Genre: Action Developer: Cyclone System Publisher: Taito Players: 1 Released: 1991
When I think of Taito’s Genesis line up, one reoccurring theme comes to mind: they’re not much to look at, but they play well, for the most part. Games like Cadash, Sagaia, and Rastan Saga II all seem to share the same simplistic style of visuals, and while the presentation may not be mind-blowing, the gameplay is solid enough to warrant playing through to the end. It’s funny just how many games Taito released on the Genesis that follow this formula, and perhaps the most notable part of it is that there is a nugget of potential in each game that was unfortunately squandered. It’s almost as though Taito fell off the toilet and hit its head on the sink while trying to hang a clock, gaining a magnificent epiphany in the process, only to forget it while searching for a notebook to write it down.
Saint Sword is an excellent example of this lamentable turn of events. The thought of a sword-wielding hero who can transform into several mythical creatures is definitely an eyebrow-raiser, but one cannot help but feel cheated when the game completely fails to deliver on such a cool premise. For all its panache and showmanship, the core gameplay elements, while sound, don’t measure up to one’s expectations. What results is an exercise in mediocrity that leaves players wondering what happened during the development process.
Shame on you, Taito! Shame on you for getting me all enthusiastic about turning into a centaur or merman, or for even gaining angelic wings to soar above my enemies. They must be the wings of Icarus, because you literally lose them and fall to earth after a while (all of the transformations are far too temporary). For such deception, those behind Saint Sword deserve fifty lashes with a wet noodle. That’ll learn ’em!
I guess if one seeks an action adventure with some basic hacking and slashing, Saint Sword is silicon gold, but I really think there was a chance to implement these transformations far beyond their actual cosmetic use. A young titan out to save humanity from evil needs a deep arsenal, and when all he can do is whack away with his sword, it’s telling of how much inspiration went into the game’s development. Turn into a centaur and hack. Change into a merman and hack. Morph into an angel and… wait for it… hack. Few special attacks, such as the mule kick in centaur form, are to be found, and they mostly consist of an upgrade in strength (and color) after a certain amount of foes have been killed.
Saint Sword’s hero Macress (yep, that’s his name) does have some magic, however rudimentary it may be. Defeating a boss yields some goodies that can add an extra transformation to his inventory, freeze enemies, or even restore Macress’ health. Magic is restored via balls that are dropped by certain foes, and one can use them as long as there are points available. The hostile inhabitants of each stage cough up magic balls periodically, and it’s possible to milk the stage to have a full bar ready for the mandatory boss confrontation later on.
Eventually, one enemy also gives up a key needed to open the door to the boss room. Finding those rooms is usually easy, but locating the key to enter is often another matter entirely. Levels are designed to make one hunt for the correct path, opening door along the way. However, some doors lead back to the stage beginning or a trap door, so walking around and hacking at every switch found will result in nothing but frustration and more walking.
Seven stages long and full of the same enemies that merely swap colors as the game progresses Saint Sword pulls no punches in its laziness. As I mentioned, going through the game makes one wonder why more wasn’t done with the transformations, which don’t really play any true part at all. There’s no real need to fly, the centaur form’s jump is convenient but not vital, and the merman merely speeds up the time it takes to swim from one point to another. Why not use the forms to access otherwise out-of-reach items or doors? Why can’t I use the merman form to swim to an underwater passage or room? Shouldn’t I be able to fly up to a key or magic item? As it is, the forms are just window dressing.
But I digress. Again, Saint Sword isn’t a bad game when viewed as a whole. The music is fantastic and the gameplay is tight. There’s just no spark behind it, and that saddens me. Taito could have made this one memorable but instead chose to just phone in another title for the Genesis library. Those who are interested in having something new to play that doesn’t require much thought or strategy will find Saint Sword worthy of the small amount of cash it goes for. Gamers looking for something meatier might want to check out Valis III, which, while only slightly deeper in play, at least features those spectacular cut scenes and godly soundtrack (not to mention scantly-clad maidens!).