The modern take on ActRaiser does more than enough right but doesn’t totally stick the landing.
SolSeraph is an endearingly fun yet gawky fusion of side-scrolling action platforming, isometric tower defense, and a thoughtful story, brought to the Switch by Sega and the Rock of Ages developer Ace Team. Taking on the role of the powerful mangod Helios, you travel to various parts of the world to use your powers of combat and city planning to fight back the blight of chaos in the realm. The disparate pieces fit together like a nice jigsaw puzzle as you bounce between action and light real-time strategy. It doesn’t quite live up to the majesty of its ActRaiser inspirations, but SolSeraph is at its worst a serviceable execution of the excellent concept.
To start, the platforming feels stilted and awkward at times, but in a way that feels deliberate as it is extremely reminiscent of how awkward the platforming felt in the 1991 Enix-made Super Nintendo classic ActRaiser. Even still, nothing feels fluid as you double-jump your way around areas either trying to destroy all the enemies in a limited space or reach the end of the stage. New abilities as you progress help to incrementally improve the action, but none of them truly fixes the frustration of arrows from enemies flying from off-screen in a way you never could have anticipated or hitboxes being extraordinarily finicky. The pieces to a more interesting side-scrolling segment are there, as a back dodge and a shield give you some decent evasive maneuvers, but nothing flows together and I spent most of my time fighting the rigidness of the controls. Unlockable abilities and boosts found as you progress help to add variety and flexibility, but too often the platforming segments felt like a means to an end.
Thankfully, the tower defense portions are far more engaging, even if they are far different from the ethereal SimCity-like experience of its spiritual forebear. Starting in a central hub, your goal is to build up the civilization through smart creation of homes, farms, and more. Waves of enemies attack your town, though, so in addition to adding to your population and feeding them, you also need to build attackers, starting early on with warriors and archers.
Each of these segments is structured in a way where your goal is to seek out enemy lairs and destroy them. Differing map terrain adds some depth and variety, but in general, the tower defense portions are mostly straightforward, though the way you bounce between strategy and the platforming action of the enemy lairs keeps it flowing. Enough leeway is given in the real-time strategy parts that lets you experiment and explore without much penalty, which is fun, but something more compelling is lost in the process.
Making up for some of the straightforward plotting of the tower defense portions is the story, as penned by Talos Principle writer Jonas Kyrazes. Told primarily through text box character dialog during the strategy parts, it’s more engrossing than it should be, touching on faith, religion, and belief in a meaningful manner. This is one of the only aspects of SolSeraph that surpasses its inspiration, though the story is so divorced from the gameplay in a way that some of the novel character interactions in ActRaiser weren’t.
The graphics all have an Unreal Engine sheen to them, which is mostly a draw. Nothing looks bad, but at the same time nothing stands out. The music evokes the influences while still carving its own path, with the whole soundtrack being made stronger by the banger of a title theme from ActRaiser composer Yuzo Koshiro.
The totality of SolSeraph is a pleasant ride that recalls ActRaiser to a fault. While the platforming and tower defense strategy might have their maladies, they still fuse together to make an interesting and engaging game. It’s refreshing to see someone take a stab at such a winning concept, even if they stumble a bit on the way to the finish line.