ActRaiser 2
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Quintet
  • Publisher:
    • Enix
  • Released:
    • JP 10/29/1993
    • US November 1993
    • UK 1994
Score: 70%

This review was published on 09/28/2015.

ActRaiser 2 is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Quintet for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was released in Japan on October 29, 1993, North America in November 1993, and Europe in 1994. Enix published the game in North America and Japan, and Ubisoft published it in Europe. As its name implies, this is the follow up to the vastly more popular ActRaiser, which was released for the Super Nintendo close to the system's launch. The original game's main claim to fame was that it mixed the game play of a side-scrolling platformer with a build-your-own town simulator not unlike SimCity. ActRaiser 2 keeps the side-scrolling platforming, but completely omits the town building segments. Supposedly, Enix of America specifically requested Quintet to remove the town building portions from the game, because they felt that players wouldn't be smart enough to understand them. In doing so, they took away the one thing that set ActRaiser apart from all the other platformers of the time, effectively erasing its identity. As a result, ActRaiser 2 is merely average at best.

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It's not explicitly stated whether ActRaiser 2 is a sequel or prequel to the original game, or if it even takes place in the same universe, but various plot details point to it being a prequel. The story draws inspiration from the famous religious epics Paradise Lost and the Divine Comedy. Like in the previous game, Nintendo of America did some censoring to the North American and European versions, because they had a strict policy against religious references in games on the grounds that someone might get offended. Case in point: God's name was changed to the "Master" and Satan was renamed "Tanzra." The intro scene of the game shows the Master defeating Tanzra in a not-so-epic battle. Having been utterly obliterated, Tanzra's lifeless body returned to the underworld. Of course, this was far from the end, as thirteen of Tanzra's mightiest demons congregated to revive their dark leader. Vowing revenge against the Master, Tanzra now sends his legion of minions to unleash calamity upon the world of humans. The Master must now repeat what he's done in the past by striking down the fiend yet again. Some people just never learn.

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Under normal circumstances, the Master has no physical form. However, he is able to inhabit the body of a statue that is always conveniently standing right where you need it. When the statue springs to life, it takes on the appearance of a muscular angel armed with a sword and shield. This angelic bodybuilder is the character you play as for the whole game. You can swing your sword while standing and ducking, and you can also swing it upwards at an angle. The shield will automatically block projectiles if you remain still, but you drop your guard whenever you perform an action, such as attacking, walking, or jumping. It's also possible to aim the shield downwards by ducking and upwards by holding up. Lastly, you can use your wings to perform a double jump, gently float towards the ground, glide over long distances, and do a downwards aerial dive. You're able to attack while airborne, and doing the aerial dive while attacking makes you do a powerful diving thrust. Compared to the first game, you have way more moves in ActRaiser 2.

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Magic makes a return in this game, but there are a lot more spells this time around, and you have access to all of them right away. The way in which you use magic is different, though. This time, you hold the attack button down for a few seconds to charge up magical power, and then you let go to cast a spell. What spell you cast differs depending on what state you were in when you release the attack button. For example, if you do so while standing still, you'll cast a flamethrower spell, but if you fire your charge while hovering, you'll perform a lightning attack. There are a fair amount of spells, each of which has its own attack power and range. You do have limited castings, however, which are represented by scrolls under your life bar. Power-ups can be obtained to replenish lost MP, but they're rare, so magic is best reserved for bosses. It's a cool system, though some of the spells are hard to execute, like the fiery phoenix dive.

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The game starts you off aboard the floating Sky Palace, which you use to fly over a world map drawn by the Super Nintendo's fancy Mode-7. It's from here where you select your destination. Regions are broken up into two stages each, with the first stage of every region being accessible right from the start. That gives the game a slightly non-linear feel, though there is still a recommended order, as some areas are tougher than others. The main way to discover the recommended order, besides just looking it up online, is to hover over various towns and get information on them from your angel assistants. This not only gives you hints on where to go next, but it also gives you a little back story on the town and its situation. For instance, one town loses its desire to work due to a demon in a nearby area spreading its dark influence over the citizens, corrupting them with slothfulness. The world map is basically nothing more than a glorified stage select screen, though the optional back story provided by the towns is a nice touch.

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While the stages can be done in a mostly non-linear order, the stages themselves are as linear as linear can be. Graphically, the stages are a sight to behold, flaunting an impressive color palette and highly detailed backgrounds and sprites. Some of the stage themes are also pretty creative, like an undersea town that is situated on the back of a giant turtle. The music, on the other hand, is a cacophony of failure. It goes for an orchestral feel, but misses the mark and instead sounds like a disjointed mess. Design wise, stages heavily focus on enemy encounters, as it primarily comes down to slowly trudging forward as you stab things to death. You move at an incredibly slow pace, which is annoying, but you honestly need to in order to survive. Enemies will swarm and totally overwhelm you if you move forward too quickly. They also tend to take a lot of punishment, forcing you to mash the attack button to beat even the littlest of foes. There's not actually a whole lot of platforming, though when there is, it's rather mundane. The disgustingly slow pace and flat designs make the stages a chore to play through.

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This game is insanely difficult, much more so than the original. First of all, there are hardly any checkpoints. Some stages don't have any checkpoints at all, while others only have a single one. Sometimes there's a checkpoint before a boss, sometimes there isn't. It differs from stage-to-stage, making checkpoints unpredictable. Even when there are multiple checkpoints, they're spaced way too far apart. As for why exactly the game is so hard, it's mostly because everything does so much damage and it's extremely difficult to avoid getting hit. The platforming is also fairly cutthroat, as there are countless instant death traps and your character moves and jumps like molasses. You have to master the art of gliding and hovering to make it through most of the platforming sections alive, since regular jumps rarely suffice. You do have unlimited continues, but losing all your lives kicks you back to the world map. Also, even though the first game had a save system, ActRaiser 2 ditches it in favor of using passwords. Talk about regressive. Anyway, this game is super hard, so if you weren't able to stomach the challenge of the first one, then don't even consider attempting ActRaiser 2.

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Most stages have exactly one boss in the middle and one at the end, though some have more. In keeping with the game's overall theme, many of the bosses are named after one of the seven deadly sins. The bosses are as insidious as the stages themselves, but many of them can be cheesed to death through the use of magic. If you don't have any magic points left, though, then you're probably going to die. Like everything else in the game, bosses do an absolute ton of damage, and their rigid attack patterns leave little leeway for dodging. If you take even a single hit from a boss, it can be devastating. It's not uncommon to die a mere few seconds after entering a boss fight. Then again, some bosses are ridiculously easy even without magic, repeating the same attack over and over, or allowing you to effortlessly block all their attacks with your shield. There's really no rhyme or reason to how boss battles are balanced in terms of difficulty. As if that wasn't bad enough, bosses get recycled later, which includes a Mega Man styled boss rush. Recycled content is the mark of laziness.

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Without the town building bits, all this game really has going for it is the graphics. The graphics are absolutely amazing, but the game play is far too slow paced to be satisfying. A vast majority of the stages are just flat stretches of land filled with legions of monsters, which isn't that exciting. The obscene difficulty and poorly balanced bosses also make this an experience that's more frustrating than enjoyable. Still, the game isn't awful; it's just bland and uninteresting. There's a good reason why the first ActRaiser is still fondly remembered, whereas the second one has long since been forgotten. It's better to keep it that way.

Word Count: 1,627

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