Review by PCGamer77

Reviewed: 07/26/01 | Updated: 07/26/01

The second act raises the difficulty level but leaves out a lot of the fun

Pardon the pun, but ActRaiser was a really tough act to follow. With beautiful graphics, orchestral music, and a unique blend of side-scrolling platform action with a dash of SimCity-style management, ActRaiser was one of the finest 16-bit games ever released. The only possible flaw one could point to was that it was a tad on the easy side. Enix evidently decided that the franchise needed to move sharply in the direction of more difficult platforming action. They scrapped the simulation portion and gave the player an arsenal of powerful magic spells and cool fighting moves. The result is a good game, but it can't help but disappoint those who loved the original.

GRAPHICS (10/10)
AR2 is perhaps even better looking than its predecessor - if such a thing is even possible in the 16-bit gaming realm. Characters are large and detailed, the color palette is varied, and the boss enemies really do look as big and bad as they should. This is the kind of gorgeous sprite-based 2D look that many of us have missed ever since the 3D polygonal style became dominant in the Playstation era.

MUSIC & SOUND (10/10)
The soundtrack to the first ActRaiser was a bit like having a symphony playing in your living room, and the sequel delivers that same terrific music and overall sound quality. Drums beat ominously on the battlefield, big juicy explosion sounds are made when you finish off big bosses…basically everything in the audio department is top. I can't give it anything less than a perfect 10.

Enix decided to really sock it to us for complaining that the first game was too easy. They set us up for a big fall by giving AR2 three difficulty settings: ''easy,'' ''normal,'' and ''hard.'' What you will discover is that even the easy setting is more difficult than the first game was at its hardest. In fact, AR2 is the most difficult game I have ever played on any platform in my entire life. Veterans of platform games will appreciate the challenge level, but many gamers who enjoyed the first ActRaiser will not.

The action in this game is intense and often quite fun. Your winged warrior can run, jump, glide, slash forward and above, stab downward, squat, defend with his shield high-middle-low…there may be even more moves, but you get the idea. You will need to use them all, too, as the levels force you to pull off some very difficult platforming. The controls are quite responsive, which is absolutely necessary given that some moves require you to press several buttons in quick succession. The game isn't strictly linear, either. You get to fly around in your sky palace and decide what locations to visit based upon the description given by your angelic assistants. There does seem to be a definite order in which you will want to go to follow the story and increase the difficulty level in a fluid manner, but it's still a nice way to prevent the player from getting ''stuck'' on one level with no place else to go.

I did NOT like the fact that they removed the strategy-simulation aspect of the game, and I suspect that most people who enjoyed the first ActRaiser like I did will also miss that part a great deal. Your people continued to need you after you first helped them out, and it gave you the chance to role-play a little bit. Now you just hear what the problem is, descend to earth to hack-and-slash through a level, and then hear how much better off the people are now thanks to you. It works, and it does make AR2 more focussed than the first game, but it just isn't as much fun. Enix should have given its customers a little more credit; sometimes a very focussed and arcade-oriented title isn't going to be as popular as a title that is slower but deeper.

Another strike against AR2 is the disappointing ending. It essentially says ''Congratulations! Now try the next difficulty level!'' after you win the climactic battle; no story resolution, no big ceremonious finale, no nothing. Oh yeah…you do get to enter your initials if you had one of the high scores. This unsatisfying conclusion positively reeks of the arcades, which is a really sad development given the richness of the ActRaiser universe.

To put it quite plainly: the brutal difficulty of AR2 prevents it from reaching the exalted status of its predecessor. Yes it is an ActRaiser game, and you will recognize it as such. Yes, there are multiple difficulty settings. Yes you can get a password after completing a level. And yes, you can cheat with numerous Game Genie codes.

Incredibly, that isn't nearly enough to keep this from being one of the most difficult games out there, PERIOD. The platforming sequences can be insanely hard at times, and that was clearly intentional on the part of the designers. Those diabolical level builders constantly place ledges just out of reach, forcing you to try to pull off a difficult move that will almost certainly result in numerous untimely deaths before you succeed. All of the passwords and cheat codes in the world will not help you if you cannot manage to get through that series of 10 tricky jumps/glides. That's the sort of thing that makes you want to punch your hand through the TV screen. Nothing hurts more than slaughtering legions of deadly foes with dazzling moves, only to slip and fall to your death while jumping around like a schoolgirl playing hopscotch.

The difficulty and difficulty levels of AR2 make it extremely replayable by the standards of the side-scrolling action genre. They could have done so much more to enhance replay had they expanded rather than eliminated the simulation and RPG elements, but I can only harp on that disappointment so much.

For all of its shortcomings, I have to admit that I enjoyed AR2. Fans of the first game should give it a try, and those who love difficult action games should also grab a copy. If you don't like action games at all, then don't give AR2 a second thought.

A gorgeous work of art, ActRaiser 2 would be a perfect game if only it weren't so ridiculously hard and had retained the hybrid gaming elements that set the original apart. It's good, but it should have been great.


Rating: 7

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