Genre fusion is something of a mainstay in the indie scene as of late, after all, what better way to revitalize a now-defunct style of game than injecting it with some vigor from another genre? Most prominent is the trend of rogue-ifying something; platformers, FPS, RPGs, and so on. But before this was ever cool, there was the 1990 now-cult-classic ActRaiser. Featuring a blend between action platforming stages a la Castlevania as well as god-game style simulation like that of Populous, players were treated to a unique SNES title that threaded a line between frenetic, fast-paced gameplay and much slower, thoughtful creation and town planning.
Enter SolSeraph, ACE Team’s (@theACETeam) 2019 ActRaiser inspired action-platforming tower defense god-game. It’s important to note the addition of “tower defense” to that concoction; while SolSeraph follows in the footsteps of its sister game, offering a balance between 2.5D side scrolling segments and isometric/top-down city creation, it also lavishes the player with waves of enemies attacking your city. This new mechanic drastically changes the game as a whole and makes it stand out from its predecessor, offering more than a simple retreading of the ground ActRaiser has already well covered.
It’s easy to trace the through-line of inspiration that SolSeraph draws upon: you play as an Angel (instead of a God) brought down from the heavens to help cleanse the world of the evils plaguing humanity. This is done through side-scrolling sections where you go mano-y-mano with baddies as well as prop humanity up by helping them place housing, farming plots, and, uh, barracks. Lots of barracks, because monsters will be constantly assaulting your humble abodes. Whereas ActRaiser simply tossed monsters at the player that were swiftly dealt with first-hand during city building, the monsters here are more direct threats to the humans of the world.
There’s several types of defenses you can construct, most of them staffed by your followers to create swordspeople, archers, and so forth. There’s also static defenses, such as spike walls, which you can lay down to slow the advance of the monstrous hordes. These buildings can only be placed within a certain range of already built structures, rhizomatically sprawling out from an already-established bonfire that you start at and must defend. Roads allow you to extend your buildable range, placing buildings along them as you go. This mechanic becomes especially important as you find yourself needing to reach pockets of Black Fog dotting the land. Near these areas, you can build a temple that, when staffed, will clear the Fog encircling an enemy lair. Unlike ActRaiser’s two action levels per area, SolSeraph changes the pacing by having you delve into several of these lairs in each area.
Lairs are made up of both longer platforming-centric levels and battles against a few waves of enemies in confined spaces. After clearing all of the Lairs, a boss level opens up where you traverse a large and complex level culminating in a boss fight. Changing things up and allowing for more of a balance between the fast-paced levels and defense-minded city building does away with some of the sluggishness inherent within ActRaiser’s established formula.
It’s within this divergence from inspiration where SolSeraph finds its footing, elevating itself from being a by-the-numbers updated version of the game from which it pulls many of its central ideas. Whereas many throwback titles tend to hedge close to their original inspiration, paying homage or straightforwardly refining mechanics and design, SolSeraph’s divergence allows it to not only create its own identity but evolve the base structure already present in ActRaiser. It offers a refreshing approach which establishes that retro recreations need not follow the well-trodden path of the games they aim to recreate. By pursuing the design further, they become something that represents not only the creation they wish to honor, but also serve as games well worth engaging with on their own terms.
SolSeraph manages to create an experience reminiscent of ActRaiser while simultaneously updating it to be relevant to modern audiences. Its multilayered gameplay, from freely moving area to area, building up defenses against waves of enemies, and dropping down into action levels, forgoes any repetition that ActRaiser was maligned for in its time. Rather than going straight for borderline remake, its experimentation with the form makes it a game tantalizing to not only those who are fans of ActRaiser, but also to newer audiences interested in its equally unique blend of genres. Old fans of ActRaiser and those who have never heard of it alike can find a rewarding experience here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the people of the land need me, and those monsters aren’t going to take care of themselves.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.