Unbound Saga Review

Unbound Saga is one brutally boring brawler.

Tough guy Rick Ajax is a comic-book character forced to fight for the entertainment of readers at the whim of his creator, the Maker; Can you imagine such a cursed existence? Yet while Rick knows that he’s a pawn in the Maker’s cruel game, he remains blissfully unaware that he’s also the star of the feeble new PSP brawler Unbound Saga. You'd be better off remaining unfamiliar with this thoroughly dull game, too.

Unbound Saga doesn't try very hard to convince you it takes place in the pages of a comic book.

In Unbound Saga, it's your interminable task to guide the lumbering Rick through 10 stages of boring, mindless side-scrolling beat-'em-up combat as he journeys to give the Maker a piece of his mind. Eventually, Rick is joined by former professional damsel-in-distress Lori Machete who he suspects of being tossed into his life as part of a crossover with another comic book. This core concept of self-aware comic-book heroes has potential, but Unbound Saga doesn't do anything interesting with it. The story is unfocused and features characters that appear and disappear for no apparent reason, as well as levels that end abruptly without any sense of pacing or climax. The action ostensibly takes place on the pages of a comic book, but the game doesn't try very hard to sell this concept. There's never any expository text at the top of a panel, speech bubbles appear only alongside pop-up character portraits, and there's very little that's distinctly comic-book-like about the visuals.

As Rick, you can kick and punch your enemies into submission, as well as whack them with items you pick up, such as bottles and benches. However, Rick is so slow and his enemies so stupid that there's no enjoyment to be gleaned from any of this combat. Once Lori shows up, you can switch between the two characters at almost any time, and while she looks more agile, the action is so fundamentally weak that it isn't any more fun to play as Lori. Often, just when you think you've finished a panel and are ready to move one merciful step closer to completion, the Maker's hand will pop into the frame and quickly sketch a new group of mindless thugs for you to clobber. So, by the time you reach the end of this excruciating journey, you'll be longing to clobber the Maker yourself for putting you through this tedium. Unfortunately, the final confrontation is as anticlimactic and unsatisfying as everything else about Unbound Saga.

Along the way, you'll be confronted by punks, werewolves, hobos, and commandos, but there's no variety whatsoever to the way your enemies fight despite the differences in their outward appearance. Lori actually refers to the constant stream of goons and thugs as the Mindless Ones, and they sure do live up to their name. Even the occasional boss is only differentiated from the other fist fodder by an energy bar at the top of the screen. Fighting is a drag, with no sense of style to the combat. In addition to being simple and repetitive, the brawling lacks any sense of impact. Despite the visual representation of such big comic-book sound effects as WHAM, BLAM, and SMACK every time you hit an enemy, there's nothing hard-hitting or satisfying about the combat. And the absurd way that your foes collapse into a twisted heap of ragdoll limbs that can then be kicked around the stage as if they weighed nothing at all contributes to the sense that nothing about this game is quite right. As you progress, you earn skill points that let you unlock new combos and abilities for Rick and Lori, but the addition of a few new moves to your repertoire isn't nearly enough to make this clunky combat compelling. Unbound Saga tries to give you an incentive to play through the campaign multiple times by letting you carry over moves you've unlocked from one game to the next, but it's hard to imagine you feeling compelled to finish the game even once.

The ever-popular comic-book onomatopoeia THWAD makes an appearance.

The visuals in Unbound Saga are ordinary and inconsistent. Some of the background environments are interesting, especially those in the dingy, run-down city of Toxopolis, but the angular character models and objects in the foreground lack the detail to match and look out of place as a result. The cutscenes are the game's high point and feature gorgeous comic-book artwork. The voice actors do a fine job, but otherwise, the sound is disappointing. The harsh, grating music might suit the ruined urban landscape of Toxopolis, but it repeats too often, and the sounds of combat are too subdued to match the comic-book onomatopoeias on the screen.

No matter what you're looking for, there's a game that does it much better than Unbound Saga. The 1995 Genesis game Comix Zone made compelling use of its setting in a comic book while such hard-hitting classics as Final Fight and Streets of Rage 2 had enemies that attacked with variety and personality. As a beat-'em-up, Unbound Saga isn't in the same league. With these games and more like them readily available for download, there's no reason for anyone to waste time with this boring brawler.

The Good
Great artwork during cutscenes
The Bad
Dull, mindless combat against a legion of similar enemies
Unfocused, uninteresting story
Harsh, unpleasant, repetitive music
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