Getting inspired by the past is nothing new, but for SEGA and Ace Team’s SolSeraph, the SNES gem that was 1990’s ActRaiser stamps its influences all over. From the side-scrolling battles you fight, to planning out the various villages you watch over, paying tribute to the classic seems to be a gross understatement.
As the Knight of Dawn, Helios, it is up to you to protect the world from the Younger Gods, who have reigned in terror in the absence of Sky Father and Earth Mother. It is Helios’ good nature to stand against the encroaching evil of Chaos, and to help rebuild the world, and that is where players begin their quest. It all sounds really heady, but at least the dialogue and writing carry a touch of whimsical, especially when it comes to the humans.
Spread out across several landmasses lie five distinct tribes, each with their own flair and touches, be it the people, the enemies they face, and the environments you will explore. Descend upon the besieged land, and you will start a familiar loop of side-scrolling levels interspersed with city-building and tower defence, followed by a showdown with a Younger God.
It certainly takes some getting used to for this blend of genres, after all, it has not exactly been replicated in almost 30 years. And the gameplay loop largely works, save for a lack of depth and strategy that would have made SolSeraph a much better experience.
Controlling Helios will feel unfamiliar to most modern players, with his heavy movement and deliberate jumps a trip down memory lane. Attacks are not instant, and hitboxes are clearly defined, so you know exactly what hits and what misses. He also wields a handy shield that can deflect most projectiles and attacks, and also possesses mana attacks such as the starting bow, plus spells that unlock by defeating bosses.
Each region contains its own unique assortment of baddies, and the challenge that SolSeraph often provides come in devilishly placed platforming sections and opportunistic enemies. Jumping to a platform that periodically throws up spikes, while archers are trying to snipe you is no easy task, especially with burning lava awaiting your fall.
At least these are enemies you can eliminate, since SolSeraph spices things up with enemies that attack from both the background and the foreground, while you attempt to navigate them in the middle. It is certainly something new and adds a much-needed challenge to the proceedings.
Enemies are varied as well, ranging from slow, lumbering orcs, nimble trolls, to giant exploding devils to fire-breathing dragons. Like it or not, you will have to get up to speed quickly on enemy patterns and trust your platforming skills, and the handy back dodge will always save your bacon.
However, it is clear that levels are unbalanced, with some a tiresome slog while others are laughably short. While Helios can be upgraded with additional health and mana, it can still be frustrating to face a mini-boss with little health left when you were expecting a shorter level. On the flip side, it does make you a more careful and strategic player, but in fits and spurts that annoys rather than challenge.
On the city-building front, the clean design and system adopted for SolSeraph are a joy to control. Manoeuvre your cursor, choose from a wheel of Basic Buildings, Defense Buildings, Spells, and a removal option, and you are all set to build. Intuitive and simple, a perfect control method for what will become a repetitive exercise.
Although each region presents a different challenge, such as snow-covered land that prevented farming, arid lands that need a well or a rain spell to circumvent, or islands that occasionally flooded, the basic formula remains the same for all five areas.
Branching from your fire pit, you will need houses for your people, food from crops or livestock, and the vital resource of lumber that is required for all buildings. You have to balance all that while defending the village from waves of enemies that travel along set paths.
It is here where SolSeraph fumbles, as there is never anything surprising that can catch you off guard if you have gotten the hang of it. All enemies will eventually converge on your fire pit, and your Barracks, Archer Towers, Magic Towers, and other defences need only cover a few chokepoints to render them harmless.
Even if they do manage to get past the humans, Helios can still shoot down bolts of lightning, or summon a Sun Guardian that is obscenely powerful to hold down the fort. Even later upgrades and unlocks can feel meaningless when your standard Barracks and Archer Towers are already doing enough.
The only true obstacle is trying to find enough lumber. There are only a few designated spots throughout each area with trees, and these spots can often be blocked off by the enemies’ lairs, which produce a fog that requires Temples to clear. But, once you have withstood the first few waves, it all becomes a forgone conclusion. The lack of true strategy makes one yearn for something more.
As a homage to ActRaiser, considered to be one of the best games on the Super Nintendo, SolSeraph certainly does its best impression. However, despite its ties to the generations past, it is the modern touches of SolSeraph that fail to inspire.
While the nostalgia of seeing your hero cut down swathes of enemies is great, the level design and occasional platforming can be stumbling blocks. The tower defence-like nature of city building are improvements upon the original, but is ultimately too simplistic and too easy, with a semi-difficult start often giving way to bulldozing over your foes.
SolSeraph could have been a shining beacon to usher in a new age of a classic, but in the end, it falters and stands as a decent reimagining that fails to outdo its predecessor.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
SolSeraph wears its inspirations on its sleeves, but is undermined by shallow gameplay and lopsided design.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 6/10
User Review( votes)
Jake is a full-time trophy hunter and achievement gatherer on consoles, and part-time Steam Sale victim. He has a thing for Batman and awesome statues, and running out of space for both. Send help.