While there is a pretty high preponderance of video games based on comic book characters, there are very few titles that are actually set inside comic books. The most notable and successful of them all was 1995's Comix Zone, which had players take on the role of a comic book artist sucked into the very world he created and fighting to escape the panels. Now, Vogster is brining us a very similar formula with Unbound Saga, and while the goofy story charms, absolutely nothing else about this game is enjoyable.
Players view the story through the eyes of Rick, your standard comic tough guy who every month has to fight off hordes of thugs simply because "The Maker" says he has to. Rick's fed up, and he's decided he's going to find this Maker and give him a piece of his mind (as well as multiple knuckle sandwiches). Along the way, he meets up with Lori, a micro-skirt, high-rise thong sassy sidekick who agrees to help Rick maneuver his way through the comic world in the hopes of finding an escape route. The two go merrily along their way, punching hoboes, paramilitary goons and apron-wearing bears right in the face. No, I have no idea why. I tried to ask one, but he was busy mauling my face so I just kicked him across the screen; it seemed like the right thing to do.
It is this buffoonish sense of humor that serves as the game's only bright spot, as Unbound Saga might entice you to keep playing for a while simply to see what ridiculous enemy or hilarious line of dialogue might pop up next. The first level is particularly enjoyable, as a gang of drunken homeless folks calling themselves The Ferrets will attack Rick because he either stole or ate "Robbie's liver." Unfortunately, as the game goes on these weirdly funny jokes drop off almost entirely, and the few yuks left to be found are nowhere near enough to prop up this otherwise dismal experience.
To cut right to the heart of the issue, gameplay in Unbound Saga is an absolute mess. The game is a straight-up, old school beat-'em-up, complete with all the annoyances and frustrations that come along with that. For example, if you aren't perfectly lined up on the same horizontal plane as your foe, then your attacks will totally miss and do absolutely no damage. Furthermore, after about the first two levels, the enemies develop an uncanny ability to block and dodge-roll at lightning speed, making landing a single hit extremely difficult, and pulling off combos almost impossible. You can pick up enemies or weapons with Rick, but after taking so much as a single hit, you drop them. In addition, throwing objects is such an exercise in frustration that it's not even worth it to try; just put it back down and go back to pummeling away with your bare fists.
The game allows players to freely switch between Rick and Lori at nearly all points (except a few scripted moments when you're forced to use one character), which is an idea that works much better on paper than it does in practice. Lori dishes out significantly less damage than Rick, and she's much easier to KO than her larger companion. The idea, apparently, is that she makes up for her physical shortcomings with "Shadow Arts," special skills that allow her to poison enemies, make herself temporarily invisible, etc. The concepts are neat, but unfortunately they utterly fail in execution because when the rubber meets the road, Lori still has to get in there and mix it up with hand-to-hand combat. Considering her weaknesses, she's all but worthless in a fight. Sadly, the best thing I found to do with Lori was allow her to distract enemies and get beaten senseless so I could sneak around back with Rick and club the baddies with a weapon. Sure, it's teamwork, but I doubt it's the kind Vogster was hoping for.
Rick and Lori can upgrade their skills via special tokens found throughout the game, but unfortunately, the game is chock-full of useless upgrades and pointless combos. There are some really good passive skills, such as a damage boost to Rick's weapons or improving Lori's ability to take punishment, but way too many upgrade slots are filled with combos and skills that you'll likely never use. Why upgrade Rick's throws when it's nearly impossible to throw foes in the first place? Why invest in new combos for Lori when simple kick and punch flurries work just fine? While it seems that every action game that comes out nowadays features some sort of upgrade system, this is one that is mostly unnecessary and adds almost nothing to the experience.
There are a myriad of other problems with this game, all of which make it one you should just avoid. The story mode is exceptionally short, lasting around four to five hours, and the visuals are very muddy and ugly. This stands in sharp contrast to the story line panels that are displayed between missions, which are crisp and nicely drawn; sadly, this just highlights how bad the rest of the game looks by comparison. The voice acting in the cut scenes is quite good, but the music playing during the levels is as generic and repetitive as it gets. The entire package is dull as dishwater, and the ache in your thumbs will likely drown out the rare glimmers of fun in this by-the-book game.
In addition, the game is buggy as it gets, with a game-killing crash happening at least once a level in our copy. Even after multiple tries at deleting and reinstalling the game, my copy still froze up and crashed after just about every stage, forcing me to continually reboot my PSP. Thankfully, my progress saved most of the time because if you die in the middle of a stage or should the hardware lock up, there are no checkpoints, and you've got to restart the level all the way from the beginning. It's annoying enough when you die fighting the hordes of enemies, but it's downright rage-inducing when it happens due to buggy software.
While Unbound Saga oozes personality in its story line and cinematics, this veneer tries to cover up a game which, when you actually play it, has about as much depth as Kim Kardashian. Boring gameplay and half-baked mechanics combine to create a title that is shallow even for a $15 downloadable game. PSP owners continue to wait for more great games to come out for the handheld; unfortunately, it looks like they're going to wait a while longer.
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