What would you do if you were God? I’d probably engineer some kind of plague that only wipes out those who rant endlessly about how amazing Breaking Bad is. Yes, I get it… it’s a good show. I don’t care, so shut the hell up about it.
Actraiser is an old, old, old game (released in 1991). Here’s a little perspective: when Actraiser was released, Kirby hadn’t been invented yet, Tupac was still alive, and the Super Nintendo was less than half a year old. Still, the two decades since the game’s release haven’t diminished how awesome it is.
First thing: this is a game where you play God. Like… literally. You’re never explicitly referred to as such, but that’s because of Nintendo’s insane anti-religious policy that was strict enough to get even the “holy” spell in early Final Fantasy games renamed. Long story short, this is a game where the plot is as simple as “you’re God and Satan has taken over the earth, so go provide evil with a hellish beating until you’ve saved the world.”
Second thing: this is a unique mix of genres, combining a simplistic god game with a fairly straightforward sidescroller. Each location starts with the sidescroller bit, sending you to make your way through a level until you beat a boss and thus make the area safe-ish enough for your little human followers to live there. I’m not very good at sidescrollers in general (and being an old game, Actraiser can tend to be brutally difficult at times), but there’s something that I find very enjoyable about the sidescroller parts of this game. The only problem I’ve found is that your momentum is strange when you’re in the air; while in Mario games (for example) you’re able to change your momentum mid-air, there’s a cutoff point in Actraiser at which point you can’t control the direction you’re going anymore. This means you don’t have as much control when jumping as you’d probably like. Why does God have less control than Mario? It’s probably best not to think about it.
Once you beat the boss, two things happen: you switch from being God to controlling a little angel who can shoot arrows, and the perspective changes to an overhead map of the area similar to the original Sim City. The arrows you can shoot are important, because there are monsters flying all over the sky; as you direct your people to grow their village and perform miracles (like lightning and rain) to aid them, monsters will try to abduct them and destroy the buildings they put up. It falls to you to hold them at bay while directing your followers’ development toward the monsters’ lairs so that they can seal them (something they quickly learn how to do). As you direct your followers to build and populate more of the land, the population grows, and when your population grows enough, you level up and get more health for both your angel and your character in the sidescroller stages. This makes these “angel” portions very rewarding.
After all monster lairs are sealed, something will happen that will necessitate you going through another sidescroller stage in order to help everyone. Finishing off the boss in that level means you’re done with the sidescroller stages in that area, which provides you with the opportunity to focus on telling your followers to expand into unused areas in order to increase the population and level up your character.
Your followers periodically provide you with offerings that can range from helpful items that power up your angel’s arrows to items that help other areas with their specific problems. Actraiser may not be as full of features as a modern god game, but there’s no denying that it’s still charming and fun.
The graphics are obviously not at the level of, say, Donkey Kong Country, but there’s nonetheless something very pleasing about them. Really, it’s a crime that this game has been all but forgotten, because your yellow/blue outfit and the general aesthetics of this game are incredibly memorable.
That’s not even mentioning the music, which has what’s probably one of the top ten “I can’t get that song out of my head but have no idea what it’s from” game songs of all time:
Here’s what you should do: