There are a few things that you can rely on with PlayStation Mobile – clones of every retro arcade game ever made, extremely quirky games from Japan, apps trying to fill in every gap left by Sony from the Vita’s core package, and an endless stream of games from Thomas Hopper aka TACS Games. That brings me onto Console Saga, the latest and possibly the most ambitious yet from this one-man-band where he once again indulges in his love of retro gaming systems and brings that passion to the arcade platformer…
No retro platform games comes without a plot and Console Saga is no exception. Here you find yourself in the role of an obsolete and abandoned retro handheld console (which looks remarkably like a GameBoy!). You’d been left for dead and unwanted until brought back to life by a strange form of alien radiation… the very same radiation that has been responsible for causing the destruction of classic video games. Only you can save all of these classic games so you have to enter each game to eradicate the corrupted data infecting each of them.
So off you set determined to save retro gaming for ever. What follows is a platform action game spread over 16 levels. You start out in the main level selection area where you’re presented with a number of video screens, each representing a different level in the game. Once near these, pressing triangle will enter the level (assuming it’s one you have already unlocked by completing the one before it) and then once in the level proper you’re tasked with finding a set number of game cartridges and then making your way to the level’s exit, again represented by a video screen. Along the way, various creatures are out to stop you although these can be despatched with your trusty blaster (doesn’t every handheld console come equipped with one these days?) and to get to those hard to reach platforms, you’ve got some help at hand by way of a grappling rope that you can make use of constructed from retro energy. It’s not a lot but it could just be enough to help you save the day!
Once you complete each level it unlocks the next and every fourth level is the boss stage and I have to warn you that these are incredibly tough to beat and will take some time and effort. Fortunately, the game’s auto save and the fact that you can restart from any level and are just returned the level select screen if you lose all your lives is a real life-saver here – there’s never a need to replay the whole game from the beginning and with it being so difficult you’re going to be thankful for this as you play through it.
Despite having to get to grips with separate controls to jump, shoot and use the grappling rope, it’s incredibly easy and intuitive to play and at no time do you feel as if you are fighting against the game to get it to do what you want. Jumping from platform to platform while shooting is a breeze and even using the rope to get to those hard-to-reach areas becomes second nature after a while… even though it still takes some time to master its use completely! The controls offer an incredible depth that you wouldn’t expect from a PSM game as well – as well as being able to use the rope to swing from platforms (fun in itself – just ask anyone who loved playing any of the Spider-Man games) if you use the grapple in conjunction with your blaster this gives you added momentum to reach more distant platforms or those that are generally harder to reach.
In addition to the main part of the game collecting the cartridges and reaching each exit, there is a clock running on screen throughout. While each level isn’t a race to complete it against a time limit, your time is recorded and displayed once the level is completed. In addition, there are bonus code “pages” scattered throughout the level for you to try to collect. Some are easier to reach than others and while they don’t offer any bonuses to the game itself, they do provide an extra challenge for ther most hardened gamers.
In fact, it’s these two aspects that add greater long-term appeal to Console Saga. Because you are in control at all times of what levels you tackle, you’re able to return to play levels you have completed at will, so you can return to re-try past levels whenever you wish to try to beat your past times or – if you failed to originally – try to find all of the pages on a particular level to extend the lifespan of the game. There is another way that Thomas Hopper has done that as well though…
Console Saga has included a Challenge Mode and for platform games of this nature I have to say that this is pretty unique and – as with Super Tank Poker and Shuttle Quest 2000 before them, uses randomly generated levels to give Console Saga near unlimited replay potential meaning that this is a game that’s potentially going to last you a lifetime, just like the game’s hero. From the game’s level menu, there is a screen that you enter which gives you the opportunity to type in a code – this could be anything you like – a random sequence of letters, a friend’s name… anything. From this, the game generates a completely random level for you to play. This level is packed with enemies to destroy, platforms and hazzards to negotiate and the only difference to the regular game levels is that there is just a solitary cartridge to collect and this is placed right next to your start position. Beyond that, it’s a straight race to get to the computer screen at the end and if you manage it you’re presented with your completion time. To share the level, just give your friends the code you entered and compare times. Simple and effective but it works incredibly well and people were already using this feature online within days of the game going on sale. Anyone feel up to the challenge of trying the VITAPLAYER level?
As a game I really can’t praise this enough. It’s incredibly addictive and one of the finest examples of platform gaming I have played for a long time. Whether you’re playing the regular game or the Challenge Mode, there’s something about Console Saga that draws you in and sucks you into its world so convincingly that you struggle to put the game down. No matter how frustratingly difficult it might get at times with some of the levels, amazingly that difficulty still doesn’t discourage you from gritting your teeth and trying again. When playing this initially, I encountered and just couldn’t get past it no matter how many times I tried and lost count of the number of re-starts I had. Any other game and I would have quit, never to load it again. Not Console Saga though – I kept trying, trying and eventually got further and further into the game and felt incredibly rewarded for my efforts. Challenging definitely, but not to the point that it puts you off from wanting to play it.
Visually this looks fantastic as well. The main character is well animated and is accompanied by some neat visual effects leaving light trails behind him, backgrounds move quickly and smoothly, and there are nice touches with the distortion-laden backgrounds throughout. The main visual themes for each of the levels have all been “inspired” by classic gaming eras and all work well and help create a wonderful retro gaming atmosphere throughout. The music is probably the weakest area with a series of chip tunes playing throughout but the sound effects fit the game really well with plenty of effective 8-bit and 16-bit styled blaster and explosion sounds all throughout the game.
The only thing that I would say really holds this back from being the perfect gaming experience for PlayStation Mobile is – as I mentioned before – is that it’s damn hard! The regular levels themselves vary in difficulty as you would expect but the bosses are incredibly tough and somewhat unforgiving and it does take a lot of persevering to get past them. I know that Thomas Hopper does go back to his older games to tweak and refine them so maybe either an adjustment in the difficulty department here or perhaps adding difficulty settings could be done for a future update to this? Other than that it’s pretty much there as being the essential buy to showcase just what PSM is all about.
This is definitely the best game yet from Thomas Hopper for PlayStation Mobile. It looks fantastic, sounds good, is full of neat touches throughout and plays like a dream. With the random challenge mode the game will always have something to offer you enabling you to compete against your friends and the fact that each level is timed and can be replayed will keep you coming back long after you complete it if you want to push yourself to try to find every last secret that the game has to offer. This really is deserving of a place in every Vita owner’s collection and put simply this is one of the best PlayStation Mobile games released to date and one that you can’t afford to miss out on.
At A Glance
- Title: Console Saga
- Publisher: TACS Games
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 38Mb