Rick Ajax seems like your typical leather-wearing, croaky-voiced baddie basher. But he’s different. Like Neo in the Matrix, he knows he’s not living in the real world but inside the confines of an action comic book. And he wants out. He wants a fight with ‘The Maker’.
You see, all The Maker – aka the artist – does with his time is put Rick in difficult situations within the post-apocalyptic world of Toxopolis, repeatedly forcing the disgruntled character to smash endless reams of skulls, and Rick doesn’t appreciate that. Then a mysterious female, Lori Machete, appears claiming to be someone he knows (but has forgotten due to amnesia) and he follows her on another skull-smashing adventure, the full motives of which he’s not entirely sure. That’s the start, at least, of a rather intriguing plot that, all credit due, will alone keep you interested in what is otherwise a fairly bog-standard, co-op based, side-scrolling brawler.
Unbound Saga, itself a rehash of the 2009 PSP game, is immediately reminiscent of one other comic book-themed Sega classic; Comix Zone. That’s good thing, by the way. The game’s levels are laid out like the pages of a comic book, with Rick and Lori leaping from one frame to another smashing faces with comic-style “THWACKS” appearing in big letters with every landed blow.
Everything plays on this comic theme and it’s done really well. As you fight from the grimy, sordid urban settings of early levels to secret lairs, snow caves and various other environments later, the world is detailed with a distinctive comic art style. The enemies are typically comic-like – cheesy villains, aliens or just homeless bums who pick a fight for any reason they can invent, ignorant to the fact they’re about to get a plank of wood, metal canister, or whatever environmental weapons you find wrapped around their jaw.
The whole time Rick and Lori crack one-liners, some of them pretty amusing with a tinge of adult humor. You even see the hand of ‘The Maker’ as he quickly sketches new enemies into the environment for you to smash into small paper shards. But it’s unfortunately more style over substance. At its core, Unbound Saga is just a no-frills brawler, with a shallow fighting system, seemingly little strategy, very little modern-day flair and many of the design flaws gaming faced in the early ‘90s.
A character upgrading system that lets you purchase new moves and combos with tokens found in levels attempts to add depth to the fighting, but slow uninterruptible animations make for a slugging response from the fighters. We found the most basic combos work best. Control can be switched between the two fighters (unless you’re playing in two-player) and Lori’s more flamboyant fighting style can be more fun than Rick’s rather boring, by-the-book punch and kick combos, but she’s so weak it can be tedious.
It still suffers from that age-old challenge of judging depth – throwing weapons are near useless because you’re almost always an inch too high or too low to hit the target. Ever heard of auto-aim, developers? A little help here, jeez. And in this day and age, not allowing a second player to drop in or out of the game on the fly is criminal. You have to quit back to the main menu, losing all progress in the level you’re playing, to get another player involved online or offline. And there’s no checkpoint system either – ‘Game Over’ means starting from the start of the level.
Unbound Saga is a decent enough brawler. You get to pick up and throw homeless people against a wall, which is always fun, and the story itself is good enough to have you button-mash your way to its finale. But its basic, sluggish gameplay is stuck in the ‘90s. In this age we expect more.
Dec 10, 2010