressive that the SNES game was able to offer such a relatively complex set of options and all the more unimpressive that SolSeraph has added so little to them.
Like most city-based strategy games you start off setting up basic habitats for your population, before building farms and lumber mills to allow them to gather resources. From there you can start to build barracks, train soldiers, and create defence towers for archers. The latter represents the most significant new feature of the game, in that it turns most of the real-time strategy combat into a disappointingly straightforward Tower Defense game.
You can set-up traps to slow down enemies and intervene with your own angel magic, but theres really no nuance or complexity to the strategy. As long as youve set up your defences sensibly you can usually just leave the humans to it, while you fly off and attend to the city-building and dropping down on enemy spawn points to close them off.
As the game continues you unlock a few new buildings and magic abilities and face off against boss creatures that are visually interesting but in gameplay terms incredibly dull. The enemies in the strategy sequences are equally simple and merely march to the centre of a town to destroy its bonfire, like clockwork MOBA minions, never thinking to destroy more vulnerable buildings along the way.
But thats entirely in keeping with what is required of you as a player. SolSeraph almost seems like something you could train your dog to play, if only it could hold the controller. At times it feels like it would be harder to lose at the game than succeed, since it barely matters at all where you place buildings and the only real impediment, beyond the monsters, is occasionally running out of lumber.