Saturday Morning RPG brings episodic gaming to the Japanese-style role-playing genre

Saturday Morning RPG is a new iOS release from Joystick Labs and Mighty Rabbit Studios. The game is a free-to-play episodic title that secured some of its initial funding through Kickstarter on March 24, exceeding its $6,000 goal by over $4,000. It was also supported by Dracogen Strategic Investments.

Saturday Morning RPG is a Japanese-style roleplaying game built in popular 3D engine Unity. The game pays homage to a variety of 1980s classics ranging from He-Man to The Wizard via G.I. Joe. Players take on the role of Marty Hall, a high school student gifted with a magical notebook that allows him to use everyday objects as weapons. Over a series of episodic adventures which last between 45 minutes and two hours each, it’s up to Marty to save the world from the nefarious schemes of antagonist Commander Hood and his minions.

Gameplay unfolds in two distinct sections — exploration and battle. Exploring the world is accomplished through a floating virtual joystick which centers itself around wherever the player first touched the screen. This simple system is similar to that seen in Square Enix’s popular Chaos Rings series, and is generally regarded as a more comfortable control scheme than a fixed virtual directional pad. Players receive experience points for exploring areas and are also rewarded with useful items for venturing off the beaten path. These useful items are used in the second main part of the game: combat.

Battling enemies in Saturday Morning RPG occurs in a turn-based format, though this is far from your regular menu-driven Japanese role-playing game. At the beginning of battle, Marty has a few seconds to scratch off as many scratch-and-sniff stickers from his non copyright-infringing Trapper Keeper-style notebook as possible. Each successfully-scratched sticker provides Marty with a bonus to one of his statistics, though only five may be equipped at once. Additional stickers may be acquired either through exploration or through spending the game’s hard currency of cereal box tops. Spending one box top provides players with a random sticker — including ones they already own — while spending three provides them with a sticker which they do not already possess.

Once battle starts for real, Marty has several options. He may use his pool of magic points to charge up his special attacks, which requires the player to tap repeatedly on the screen as quickly as possible. He may use items recorded by his notebook to attack the enemy, with each item having a limited number of uses and its own unique effect. Or he may punch the enemy, which does limited damage but helps restore his magic points. Unleashing most attacks requires the player to play a small minigame whereby a marker must be stopped on a colored bar. Additional interactivity in combat is provided by an “active defense” system, whereby players can reduce incoming damage by tapping the screen at the exact moment enemies connect their attack.

The game monetizes in several ways, with one being the previously-mentioned “box tops” hard currency. Alongside this, however, the game is to be distributed in an episodic manner, with the first episode available for free and subsequent ones selling for $1.99 each via in-app purchase. At the time of writing, the first two episodes are available, with the third coming in the next update, which will also add additional game features an an in-app store. Those who pledged $25 or more to the game’s Kickstarter effectively “preordered” the game and all future episodes, which the developer will initially be distributing via iTunes promo code since iOS is the lead platform. An Android version of the game will be following in the summer of this year.  Mighty Rabbit Studios haven’t shared how many episodes they plan to release in total.

Saturday Morning RPG is a highly-polished product with excellent audio-visual presentation. The graphics feature an attractive combination of high-resolution hand-drawn art, flat pixelated characters and simple but distinctive 3D backdrops. Music was provided by Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth, who have worked on Rocky IV, Transformers: The Animated Movie, Duck Tales, X-Men, Power Rangers, Full House and numerous other ’80s classics between them over the years. The whole package is not only an excellent homage to the 1980s, but also quite simply a very good game with some highly original ideas, too. It’s a very strong product that deserves to see a great deal of success.