Early on in the Super Nintendo’s life Capcom blessed the system with many arcade ports such as U.N. Squadron, Final Fight, and Super Buster Brothers. All great titles but I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered if they would port Strider to the system. As one of their most high profile titles at the time it seemed like a natural fit. Yet it never materialized. A similar title would come from an unlikely source as Atlus would bring Run Saber to the US. Though far from original it is actually a far better game than the terrible 16-bit sequel Strider would receive.
In the distant future the Earth has been ravaged by pollution and low resources. Fearing for our future a new chemical is created to reverse the damage done to the environment. Once released into the atmosphere things go horribly wrong when it instead mutates everyone it comes in contact with it. As it turns out this was all part of the scientist Bruford’s plot to rule the world. Mankind’s last hope rests in the Saber project, genetically enhanced soldiers created to save the world. Three Sabers are created but one is driven insane and defects, leaving Allen and Sheena to pick up the pieces.
Mechanically this is pretty much identical to Strider. No seriously. Your saber is the same in terms of look and function with items that extend its reach. Both characters can climb and hang from nearly any surface, just like that game. You even have the same slide attack. Run Saber goes a step further and adds a few martial arts moves to your arsenal. You have a rolling jump that damages airborne enemies at the expense of height, a jump kick, and a diving kick. Lastly you have access to magic with each hero possessing a unique spell. These moves make both Allen and Sheena very versatile with the ability to attack at any angle. Speaking of, the differences between both characters are slight: Allen’s thunder saber hits in a horizontal arc while Sheena has less range with her vertical slice.
Alone or in coop you’re traveling the world in search of Bruford. You start off at the Taj base a military stronghold before flying overseas and assaulting Tong City, a futuristic Chinatown. Next up are the jungles of Jod Vally, followed by Grey Fac and finally Bruford’s hideout. The presentation is very subdued; the overall color palette is heavily grey and brown. It sells the idea that the world is polluted pretty well although it does grow weary after a while. The backgrounds are incredible with scrolling 2-3 layers deep. The creepy multi-jointed bosses are the sole visual highlight. Even the soundtrack is adequate but not very memorable. You are playing this one for its cool gameplay, which is where it excels.
The level design is great overall. Each level has a massive map with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, so much so that there is an arrow to guide you if lost. Since you can scale any wall the stages scroll in every direction with traps and obstacles lying in wait. The game moves at a pretty fast clip and the levels are pretty long to balance it. While there is plenty of platforming to be had the real star of Run Saber are the frequent boss encounters. There are at least three to four per stage and every encounter is memorable. Some of the best moments in the game are against its bosses such as the trippy Mode 7 on a jet that has been taken over by a demon or the numerous encounters with your rival Saber Kurtz.
The only real flaws in the game are its easy difficulty and length. This is an incredibly easy game, even more so in two-player coop. Although you always start with just three hit points if you linger in an area eventually an enemy will drop more. Your offensive arsenal of moves is grossly overpowered; even the boss battles aren’t much of a threat. And even if they were pink spheres that grant extra uses of your special attack drop with alarming regularity, meaning you can cheese your way through the toughest spots. Even with limited continues I think most will never even use them before the credits roll.
Sadly the lack of any major challenge also exposes just how short Run Saber is. The five levels are over far too quickly since you’ll blow through them without much difficulty. That is a shame as the level design is great and actually pretty creative. The game is so much fun you’ll want more of it. With just one or two more stages this could have been really special. They really should not have copied every aspect of Strider, of which its arcade style length was part of it.
Though derivative Run Saber is a solid game overall and incredibly fun. It’s a nice alternative to Strider and considering how few games are like it makes it still pretty unique. Unfortunately it was an obscure release and can be hard to find and pricey; to that I’ll just say good luck.