When the Nintendo Direct announcements came in September, they announced a lot of exciting new games and features for people. I got excited for all kinds of strange, nostalgic games: the Castlevania Advance collection (I’m still waiting for a sale), the new Chocobo Racing came… and a completely surprise remake from Square-Enix of the SNES game, Actraiser.
This came as something of a surprise to most viewers. Actraiser is something of a cult classic from the Wild West days of the SNES, where games could be about nearly anything and things got weird as they were figuring stuff out (unlike today’s near Golden Age, where things are weird but games are plentiful and made by just about everyone). The concept sounds insane: you play God, and you very much come off like a variant of the traditional Judaeo-Christian deity. You float around in a sky palace and are visiting the land where people have lost faith in you for various reasons. Your job is to lead the people back onto the good path, while also fighting off a Demon Lord, because video games.
What’s interesting about this is that it combined two drastically different types of gameplay. After directing your Sky Palace on an area, you would enter into a side-scrolling screen. Here you’d awkwardly control your deity, who had become a sword wielding fighter of justice, as you dealt with various enemies and sealed the fiends.
Upon completing the side-scrolling mission, which of course ended in a boss battle, you would then switch to your angel assistant. This angel would function in some ways like a cursor: you’d fly over the now unlocked area map, shooting at fiends and helping your newly found fledgling civilization to grow. Several different miracles would be unlocked steadily throughout the game, and your goal was to solve various problems for the villagers. These sometimes got rather strange: a cult develops in one location, in another, there’s a literal pool of blood, etc. But that was part of the charm.
This remake maintains nearly all the elements of the classic, mostly for better but some for worse. The side-scrolling stages are back, and it may be my frequent Metroidvania playing, but the controls come off as incredibly stiff. The stages are woefully easy too: they reward you for exploring with gems. Collect enough gems, and your power increases. Get high enough power, and you’re dealing two and a half times as much damage, have an extra instant resurrection, and are essentially every bit the god you’re supposed to be. It’s empowering and technically a reward for exploring each stage, but it also makes the boss fights absolutely trivial. I lost maybe twice throughout the entire portion of the game.
The development stages follow and play out more or less the same. They’ve added these “lairs”, which are mini stages where you god figure jumps in for a small platforming in a tiny arena. I found these to be more annoying than anything, drawing me out of the management portion for stiff combat where I stood no chance of failing.
No, my failures came from the newly added tower defense mechanics.
Like both the management and the platforming, this feels a bit underdeveloped. There’s a handful of different buildings you can build: some protect roads, others shoot arrows or magic. I’ve played a few tower defense games, and they almost always have more options than what Renaissance provides here.
The setup is simple enough: swarms of monsters attack your civilization and you have to protect targets. Sometimes this is easy, othertimes there are tricky setups where you’re in trouble if you didn’t see it coming (I had one where I had to protect all my farms… which were on the outskirts far away from all the towers I’d built for defense.
To help with this, you’re granted one hero per stage. This hero reflects the overall stage: a Greco-Roman warrior king for the first stage, a Japanese style heroine for the small mountain country, and of course, a cowboy for the Egyptian stage.
Each of the heroes specializes in a different means of fending off the enemy. For me, this was where the game became truly addicting. The mixture of gameplay elements worked, and I found myself liking the simple strategy of getting my heroes in the right place at the right time.
The game is very much a budget title though, in case my provided screenshots weren’t enough. It has a slightly janky look that feels off, and it’s often relying on the portraits that only sort of work. It has a style that borrows heavily from anime, which feels slightly odd when you’re considering the source material.
The game feels like it’s trying to do too much at once. Each element is different, and each feels just a little awkward, just a little off from being fully polished. The part where the game felt the best was actually in the very last area, which is a bonus stage that comes at the end of the game. They’ve cut back to give you one really polished level, and, as added fun, you get to see the various heroes you’ve gathered interact with one another. There’s some fun twists there I don’t quite want to spoil.
Still, if you remember the original game with any degree of fondness, as I do, then this is going to appeal to you. There’s also something to be said for something incredibly unique, particularly from a company like Square-Enix which has been playing it safe. This feels like a passion project from a team working on a shoe-string budget. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of heart and is worth playing through to experience for yourself.
8 though that’s bumped slightly from my own nostalgia (the game’s more accurately a six or a seven)