Game Overkill – ActRaiser

I played ActRaiser once. It was a long time ago. I didn’t beat it. I don’t remember why I stopped playing, since I recall enjoying it. I mean, I REALLY enjoyed it. It had platforming sections that I remembered being more than solid, combined with some civilization development/god sim stuff that I thought was even more fun than the platforming, which is saying a lot coming from a guy who doesn’t typically like sims.

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Unfortunately, as the saying goes, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. After finishing the first two towns, I didn’t recognize the third, which leads me to believe that was where I stopped playing the first time around. The third town is also where my enjoyment levels started its rapid decrease this time around.

The game starts off fine. An easy platforming section, with some form of mini boss, followed by the first civilization development section. Not having a manual or any clue what it is I was supposed to do didn’t stop me from easily and quickly finishing it. I moved my little angel dude around, shot the bad guys with his little bow and arrows, and told the townsfolk where to build the houses and stuff. It was fun and satisfying, with how little effort it took for me to learn how to play. This is followed by a second platforming section and a final boss.

And then I beat the second town. When I got to third, I realized that it’s the same thing every time. The platforming sections were essentially the same and VERY easy. That’s not to say that they’re poorly done, in a sense. The controls are solid, but it lacks variety. The enemies in these sections, from one town to the next, usually total a handful or two, while they mostly only differ in look. They essentially have the same “moves”: walk around, throw something, fly around, jump around. The early enemies only do one of those things, while the later ones up the difficulty by combining two of them. As a results, the levels quickly become unmemorable. Just to prove it, here are screenshots of 8 levels and I defy anyone who has played this game to identify which towns and bosses they are associated with. I sure as hell can’t do it, and I just finished the game last week!

The bosses are a little more fun and varied, but they are either painfully easy or painfully difficult, with the difficulty assigned seemingly randomly, as the most difficult bosses are not the last few.

Luckily, I prefered the city building parts…slightly. It was neat too see and the game is noteworthy for combing two unlikely genres. I don’t know of any other game that combines action/beat ’em up with god sim, but the city building sections suffer from the same issue as the platforming sections: a serious lack of variety.

It really doesn’t offer much. You can do two things. One is decide in which direction you want your worshipers to build the city. Not what type of building though. The game does that for you automatically, so you don’t need to worry about having enough food or houses and stuff, which is a shame. The whole thing is just too easy. You can’t even do it wrong. In other words, you cannot get “game over” during the sim part of the game.

It might not sound like a big deal, but there a couple of ways I assumed you should be able to have your game end badly and permanently while building your town. While you’re telling the townsfolk to build whatever you want in a particular direction, there are enemies flying around. They can attack you and attack your town. You can attack them as well, which is the 2nd thing you can do during the god sim sections. The enemies vary in strength and what they do, but not by much, since there are only 4 enemies. You read that right: 4. By the third town, you’ve already encountered 75% of the enemies. There are 8 towns. Do you see how this could make it seemingly fun at first, but quickly boring?

Anyway, these enemies can attack you and you have health, but if you run out of health, the only thing that happens is that you are unable to attack the enemies, nothing else. You can’t die. You just wait around until you regenerate one unit of health and can can attack again. Meanwhile, the enemies can kidnap the townspeople and destroy crops and buildings. It doesn’t really matter though. You can kill everyone and destroy every building and crop yourself if you want. They’ll be back. You can take as long as you want and it won’t matter. Kill everyone and destroy everything or let the enemies do it, it literally does not matter. This part of the game has no consequences. How boring.

All of this is really too bad. On paper, the concept sounds amazing. I don’t know the details behind the game, whether the developers had crazy deadlines, ran out of money, or had hardware limitations to deal with, but I do know the game left me disappointed and wondering why it failed to deliver something I know could’ve been absolutely amazing. With more depth, more options, this game could’ve been something absolutely unforgettable instead of what it is: a quirky, unique, yet ultimately slightly bland game. It deserves to be on Game Overkill, but more as a novelty item, as a game you have to try once, not because it’s incredible or great, but because there isn’t much else like it.

Ultimately, ActRaiser landed in 142nd place. A little high for my liking, but what do you think? Have you ever even played it? Let me know what you thought. I’ve never played the sequel either, which I hear got rid of the god sim stuff and is just a platformer, which is disappointing.


Update: ActRaiser is now in 143rd place.

Update: ActRaiser is now in 128th place.

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About Atsinganoi

Atsinganoi started gaming in the early 80s on an Atari 2600 and still thinks they're kinda neat. You can find him on Twitter if you want, just don't call him a frog.

7 Comments

  1. It’s a shame it hasn’t held up as well as you’d hoped. It’s funny, I have had a weird itch to play this game again recently as I had it and sold it years ago. And, oddly, I still have the sequel which I remember not liking nearly as much as the original. I think the slower pace and removing the sim sections made it a totally different game. I’ve been calling my local game stores looking to find a copy and can’t find it. After reading this review, I feel I would be in the same boat as you, and I should probably just pass for now.

    • I think it’s just a matter of enjoying the beginning so much back in the day, and now finding out that the rest of the game is essentially the same. I expected it to have more, to be tougher, to keep expanding on what was presented in the first quarter of the game.

      I have heard that the sequel is a fairly solid platformer though, so I am curious enough to try it some day.

  2. Wow. I had the exact same experience when I gave this a shot a few years back. Played it for the first couple of dungeons and then lost interest. The side scrolling graphics are big and impressive, but the gameplay was a bit of a snooze-fest.

    If I remember correctly, this was a launch title for the SNES and I liken it to Altered Beast for the Genesis. An visually impressive “showcase” game for a new system that was a let down in the gameplay department. It has a following, but it wasn’t for me.

    Great article!

  3. Not quite a launch title, but released a month or two after launch, which pretty much still makes it a launch title.

    I never understood why anyone liked Altered Beast, but I’m not a fan of beat ‘me ups. But to your point, I suppose ActRaiser does do a fair job at showcasing what the SNES was capable of. Looking at it that way, it is a decent game for a launch title, especially considering that the developer chose to make a strange game with a hybrid genre. Kind of a gutsy move.

  4. Another great Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack! As if doing Streets of Rage wasn’t enough, when he was working on this he discovered how to manipulate the SNES sound chip so it could load new samples on the fly (something it wasn’t strictly supposed to do)

  5. It looks pretty.

    That’s about all I remember from it.

  6. Pingback: Game Overkill – Master List – Skirmish Frogs

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