Saturday, April 28

Review: Saturday Morning RPG [Nintendo Switch eShop]


As someone who grew up in the 80s I have a very special love for the full spectrum of pop culture weirdness that it brought to the world. Between its ridiculous fashions, synth-heavy music, too many classic movies to mention, and the love of cartoons on a Saturday morning those memories are burned into my brain. That, no doubt, makes me the target demographic for the reference-laden Saturday Morning RPG. While I have no doubt that people who are nostalgic for this era could have some great fun with the abundant references it includes, there’s some decent meat on its gaming bones as well.


In the game you’ll play as Marty, a high schooler who is somehow imbued with the ability to assimilate a variety of enhancements and powers through a magical Trapper Keeper that’s granted to him by The Wizard. It the references in that synopsis made sense you’ll be right on track (there’s plenty more where that came from) but if not you may struggle a bit to keep up. The cover of your notebook essentially sets up your base buff by changing its graphics, the stickers (damn you for making me remember!) you put on it represent the buffs you may be able to quickly scratch at the beginning of every battle to give you an edge, and you’ll also use it to manage your various powers and quests. Your abilities, in particular, are a hodge podge of all sorts of artifacts of 80s-dom from Transformers to Simon (though named Garfunkel for the double reference) to fortified breakfast cereals.


One of the things that works best in the game is the combat because of these somewhat silly elements. The game has such a wide variety of options, and each has its own action style, that you should be able to find ones that suit some of your core gaming skills. Since I am a mad button tapper the Sword of Omens-esque attack suited me fine, but if that wasn’t my speed I could try to use my baseball card’s gauge to attack as well. Throw in some buffs like the Karate Kid headband and you have a party. Mixing and matching your abilities, which you’ll continue to accumulate from quests and vending machines over the course of the game, is part of the fun and you’ll typically be eager to switch out something new just to see what weirdness it brings to the table since the variety in what they’ll do is pretty substantial.


In terms of criticism first and foremost I’d be curious about how someone who either hates the 80s or simply doesn’t have much knowledge of them would enjoy the experience. I’d think you’d almost constantly feel like you’ve been left out of the joke. Without that veneer of nostalgia I think the somewhat thin nature of the experience would shine through a bit too much. This isn’t a particularly refined experience, the expectation very much seems to be that the onslaught of weirdness and pop culture references will drive you to continue through the game’s 5 distinct episodes just to see what comes next.


If you’d like a trip down the 80s memory lane with some decent RPG gameplay layered on top you probably will enjoy Saturday Morning RPG, warts and all. The jokes are punny, some of the renaming to protect the innocent is clever, but the experience really hinges on how you react to this. If you reject it there’s pretty well no chance it will be fun, but if you embrace it there’s just enough there to keep it consistently entertaining. This feels like an experience that hit its target objectives well, just by its nature it’s a thoroughly niche experience so enjoyment is in the eye of the beholder.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • 1.21 gigawatts of referentially-powered fun
  • The active combat system keeps things from being too boring
  • The variety of attack abilities can help you tune in to which suit your specific strengths whether they be button tapping, timing, or simply sitting back and watching

Cons:
  • If you don’t have great nostalgia for the 80s you’ll likely get irritated by the game outright
  • Overall the game is really counting on your enjoyment of the pop culture references to cover up its shortcomings