Runsaber – Fun but a Letdown

I recently got all of my old ROMS and various tools moved from my old HD to a new HD and it occurred to me that although I managed to capture a screen cap of the End sequence of the ridiculously catchy Runsaber, I had never captured an image of the last boss. Come to think of it, I couldn’t even remember what the last boss of Runsaber looked like. So, I decided I needed to run back through the game again and capture this image. In fact, I realized that very little information is published about RunSaber and yet it is a pretty fun game.

The Story

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Runsaber was created in 1993 by Hori Electronic but published to Nintendo by Atlus Studios. The premise of the game is this… many years in the future the planet Earth is so polluted that no one can really live here and many people have moved to space stations (Elysium anyone?). Into this void, an unnamed scientist has created a revolutionary chemical that is designed to destroy all pollution on the planet and return life to normal. Unfortunately, when areas of the country are doused with the chemical, it doesn’t actually get rid of pollution, instead, it causes people and things to mutate and go out of control. The new super mutants basically spread across the world and cause so much havoc because normal people cannot hurt them. It seems as though the scientist knew about this ‘side effect’ before the chemical was released but he kept it a secret so that he could create his own army of super mutant killers. Into this darkness, a light is found when super human cyborgs known as “Sabers” under “Project Saber” are created to combat the menace. The first saber, Kurtz, is a fire saber but malfunctions and vanishes. This leaves the beta and gamma models… Allen, the lightning saber and Sheena the Ice saber. You take control of one of these two Sabers and go about ridding the world of the evil scientist’s mutant army.

The Sabers

So what is a saber? Well they look like a person but have – well – light sabers that look cooler than the ones Lucas invented. They also can generate energy to their feet as they kick which has presumably the same effect as the light saber. Lastly, each Saber can call out their ability and launch a full screen attack. Allen yells the word “Light!” and generates a lightning dragon and Sheena yells something and generates a rainstorm of ice. Allen appears to consist of greenish yellow energy as that is what his saber, kick and special attack appear as on the screen. Sheena’s is a purple/red colored energy of the same type. As you go about the game, you actually meet and subsequently fight Kurtz. He yells “Fire!” with his attack  but oddly, his energy appears to be white. They move pretty quickly and look downright awesome as they chop and kick their way through enemies. The game occasionally lags when you call out one of their special attacks because it does some pretty awesome stuff with the graphics of the time. I love that these guys are like ninjas. They literally climb all over walls, ceilings, scaffolds, you name it, they climb on it. You can actually crab walk in an entire circle around a scaffold and go from under it, to sideways, to walking on it without even moving the D Pad much. They move so fluidly that I often randomly grabbed things that I didn’t intend to grab and sometimes found specials that way.

The World

Man… this game was WAY ahead of its time. The music is this awesome techno driven music that sounds pretty cool on an SNES console. Think beats that sort of “splat” crescendos much like the 90’s techno music of the day and highly techno sounding guitars. In fact, DJ6i’s first song, HeadAsplode would probably fit right in with the Run Saber soundtrack. The levels are pretty cool too… very polished and remind me of something like an SNES rendering of the world in Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ (my favorite movie of all time). The enemies are creepy and somewhat comical. The average soldier looks kind of like a human with a squid head that randomly turns into a machine gun (no… that’s not a typo). There are flying creatures that really have no description that do them justice. There are rolling cannon looking monsters that often cruise around the area you are in and blast you. Some monsters appear out of the walls while others are randomly walking around. There are countless pitfalls, spike roofs, changing terrain, invincible blasting machines shooting fire or electricity. The list goes on and on.

Unfortunately the world only has 5 levels… yup… 5. The first four are on your map when you begin the game (Taj Gate – kind of like West Coast USA, Tong City – Reminds me of Shanghai meets Blade Runner, Jod Valley – South American rain-forest with dinosaurs even, Grey Fac – Umm.. Greece and Paris?) and after you have beaten all of these, the scientist’s hideout, Bruford (looks like the island of Dr. Moreau on the outside) rises from the sea. Yeah… I guess all of those awesome soundtrack songs and the crazy graphics use didn’t leave much room on the cartridge for a fully immersed story and large world map.

Game Play

This is one of the things that sets this game apart from many of the other games of its time. I have already talked about how easy it is to control your saber and how quickly you can move about the platforms like a ninja. In the center of the character screen is a little square with a purple arrow that points you to the direction you need to head. When you consider how HUGE a single level is in this game, this is an amazingly useful tool. Also, the further you get from the intended target, the more incessant the blinking and ringing noises from the arrow get. Sure, you can see the place the map wants you to go but it is up to you to use ninja skills to reach your destination.

Each stage has a series of mini-bosses that prevent you from getting to your destination. They range from the unusual to freaking bizarre. The first mini boss is a mutant who busts out of an old missile casing and commences to shoot you with a bazooka and otherwise try to injure you. Then there is a boss that is basically tentacles or wiring (hard to tell based off the graphics) that shoots missiles out of the wall. Seem tame? Okay… at the beginning of the Jod Valley stage, you fight an Andean Condor – no big deal. But when you kill it, it’s head remains on the grass moving about as if talking and a random gray monster who utters a sound like the famous “Toasty!” from Mortal Kombat comes by and STEALS the head. Later on in the series, the same freaky monster drops the head of the condor on the ground and you faces a mutant zombie with a bird head… yeah… kind of an acid trip. As you approach the mini boss sections of the game, the guiding arrow mentioned earlier changes to blinking the word “Alert!!” and it will stay active the whole time you are fighting the boss because sometimes it is actually hard to tell when the fight is over.

Now the next game play item of note are the actual bosses. The first boss fight in the game has got to be one of the most interesting fights I have seen in a while. Your character has to jump on to a USAF jet (Harrier or F-16, hard to tell) and fight on the outside of the jet WHILE it is flying! Basically the jet has been ‘possessed’ by the mutants and you have to kill three of them. The first one is a creature who morphs out of the middle of the jet between the cockpit and the back fin. The next one morphs out of the tail wing. The final one is this floating head looking thing that busts out of the cockpit. The first two guys are easy enough but the last one fights you WHILE THE JET IS SPINNING around. If you fall, you die. When you finally kill the monsters, your character leaps from the jet like a boss and it blows up. How cool is that?

Boss number 2 actually created a fuss with Nintendo. She is a statue of a lady who waits for you on top of the highest point in Taj City. She is sitting on her side as if laying down and looking at you sideways. I guess the censorship rules were such that having a women laying in this pose even slightly seductively was against the rules at the time. Now, the woman’s head has been replaced with something like a corpse’s head which add to the further creepiness of this boss. The third boss is forgettable, it is basically a floating cyber head that spits fire at you and it growls angrily when you hit it. Even though it wasn’t a tough boss, the developers liked it enough that you see it again in the last stage. The fourth boss is certainly one of the weirder ones, it basically looks like a worm/slug thing that rises out of the floor and hurls fireballs at you but imagine that the snake/worm thing looks partially decayed and has a bulbous and vein covered head. When you beat him, this guy turns all 2D and falls off the screen.

Now, the map suddenly changes and you see a fifth location, Bruford, that emerges from the ocean and this is the hideout of Mr. Scientist. This stage is just funky and long. There are lots of long drops where you must kick at things as you go to kill them followed by climbing up an almost identical screen on a series of elevators and then going down again. Finally you must face Kurtz for the last time and then you drop through a hole and face the Scientist.

The Scientist – Last Boss

Easily one of the greatest let downs in Run Saber is the last boss… the Scientist. The story of the game doesn’t much talk about him other than mention that he created the mutant toxin and is trying to turn the world into zombies in his control. Do we get some crazy scene where the scientist explains why he did what he did then hops into some mutant contraption to fight you? Nope. The only way you even know this guy is the bad buy is because he has this eerie laugh that you start to hear at each boss fight and in this scene he does it aloud and you know it is him.

So what does he look like? Well… he’s a two story boss meaning you have two separate platforms at different levels which you must use to fight him. You only see him from the torso up and looks like he is basically a giant body with a skeleton and muscle layer but no skin. Honestly, he reminds me of what Freddy Krueger might look like if he took off his shirt and had no knife glove. Yeah… he looks like this:

The Scientist

So what does this dude do? Well… not a whole lot. He basically has three attacks. The first attack is that he spits these energy maggot looking things out of his mouth from both sides – nothing like having Freddy vomit maggots all over you. The other attack is to use either his right or left hand which hover on and off from their respective sides of the screen but they are large enough that you can see them a mile away. The other attack is more of a creative use of the environment. You have to hit his head to drop the protection on his stomach (presumably his weak spot) and then attack before the shield goes back up. Unfortunately, if you jump to avoid a flying fist or energy maggots then you may fall to your doom.

After hitting this dude several times and not knowing whether or not he is even feeling it, he will finally die. The screen basically goes bright and then you see several fireballs explode on his body and The Scientist is no more. That’s it! There’s no complicated death scene, you don’t even have to fight a second stage boss – the golden egg of console gaming. Nope… it’s just over.

The End

Okay, so maybe the let down of the boss fight is saved by a cool end scene. Maybe we get to see the amazing rebirth of our home planet as the pollution suddenly heals itself!  Maybe there is a cool scene that shows the player what good they did. Well??? NOPE. Unfortunately, there is no real closure in the end. Basically, the end scene shows the credits rolling in the foreground while the background features what appears to be a little girl running across the field. As the girl makes her way closer to the end of the scene, we see the forms of our two sabers watching on. The little girl is embraced by the parents that she has been running to throughout the entire end sequence and then it’s over. That’s it. You get nothing else!

Final Words

So now we have come to the end of Run Saber. I will call it my Final Words so Jerry Springer doesn’t come after me. The game is beautiful in design and has a totally awesome soundtrack that was way ahead of its time. The characters are awesome and fluid but have no real story behind them. You can attack with awesome light sabers and beat up mutants but in the end, the game leaves the player feeling somewhat let down. The story does not engage the player at the beginning and the progress of the game doesn’t really add to that engagement. Some of the worlds are very unique and interesting and it truly has some cool parts that make it fun to play. But in the end, you will find that you don’t really care about saving the Earth, the final boss makes it obvious why he failed at taking over the world and the end sequence is less than stellar. So if you want a fun and quick romp with characters that are a mix of ninja and Jedi and don’t really care if the story will interest you then Run Saber is a great game for you. If nothing else, play it once to see how awesome the characters are but don’t feel surprised if you are ultimately let down in the end.

RGB out!


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One Response to “Runsaber – Fun but a Letdown”

  1. […] a major letdown. In fact, he’s not even that hard to beat. Sure, if you read my review about RunSaber you will see that the final boss is extremely lame. YES but the game doesn’t hype him up the […]

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