ActRaiser

Actraiser
Actraiser Cover
Platforms Super Nintendo, Virtual Console
Genre Godly Platforming City-Builder
MtAMinutes to Action 4
Score 7  Clock score of 7Gameplay: 7
Fun Factor: 7
Gfx/Sound: 5
Story: 8
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ActRaiser is a 1990 platformer/simulator for the Super Nintendo. No, it doesn't simulate the platformer genre, there are two distinct (very distinct) modes of gameplay in this game. You essentially play God, and are attempting to win back control of the world from the Devil. Of course, this translation never made it outside of Japan, but it's pretty obvious when you play it. I never played ActRaiser before this review, and really had no idea what to expect. First you play a pretty typical platformer, and then all of sudden you're building an ancient city while shooting arrows at demons. It's weird, but as you'll find out, fun.

The game has been released on the Wii Virtual Console, so there's definitely an opportunity to play ActRaiser still today. Let's start playing the first hour of Actraiser for the Super Nintendo.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I click Start and the first hour of ActRaiser begins. A little angel tells me to enter my name. This music reminds me of Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. The demon Tanzra sealed away my power and has taken over the world. I will need to "rekindle the people's faith" in me.

01 - All right, I get control... of a menu. My options are "Sky Palace Movement" and "Observe the People," among others. Not very clear. Guess I'll move the palace.

02 - Well, now I have control of a giant UFO overlooking the world. I'm over a city or country called Fillmore, guess I'll observe my subjects. Never mind, no one lives there.

Actraiser Fillmore World Map Sky Palace

03 - I call up a list of my six cities, they're all empty. Who would want to live in Bloodpool anyway? Guess my only option is to fight! The world spins around as we do a Mode 7 zoom.

04 - I'm now in control of a knight, looks like a plain old action game.

05 - Pretty typical side-scroller so far, just slicing up blue midget demons with my sword and beating up bees. Just killed some tree guy who was spitting fireballs at me.

Actraiser Action Platformer Stage

07 - Every enemy does the same amount of damage, whether they're a bee or a giant ape. Right when I'm about to die, I eat an apple and refill all my health. Onward!

08 - Just rode on the chopped off trunk of a mad looking tree. I thought they were giant bad guys at first, haha.

09 - UGH! Just got beat by the centaur boss! He had one health left too, he should have been so easy, you just crouch in a corner while he runs at you and stab stab.

Actraiser Centaur Boss

11 - All right, this time I kick his butt pretty bad and only get hit once. "Fillmore Act - 1 Clear!"

12 - An ancient Greek-like building appears and two lightning bolts flash nearby, creating two humans. The angel comes back and informs me we can eradicate this land of demons so that the people may live in peace. Isn't that what I just did?

14 - My first request to me as God! The people are having a hard time building homes because of all the bushes. They want me to burn them. I get control of the angel and the menu pops up again with some new choices. I can cast miracles and request offerings. Lightning miracle I guess? Other options include earthquake and wind. These are truly Old Testament miracles.

Actraiser City Building Stage

16 - I take out two squares of bushes around their building but then run out of SP. Sacred Powers? Who knows. The annoying thing is, there are these birds and bats trying to kill my cherub angel! How dare they, feel the wrath of God.

19 - I take a few minutes and explore my other options at Fillmore. I instruct the young couple which direction they should build in, and try to fight there again, but there's nothing to fight. I guess I'll move to the next city. Okay... I have to be above level two to fight at Bloodpool, another city then?

20 - Level four required at Kasandora, I suppose I'll just head back to Fillmore and figure something out.

Actraiser Crop Fields

23 - I'm still pretty lost, Fillmore expanded a bit, just some new roads, and I'm slowly gaining SP back. Guess I'll use some more lightning.

24 - OH! I can shoot the bats with my arrows! Killing them spurs growth really quickly in my city and they start planting crops!

26 - My people tell me they're ready to start fighting monsters, and to lead them to the monster lairs. Now I have to figure out how to do that too.

Actraiser People Fight Monsters

27 - There's really nothing to do but keep shooting bats, the town at least keeps growing, so I'll stick with that.

28 - I get a message from my people that some things they're imagining are coming true and that the source of their power is coming from the woods nearby. The devil at work!

30 - Woah, one of the flying devils just zapped one of the huts and tried to fly off with the townspeople. They're getting aggressive, how do I check out the woods though?

Actraiser Fillmore Under Attack

35 - Geez, this is intense! I've just spent the last five minutes fighting off an undending horde of bats and devils. I really don't know if they'll ever run out or what.

36 - All right, think I'm figuring it out now, I can spur growth pretty quickly by directing them where to build roads. I'm going to build a road to a bat spawn point. I also leveled up! I could go to Bloodpool, but I want to work on Fillmore a bit more.

37 - Success, we have taken out the lair! My people also found a new bow and arrow inside there, wonder if it's automatically equipped?

Actraiser Attacking Monster Lair

39 - Crap, I ran out of health and they started zapping my buildings and kidnapping my people. When you're out of health, you don't die, you just can't fight back.

42 - Another monster lair down, two to go. One is on the other side of a river though.

43 - Level three, making some great progress now. Took out the third monster lair and my people can now build bridges. Time to finish this off.

Actraiser Sealing Final Lair

45 - The last monster lair has been sealed, but I get a message from my people: seems like they're having nightmares about minotaurs popping out of holes to the southeast. This could be a boss or something.

47 - I return to my palace and select the Fight option. It is time to defend Fillmore once and for all. We Mode 7 zoom into the hole to the southeast of the town (you can see the layout of the town, sweet!) and we enter platforming mode.

49 - This is pretty difficult. There are a whole ton of new enemies, including naked gnomes who like to throw knives at me.

Actraiser Platforming Skeleton

51 - Died again, took a totally different route but it was just as difficult. I want to do more angel flying and city building...

53 - I make it to the next area, but I'm really low on health. Hopefully it will continue from here if I die.

54 - Wow! I somehow made it, and got a health refill. Boss time again! Good luck to myself. It's a high jumping, axe throwing minotaur!

Actraiser Act 2 Clear

55 - Somehow I defeat him with three health left. Epic.

56 - We return to the town, the remaining town founder congratulates me, but informs me that the other died from the minotaur curse. Poor guy. The people are dancing around the shrine in honor of me. Awesome.

57 - I return to my sky palace and take a look at my city from above, Fillmore looks good. Guess I'll get a start on Bloodpool. We do the zoom in on the earth and enter the level.

60 - After the last level, this area was a walk in the park. Boss time already! Oh, he immediately knocks me off the platform and I fall to my death. That didn't take long. The game sends me back a bit, not sure how far. Hey, I made it to the boss again... and immediately get knocked off again. I think that's enough for now! That's the end of the first hour of ActRaiser!

Time for some scores out of 10.

Actraiser Fillmore Complete

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 4

Gameplay: 7
All right, as we can obviously see, there are two distinct modes of gameplay in ActRaiser. Let's tackle the platforming first. This is a little unfair, but Super Mario World came out the same year and the comparison between the two is amazing. Mario is fast and fluid, where ActRaiser feels clunky, and the hit detection could have used some more work. Being a 16-bit platformer, you pretty much have to study the enemy and boss patterns and the game becomes pretty easy, so then you're just fighting against the controls. It's a little unfortunate that the platforming stages are required for the city building portion, but they're not too difficult, at least the first three stages aren't.

Now for the city-building. Being on a console, the building and expansion is all done through an annoying menu, but it didn't necessarily have to be that way. The developers left something like five buttons unmapped, why not leave a button for city building direction? Or one to talk immediately to the people. It's things like this that remind you the immaturity of development on the SNES at the time. All right, enough complaining though, this portion is actually really good once you understand what you're supposed to do. Balancing city defense and expansion is a great idea and under-executed these days.

Fun Factor: 7
So the platforming is not the greatest, but city building in ActRaiser is really fun and surprised the heck out of me. Even though I spent 24(!) minutes trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to do it, it was a great experience along the way. So your buildings are getting mobbed by flying devils and your people are getting carried away by bats, and all during this you're supposed to tell them to build roads so you can take out the devil and bat lairs. It's a lot to think about but it really kept me on my toes. It sounds insane, but give it a try. It's really more building that shooting (once you know how to build that is).

Graphics and Sound: 5
The platforming stages in ActRaiser feature decently detailed backgrounds but the sprites only look okay. The animations are pretty bad and don't help out the clunkiness of the gameplay at all. The city building stage is extremely plain looking but I guess it gets the job done. You're never wondering, "is that a bat or a building?" The music and sound effects were pretty simple, and just faded into the background.

Mode 7 makes one of its earliest debuts (after F-Zero)! I mentioned Mode 7 graphics a few times earlier and if you don't know what it is, it's a background pseudo-3D effect to scale and rotate textures. ActRaiser uses it pretty well when "diving" into the level from the world map. It was really cool when I could see the city I built twirling around. Okay, it really wasn't that cool and while I find the triumph of the technology cool, the implementation is pretty ugly.

Story: 8
I have to give Enix credit for doing the whole God vs. Devil storyline, even if it was watered down just a bit ("the names have been changed to protect the innocent"). It would have been nice to know why God had been locked away for so long, probably one of those mysterious instruction booklet storylines. The plot really doesn't try to do a lot, which I like. The varied gameplay in ActRaiser is what it's all about.

Overall: 7
This is definitely one of the most unique games I've ever done a first hour review on. ActRaiser throws two very distinct modes of gameplay at you and an interesting story, all within just a few minutes. It probably does the right thing by starting the game with the platforming, and then slowing down a bit and move to city-building. I wish I could just move from city to city and try my hand at them, but I think your performance in the arcade portions affect what you can do in the simulation. All in all, give this game a try! You may find you really like the crazy gameplay, I certainly did.

Actraiser Japanese Cover
The Japanese cover is really as bad as the North American cover, but for different reasons.

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