I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t I play this game in 1995?!” The short answer is yes, Comix Zone on the Sega Genesis. Now in Unbound Saga’s defense Comix Zone was horrible and regardless of whatever misconstrued memory you have of it, it really was. I actually went back and played Comix Zone prior to writing this to dispel any misplaced romanticizing I had done. The premise might as well be the same, long story short you’re in a beat-em-up framed by comic book panels, and following some of the general rules of comics. So is it Comix Zone Redux or is Unbound Saga its own game?
Setting and likeness to Comix Zone aside, if you look at Unbound Saga as simply a side-scroller beat-em-up with a quirky gimmick then you’ll get a clearer picture of the game. You start out as a bouncer named Rick (classic Final Fight-ish muscle guy) who is well aware of his presence in a comic and has great disdain for his ‘maker’ who keeps putting him in implausible and annoying situations. A second character quickly appears and acts as a plot motivator and as another playable character with her own unique bag of tricks to better facilitate face-smashing. Initially the story is murky and the writing is annoying to anyone over the age of 13, but the voice acting isn’t decent and in the end – the story is actually one of the best parts of the game… for what it’s worth. The story isn’t original or compelling, but at least I’ll remember it. The gameplay itself isn’t nearly as memorable.
I don’t require a game to reinvent a genre for me to enjoy it or think well of it. Unbound Saga is a beat-em-up but it’s doesn’t feel like it’s improved on the genre since Final Fight. The enemy character designs range from ‘eh that’s pretty cool’ to LSD-inspired (bear in an apron?), and they aren’t repetitive enough to annoy you like in the old palette-swapping days of yore. While their looks run the gamut they don’t vary much in terms of patterns or attacks. That said the boss design leaves a bit to be desired and few of the bosses are really that difficult or different. The levels are fairly quick and with only ten of them you can beat the game in less than two hours if you know what you’re doing and have leveled some skills up; your first play through will likely be done in fewer than three hours.
I had some extreme difficulties with co-op but XBL played just fine. The game was very confused as to why my “guest” Xbox profile didn’t have a save game, then it corrupted my main profile’s save game, and proceeded to crash my entire system. This happened not once but twice. Eventually it worked as there were two save files for each profile and all was well – but I expect issues like this to be resolved prior to release. I’m pretty patient and understanding (I play Bethesda games) but this particular bug was pretty glaring. However, after it worked coop made the game far more enjoyable.
You can develop your characters with random drop ‘skill tokens‘, switch between the two on the fly, play coop online or off, each of the two characters is very unique, there’s a survival mode, etc., but for some reason all of this just simply isn’t enough to set Unbound Saga apart or to even make it that enjoyable. The biggest improvement over a 1990s side-scroller was essentially graphical and the cel-shaded graphics fit in very well within the story; unfortunately Unbound Saga just falls short in most other areas. Other than the aforementioned bug there isn’t anything really game-breaking or any one thing that stands out as weak about the game, it’s just simply not very fun on a whole. You could probably make it through the entire game just tapping A over and over again; they tried really hard to add in things that would spice things up.
If you want something made in comic panels get Comic Jumper. If you want a great couch co-op beat-em up grab Scott Pilgrim. If you want to be an archetypal big guy who runs around beating skulls in get Shank. If you own all three and REALLY want to punch someone in the face, go look in a mirror and hit yourself. If you still aren’t satisfied then buy Unbound Saga when it’s on sale.
Review by Brandon Waters