A successful sequel builds upon the original. Or to put it bluntly, it should be bigger and better. Sadly, that was not the case for ActRaiser 2. Released two years following its predecessor, ActRaiser 2 is a bit infamous for having ruffled a few feathers. The original ActRaiser is such a beloved SNES classic that a sequel would have big shoes to fill. Quintet certainly tried, but the formula didn’t quite hit the right marks. But that’s not to suggest that this follow-up is a complete dud. It’s not without some merit, but it’s definitely a far cry from the first game. The box cover boasts the claim “100% pure action and excitement!” Well, they weren’t lying about the 100% action part. Say goodbye to the simulation aspect from the original. ActRaiser 2 is strictly an action title. And a rather uneven one at that.
GETTING THE “HANG” OF IT
Your hero has wings but he can’t fly. He can, however, glide and dive. It sounds good on paper but the actual execution is a bit iffy to say the very least.
Slashing enemies above you feels very satisfying. As does a well-timed block. It’s just too bad your hero moves a bit slowly and somewhat stiff.
Magic returns. They are as follows:
Using the right one at the right time can make all the difference.
THE QUEST BEGINS
ActRaiser 2 opens up promisingly enough. You get a brief intro that shows our hero battling Tanzra. Right away the graphics stand out as incredibly detailed. You get the best of Tanzra here but unfortunately for you, Tanzra has beckoned the most vile and vicious demons to form a legion against you. Kind of like the Secret Society of Super Villains…
Appreciate the Mode 7 callback to the first ActRaiser. Scale up this tree while dealing with arrow-slinging goblins.
Industen is broke up into two action sections. The first boss is a terrible plant monster that would make Little Shop of Horrors and Joe & Mac proud. The second boss is a scythe chucking scumbag whose cloudy compadre will try to blow you [whoa… -Ed.] off the screen.
Modero is up next. Or rather, it could be. One of the nice things about this game, contrary to popular belief that it’s a total dud, is that you’re given a certain level of freedom. You can tackle the stages in any order, which is nice. Modero is a hellish graveyard. The last boss of this stage is particularly memorable. The SNES flexes its Mode 7 muscles.
Demon’s Cave, not to be confused with Demon’s Crest (although admittedly Demon’s Crest does have a bit of an ActRaiser 2 vibe in terms of aesthetics), is full of demonic mutant spiders and nightmarish critters. And no, that ain’t a speaker system there. It’s a fill-up for your health or magic bar. The end boss would make Stan Winston proud.
There’s a rather tricky jump right away that can be a bit infuriating. Not landing the clearing correctly leads you to fall below where enemies annoyingly respawn and sap you of precious health. The control takes a while to master and even then, it feels a bit shoddy and unreliable.
Battle a horrendous giant snake and snail to purify the country of Benefic. Saving your magic until the boss is highly recommended.
Death Field is appropriately named. Some of the fiery sections can hurt you. The mid-boss is reminiscent of the classic first boss from the original.
Galloping riders aim to ruin your day. If you manage to survive the onslaught, a mad knight awaits you at level’s end.
Another gorgeous burning stage, Almetha is one of the easier levels in the game.
Massive monsters that aren’t bosses or even mid-bosses have always been a pet favorite of mine. That’s why I love this horned blue cyclops creature so much. The boss fight is an intense one. Keep moving and don’t fall to an early grave.
What’s up with all these great names like Modero and Benefic and then we have Palace? Oh well. Palace is your typical ice-themed world. Make good use of the many platforms to help you conquer the boss.
Gratis opens up with a sign that reads, “WELCOME MASTER to your DOOM!!” It’s a nice touch and reminds me of Altered Beast. More deformed mutant spiders await. This level is very annoying as ghosts pop out of nowhere while you’re trying to make this big leap. This leads to cheap hits and starting all over again. The stiff control makes this level way harder than it should be.
Provided you can safely navigate the annoying platforming, your reward is facing off with these two bastards.
Stormrook is perhaps the best looking level in the entire game.
Survive the night and slay this fire-spewing monstrosity. Easier said than done…
Deception Demon rules this land and has been hiding in the king’s mind. Once you’re inside the king’s mind, find the blue door to fight the ghost mid-boss.
Ominous red door leads to a showdown with the Deception Demon boss.
Enter the sunken remains of a ghost town to kill this octopus-looking monstrosity.
Altheria is somewhat similar to Tortoise Island. The boss here has a definite Ghostbusters vibe which I absolutely dig.
TOWER OF SOULS
You’ll square off with all the mid-bosses before facing the clock boss. Some folks may claim that boss gauntlets are outdated but to me they’re timeless… [Har har -Ed.]
Death (Heim) awaits those skilled (and patient) enough to make it this far.
WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
ActRaiser 2 uses a password system. Some easter eggs include a sketch of the team. Why not try out typing in “long long ago.” sometime and see what happens…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
ActRaiser 2 is one of those games that most of the critics heralded at the time but is now (overly) criticized. It’s one of the more polarizing SNES titles to this day. Most seem to dislike it but there’s a small camp that feel it’s become underrated and underappreciated over the years.
It’s interesting to look back on old gaming review scores. ActRaiser 2 was heavily praised back in November of 1993. The picture above is from an issue of Super NES Buyer’s Guide — a sister publication of EGM. The red color indicates graphics and ActRaiser 2 was one of the rare games that got a full red to the max rating. Yellow indicates gameplay which you would think is most important to a game’s overall rating. Yet oddly enough, the yellow is about halfway for the first two reviewers yet they still gave the game a robust 87 and 88%. Er, OK. EGM gave it scores of 8, 9, 9 and 9. GameFan scored it 88, 94, 94 and 95%. Leave it to good old Super Play, however, to show some levity and pump the brakes on the sequel hype. They rated it 69%.
I find ActRaiser 2 to be a very uneven game. There are parts I like about it, but a lot of other parts that went awry. I do miss the simulation part of the game but I understand the desire to change it up a bit. However, the execution faltered somewhat and thus hampers the game a good bit from reaching its full potential. Yes, this game is hard. Hard as a brick. And I don’t mind a hard game as long as it isn’t due to unfair enemy placement and/or stiff control. Sadly, both are culprits here. While I did enjoy myself playing through certain bits of ActRaiser 2, the unfair difficulty and stiff control always came back to stop my momentum from truly enjoying the game. It’s a shame too, as this could have been a very solid sequel if they had properly addressed those two significant issues.
When it comes to graphics and sound, ActRaiser 2 delivers. The visuals are sublime — it’s arguably one of the best looking SNES games of 1993. The amazing orchestral score, once again helmed by musical maestro Yuzo Koshiro, hits the mark. It’s just too bad that the most important aspect, the gameplay, is below par. Especially when compared to the previous game which came out two years prior, ActRaiser 2 just feels like a disappointing drop-off. I wanted to like it so badly and at times I actually do, but the overall effect sadly misses the mark. I don’t think it’s as bad as some others have claimed it to be, but they have a right to their opinion. Without doubt, had this game been called The Knight Avenger or anything other than ActRaiser 2 then maybe it would have fared better with diehard fans of the first game. Alas, when you tack a “2” at the end of a name as big as ActRaiser, certain expectations come along with it. I, however, don’t think it’s all bad. Disappointing? Yes. Completely worthless? No. Regardless of how one feels about ActRaiser 2, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: at least we’ll always have the first game to fall back on.