Having just played Actraiser, I was relieved to know the city building portion had been taken out in the sequel. It had gotten stale and the thought of having to repeat something similar did not motivate me to boot this up. It looks as though again I am a deity, as in the original, but the baby angel is now all grown up. Instead of commanding a statue, my new character for platforming is most likely an angel as it’s equipped with wings. Instead of building cities between stages, I now fly my sky palace and/or UFO around from area to area to initiate a platforming sequence. It’s an improvement, but I was left utterly confused as to where to go sometimes. Names of places only popped up when you hovered over them and they weren’t always identifiable from above. On top of that, not every place was immediately accessible. I found myself just roaming around as if using an electronic quija board looking for any place that let me actually play the game. Since there are no population concerns as with the previous game, every level begins with the same amount of health. The amount seemed fairly balanced and there are again pedestals around that can be hit to reveal health.
Your character has both sword and shield. The shield is pretty nice as it adds another option rather than hopping around. This is important because your character has wings and the jumping is absolutely atrocious. You will use any means possible to avoid actually having to jump in this platformer and that concept is mindbogglingly dumb. Jumping invokes the wings on your character and he immediately begins gliding. Who told him to do this I certainly don’t know, but whoever it is should never be allowed to make a game again. After jumping, a long gliding session causes him to level out so there is more horizontal distance. The game makes sure to add sections long enough to use it and in doing so creates some of the hardest jumps possible. Later in the game I had to use a hidden area because one jump was near pixel perfect to perform and failure resulted in an instant death. Not a quick death, mind you, but just slowly floating down to your death helpless to do anything about it. Though you can manage with it through most of the game, small platforms immediately made my palms sweaty. When you land after gliding your character skids to a stop, which most of the time on small platform means careening off the edge. After some time you figure out that if you down attack before landing you don’t slide and, get this, land where you’re supposed to. Now the entire plaforming experience includes not only having to manage your jumps, but with every jump, managing your landing. It sounds easy, but even the down attacks are moving at a diagonal. So with each jump you have to glide the right distance then initiate a down attack at the right point to diagonal to the tiny platform and not skid off. Don’t perform it and you skid, perform it too early or late and you go diving with your sword out into a chasm to confront death with bravado. During these down attacks you are immune to damage, but the benefit I got from that wasn’t often planned, rather a nice surprise when it happened.
To reaffirm that nobody play tested it, platforms are also used in boss and mini-boss battles, if admittedly slightly bigger. During these fights, I’m not sure what claimed the highest body count. Sure I’m fighting a hulking behemoth who happens to be on fire, but he is only hurting me, where as missing a platform takes all my life at once. It’s like the joust event from american gladiators, sure the other person is beating you with their pugil stick, but a larger portion of your focus is making sure you don’t lose your footing. This is where the shield becomes instrumental, because if the platforms aren’t moving, you want to defend more than move. This becomes clear during the snail mini boss as rocks raining down from above can be almost negated by holding up on the D-pad for a few seconds. Detection is pretty decent, but it’s of little consolation. There is a section where you travel on a platform and are supposed to land on a boat. The platform goes through the boat, but if you don’t jump you’ll continue with the platform. It’s more realistic to represent depth, but I definitely got punished the first time for my laziness.
One mechanic that saw some nice improvement was the use of magic. It’s fairly clear how it is to be used, and you’ll get a different magic ability depending on how you direct yourself while using it. It can take a little practice to avoid using wrong spells, but lining up certain magic abilities just right can eliminate bosses insanely fast. When researching for this game, I found a speed run done during AGDQ , which just shows how well magic can be used if timed properly. (Coincidentally this is also how I avoided that long pixel perfect jump) The amount of magic is limited of course, but it’s worth noting that this is per continue, not per life. This means if you reach a boss on low health, it’s likely a better option to take a death before blowing your magic. If instead you attempt the boss using all your magic and still die, you’ll respawn to fight the boss (assuming it wasn’t your last life), but this time without magic.
The aesthetics in the platforming stages are stunning for an SNES game, especially one that isn’t a later release. I can’t help but think that far too much of the budget went into the art work that could have been better spent on the mechanics. From the bosses, to the everyday encounters, clearly a lot of time was spent polishing the look. That’s why it surprised me during one level to find a certain enemy that is…how to politely say…phallic. I can’t imagine this passed a brain storming session without an odd glance and a snicker. It wasn’t even hard to find an image online. Either me and the person who posted it are a freudian dream, or the developers have some explaining to do!
Finally after battling through pornographic snake creatures and various bosses and mini bosses, you are able to approach the penultimate tower. However, this depends on the level of difficulty. If you play on easy, as I did, this is the last tower and upon beating the boss rush of mini bosses, the game is over. If you play on a more difficult setting, once beating this tower, you go on to an actual boss rush along with an additional final boss. The final boss has now upgraded from an arthritic beetle to a giant lizard man with a gaping hole in its stomach that shoots energy pulses. I guess if my angel can upgrade, so can final bosses.
Overall the game is beautiful but nothing can compensate for the miserable handling. Jumping is essential to a platformer, and if that is lacking, no amount of pretty graphics and phallic monsters will save it. Although improvements of magic and the addition of shields were well done, it left me yearning for the rigid wingless statue from the original. The developers of the game, Quintet, never made another platformer, and the fact that I checked to see if they had just goes to show the replay value. If you can manage to wrap your head around the jumping, I could see it being worth another playthrough. I was a little disappointed I didn’t see the extra end boss, but replaying through the entirety of the game to experience one extra aspect was not going to happen. Sorry lizard man.