Play This: Saturday Morning RPG
If you love the 1980s and old school video games, you're probably going to love Saturday Morning RPG.
We live in a culture that's driven by nostalgia. This is not a criticism, as this entire website and associated YouTube channel is driven by nostalgia, sometimes for things I wasn't even alive to experience when they happened the first time; however, with so many retro-themed products being marketed at an audience hungry to relive elements from their childhood, a lot of stuff just doesn't pass the quality test. It seems like throwback content that contains actual substance and value--that does more than wink knowingly at consumers--has become harder and harder to find.
Enter Saturday Morning RPG, an independent video game from Mighty Rabbit Studios. So for those who might not follow the video game scene closely, what exactly is it? Saturday Morning RPG is a turn-based, episodic, Japanese-style RPG in the same vein as the Final Fantasy series, which has been done in the style of a 16-bit-era video game (think Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo). The game is absolutely filled wall-to-wall with pop culture references from the 1980s; however, what makes this RPG stand out in a world where people quote '80s movies in everyday conversation is that the references are clearly done with love and not just for the sake of the reference. Your level of '80s knowledge won't affect the actual fun-factor of the game iself. Example: if you don't realize that the bully in the karate headband that you fight during the school bake sale (in episode 2) is sweeping the leg, you won't realize or care that he's an homage to Karate Kid, nor will you be any worse off for not knowing. He's still a bully, it's still a battle, and it's still satisfying to take him down. But if you DO know that he's basically Zabka, then you're in the secret club, and being in the club is pretty freaking cool.
Saturday Morning RPG is also filled with a sense of humor that the game maintains throughout the story, and you never EVER feel like the game is making fun of all the pop culture touchstones that serve as its foundation. During many battles that you have with your enemies, the background of the screen is populated with a small crowd of observers, many of them clapping or doing silly things that almost distract you from the job you're there to do. There are puns and jokes in the distance that you will only see during your turn-based battles, and it makes those battles even more fun.
So what is the game about? Well, you play a kid named Marty (of course) who has a dream in which he's visited by The Wizard (complete with a power glove...its so bad). The Wizard gifts Marty with a magical Trapper Keeper covered with scratch 'n sniff stickers. Marty discovers that the evil forces of H.O.O.D. (read: COBRA) are bent on world domination and only he has the power to stop them. By scratching the stickers on his Trapper Keeper, he gets certain boosts in turn-based combat. In addition to his fists, Marty has an ever-growing arsenal of toys and objects that have powers of their own. There's a sparkly white glove that gives Marty the ability to moonwalk across the screen and backhand his enemy with a "heee!" thrown in for good measure. There's an aircraft carrier toy which every G.I. Joe kid would recognize and that actually launches a jet attack against your enemies. There's a pack of fruity, striped chewing gum that lauches multi-colored zebras at your foes. How about a keytar that shoots lightning? I'm just scratching the surface (of my Trapper Keeper stickers), because discovering the attacks are half the fun of the game. You will use these powers to battle the forces of evil, which are uniformly drawn from pop culture and only slightly changed to avoid copyright infringement. If you grew up loving He-Man and Skeletor, playing with G.I. Joes, Transformers toys, and watching the greatest films of the decade, you will be in on all the jokes and references.
The love and homage to the 1980s doesn't end with the gameplay. The soundtrack to the game itself is fantastic, and of course it is because i'ts composed by Vince DiCola (with his writing partner, Kenny Meriedeth); fans of '80s culture know DiCola as the man behind the music Rocky IV and Transformers: The Movie. When you're roaming the halls of your high school and the DiCola synthesizer score gently plays in the background, it's hard not to feel like you're a kid again.
Saturday Morning RPG was first released for iOS back in 2012 (I don't think it's available in the app store anymore) and expanded slowly over time as new episodes were developed and released, eventually finishing the story with five distinct episodes. It was only in January of 2016 that the game saw a physical console release with a limited-edition pressing numbering 1980 copies being produced for Playstation 4. However, you can find it on almost all platforms digitally, from Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, to Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux. It's a fast game (each episode can be finished in around an hour), but you'll want to revisit the levels over and over to unlock all the secrets.I can't tell you how much fun this is to play. It makes you want to drag out your toys, turn on Saturday morning cartoons, and pop open a box of Mr. T cereal. This game gets my highest recommendation. Check it out!