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SolSeraph review: Get your act together

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A modern ActRaiser needs more than a resemblance to the original

Ace Team/Sega

ActRaiser was a Super Nintendo game in which players took control of a god-like entity who not only listened to the prayers of the people and acted upon them from on high, but would also take control of a statue on Earth to directly kick ass when the situation called for it. The combination of city planning and platforming felt novel at the time, and still does; few games ever followed this particular blueprint to success.

Which is why SolSeraph, the spiritual successor to ActRaiser, out now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, felt like such a big deal when it was announced. But, unfortunately, the finished game is more of a competent but stodgy remake than a second coming.

While ActRaiser tasked the player with guiding the path of the people in a more general way during the planning phases of the game, SolSeraph presents me with a flame in the middle of town to defend from constantly encroaching enemies while I build structures to provide workers, and pave roads to forests to keep up the supply of wood. Defensive structures and buildings that will create soldiers to fight on my behalf are also necessary for survival. I need to build farms to keep everyone fed, and ultimately the goal is to reveal the enemy bases so I can pick up my sword and clear them personally in the side-scrolling sections of the game.

But it’s all so bloodless and uninspired once I get past the obvious homage to ActRaiser. The planning sections require vigilance more than creativity, and the side-scrolling combat feels heavy and slow without giving me a sense of power. Dead minions often flash for a moment, are cut in two, and then disappear. Is it too much to ask for death animations? Or enemies that respond to being hit by a holy blade in a way that feels more consequential than a brief flash of light?

I’m locked onto a single plane on each side-scrolling level — which seems like a strange limitation for a god — while enemies can come in from the fore- or background, giving me a long time to watch them before I can actually attack them.

Rows of buildings as seen from above Ace Team/Sega

Ace Team, the developer of SolSeraph, added complexity to the ActRaiser formula but none of that complexity made the game more enjoyable. There were boxes that had to be ticked off for this to feel like a spiritual successor, and those features were dutifully created and slightly expanded upon, but to what end?

There are no new ideas here, and neither of the two game modes are enjoyable enough to stand on their own for very long. I often found myself happy to be back working on a settlement or clearing out a lair not because it was fun, but because I was glad to escape the monotony of the previous task.

ActRaiser fans are likely hungry enough to want to at least try this — and the $15 asking price doesn’t feel like robbery — but I left SolSeraph after only a few hours, upset at the missed opportunity.

SolSeraph is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a Steam download code provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.