This Sunday’s Retro Reunion will be covering a classic game that didn’t get enough love; Actraiser. Coincidentally, Actraiser will be our game of the week on our new Retro podcast (to be released in a matter of days).
If you told me that mixing traditional platforming with a Sim City esque God game in the SNES era would have become an instant classic; I would have been skeptical. Against all odds, Actraiser manages to perfectly balance both genres into one unique package. Read on to find out if it’s your cup of tea.
If you don’t have an instruction manual, starting the game will immediately become frustrating. You start off in a Sky Palace staring at a naked angel (what?!), wondering what to do. If you meander down to your “fight” option, the angel informs you that in order to create a prosperous land, you must descend from your cumulus throne and vanquish the evil foes that are currently wreaking havoc.
Enter Actraiser’s platforming sessions. You’ll immediately notice that your only maneuvers are “jump” and “slash”, and you control in a semi-clunky fashion. That’s ok, because the game isn’t that hard! Most of the enemies you run across can be defeated by mashing the slash button, and take at the most, two to three hits.
At the end of each level, you’ll face a unique boss that can usually be exploited. Other than a select few foes, you can mostly just sit there and mash your slash, because the game has no knockback/invincibility flash. Also it’s important to note that while you start off relatively naked, once you get towards the end of the game, you can just Starfall Magic your way to victory!
Every country (city-state?) has two platforming levels, with bosses to defeat. Every world has its own unique feel, and quite beautifully, each world’s two respective levels are always completely different from one another. Actraiser just feels fresh every time you play it. If you can overlook the clunky platforming controls, you’ll find a gem that you can treasure forever.
Then the game hits you with a complete 180. You’re tasked with the expectation of “raising a new civilization”. All you get is a town hall, and control of the angel. Surrounding your town are “monster lairs”, which constantly spawn baddies that you have to defeat with your trusty bow and arrow (the action never stops!). If you fail to ward off the monsters, they’ll destroy homes and murder your people.
Don’t fear! Very early on you’ll find the “direct construction” option, and build roads to the various pits on the map. Once your people find their way to the lairs, they’ll seal them all by themselves. There’s something magical about an NPC population taking care of enemies for you that just sticks with you for a long time. After each lair your minions demolish, you’ll either receive a talisman that boosts your stats or abilities, or a trade-good.
The beauty of the trade-good system is you can bring trade goods and scientific developments over to new towns. For instance, one city discovers how to farm, and allows you to share this knowledge with others. Another discovers music, that you must bring to another feuding town to calm them. If you ever bother to go back and visit these towns with the acquired upgrades, your platforming avatar will level up, making the game that much easier.
If I’ve piqued your interest, I strongly urge you to check back in a few days for our Retro Podcast; a radio show including yours truly, where we chat about a different retro game each week, and much more. If you’re curious, Actraiser had a sequel, Actraiser 2, but it wasn’t as positively received because it entirely ditched the god/Sim City mechanic.
Actraiser is available on the virtual console and here.