Run Saber (SNES)

Pub: Atlus | Dev: Horisoft | June 1993 | 8 MEGS
Pub: Atlus | Dev: Horisoft | June 1993 | 8 MEGS

One of my sore disappointments when it comes to the SNES is the fact that we never got a Strider game. Whether a port of the 1989 arcade classic or a kick ass sequel, it just wasn’t meant to be. I mean, how ridiculously sick would Super Strider have been? We’re talking BADASSERY on a grand scale! But thankfully, a little company by the name of Horisoft offered Super Nintendo owners a small consolation prize in the form of Run Saber. Although it’s no Strider, it’s definitely the closest thing to it on the SNES. And it sports a 2-player co-op mode. Not bad for a company that only has one title to its name!

Strider was such a cool game
Strider was such a cool game
Run Saber has a lot of similarities
Run Saber has a lot of similarities
Good times
Good times

MEET THE CREW

Nintendo Power was the best with their descriptions
Nintendo Power was the best with their descriptions

Fun Useless Fact 1: I had a huge crush on a girl named Sheena back in the 8th grade.

Fun Useless Fact 2: I got her number one day and it took me an hour just to muster up the courage to call her. It was just like that one Wonder Years episode!

THE STORY GOES…

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Futuristic Earth is not a pretty sight. The year is 2998 and Earth is hopelessly polluted.

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Mankind’s last chance for a clean planet rests in the hands of Captain Planet Dr. Bruford. He has devised a plan to use radiation to trigger a change. Unfortunately, the experiment went horribly wrong and Dr. Bruford was mutated. Now he and his army of the unholy are looking to conquer Earth!

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Fortunately, not all hope is lost. Enter the Run Sabers. Cybernetically advanced humans with the raw power to level cities, Allen and Sheena stand as Earth’s defenders and the last true bastion of hope.

STAGE ONE: TAJ BASE

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Enhance your slash range by picking up the appropriate power-up. Allen’s slash looks just like Strider Hiryu’s… hmmm…

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Scaling walls and causing tons of debris to fly everywhere is just another day at the office.

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Another power-up allows you to perform a killer spinning attack. I love how you can cling to various scaffolds and lift yourself up.

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Speaking of clinging, you’ll be doing lots of that!

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Expansive and mysterious, eh? I wonder what will come out…

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Excuse me for being slightly disappointed, I was just expecting something more than that. But what isn’t disappointing is Allen’s picture perfect jump kick.

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Multiple tiers and platforms allow you to play a game of cat and mouse with this mini boss. Gotta love the explosions. Classic ’90s SNES stuff.

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Peculiar enemies litter this once defunct command center that is now fully operational. It’s hard to miss but make sure you don’t rush to the exit — handy items could be lying nearby…

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Horisoft had quite the sick imagination. Like something out of a nightmare, these weird and wicked female ghouls come bursting out of the wall with homing missiles ready to greet you.

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Sliding to avoid the missiles by the hair of your chinny chin chin is way too cool. Speaking of cool, strike a pose whenever you beat a (mini) boss.

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Interesting choice of colors here. Why do I suddenly feel like brushing my teeth? It’s moments like this that sometimes makes Run Saber feel rushed or incomplete.

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Motion sickness be damned! This fighter jet takes you up, down and all around before revealing the evil that lurks within.

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Enemies start popping up from the tail and mid-section of the jet. They’re easily subdued with a single slash.

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Destroy the last one near the nose and enjoy the flying debris.

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Hideous and tormented, this mechanical brain-like boss doesn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, most of the bosses in this game sadly don’t.

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Brownie points though for the neat setting. Shades of Contra III.

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Experience the gnarly power of MODE 7! :D

STAGE TWO: TONG CITY

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Without a doubt the best looking stage in this game, Tong City is flat out gorgeous. But beware of the statues — some will spring to life and try to send you to the afterlife!

Reminiscent of Run Saber. I hope they don't come alive!
Illusion of Gaia had a similar scene, hmmm…

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Fortunately, you can break incoming spears. Be careful not to get fried!

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Sliding is mandatory here. Watch out for evil Mr. Clean.

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Graphical glitches do crop up here and there, as seen above. The night life in Tong City is so beautiful that you can’t resist going back there.

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Unfortunately for you, the locals aren’t so friendly. I love slashing the spear men in half. Shocking that Nintendo of America didn’t censor that.

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Recurring mid-boss, that one. It’s Proto Man Kurtz, your cyborg predecessor. He retreats once defeated and it’s back to the teeming night life you go.

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Strider flashbacks, anyone? That spinning ball of destruction never gets old.

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Patience is key… as is holding on!

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Another mini boss of sorts, this rock monster slightly resembles Godzilla. And in typical action movie style, our hero leaps out of harm’s way just in the nick of time. Actually, those explosions can’t hurt you but it’s a lot more fun pretending they can!

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Atmospheric!

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Coolest looking boss in the game is hands down the Wicked Witch. That’s Konami or Capcom level of creativity and intrigue!

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Beware of the lasers that fire out of her fingertips. Unleash your ultimate special attack to put the bitch down!

STAGE THREE: JOD VALLEY

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Things start off fast with a mini boss fight in the form of a vicious giant hawk. From the night time city to the open wilderness you go! Swing from the vines like Tarzan. Chest beating optional.

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Elongated beasts will try to ambush you from the walls. And is it just me or does that enemy walking around there look like a cheesy bad kaiju suit from the ’60s? :P

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Claustrophobics need not apply! That armored beast is yet another, you guessed it, mini boss fight.

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Winged demons swoop in looking for a meal. Get past them and face Skeltor the Dragon. Skeltor once roamed the surface of the Earth eons ago but has been extinct for ages. That was until a parasite brought the fossilized fire-breather back to life! Life, uh, finds a way, does it not, Dr. Ian Malcolm?

STAGE FOUR: GRAY FAC

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Entering an ancient mining facility, you’ll have to carefully navigate your way around a pair of swinging spiky balls. Sliding works well even if sometimes you cut it close!

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Clinging on to dear life, Allen works his way through and does the spin cycle to take out a creepy looking mercenary.

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Obliterate more mutant freaks on your way to another mini boss fight. This time it comes in the form of a giant flying knight. Watch out for his massive sword and projectiles.

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Gargantuan spiky wheels plummet from the heavens right before your battle with Kurtz once more.

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Sothern Jambalaya (such a weird name) has been overtaken by a mutant parasite and is now a raging machine of death! Your first task is to move to the right while avoiding the blue electric blasts the mechanical creature emits. Once you reach the vertical shaft, jump up and grab onto the beams while hacking away.

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Slowly but surely you’ll strip it piece by piece until it crashes back down a twisted heap of scrap and metal.

STAGE FIVE: BRUFORD

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There’s definitely a Contra vibe to this last level. Slice open the dim-witted mutant zombies but beware of the dangerous glop that flies out as a result. Luckily, you can strike those down with a well placed slash.

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Visually, this last level was a bit of a letdown. It feels a bit rushed as the background just isn’t very interesting or creative. But there certainly is no shortage of minor bosses to battle.

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Navigate your way through the hellhole and grab any helpful items you can.

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Foreshadowing is always nice. But first, you must fight Kurtz for the final time.

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Lovecraftian in nature, this mini boss screams H.R. Giger from Alien fame.

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Getting frisky there, are we? Slide to the other side to avoid getting violated (unless of course you like that sort of thing). The final boss reminds me of a mix between the Robo-Corpse from Contra III and Freddy Krueger on steroids.

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Without a doubt the hardest boss in the game, you’ll need all your special attacks you can muster!

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Pollution ceases and Earth recovers. The Run Sabers have not only saved the day but the planet as well. The ending shot is a peaceful and promising sunset of a better tomorrow soon to come.

GIRL POWER

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Sheena plays very similarly to Allen with the only minor difference in terms of gameplay being that Sheena’s attack covers a little more ground vertically while Allen’s is more horizontal. Her slash reminds me a lot of Guile’s Flash Kick.

CENSORSHIP STRIKES

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Hardcore Gaming 101 cites that the original plan was for the second boss to be a reclining giant woman. Nintendo of America didn’t like the idea of kids beating up on a woman so the switch was made to instead use a zombie witch. In a rare instance of censorship working out, I actually prefer the change. The zombie witch not only looks better but it definitely comes across as more menacing and memorable.

DÉJÀ VU COVER ART

Reminds me of something...
Reminds me of something…

The art for Run Saber, with the artist’s name sketched in a corner, has an oddly familiar feel to it. Is it just me or does it remind anyone else of the Goosebumps books?

Hmm...
Hmm…

Definitely not the same artist but the signatures are reminiscent of each other along with the “93” number next to both artists’ names, indicating the year the art was drawn. Just me? Alright, moving on then…

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Run Saber was fairly well received by the critics. Although GameFan never reviewed it, they spoke of it very favorably in the preview. EGM was going through a funky experimental stage with its review system when Run Saber came out. Rather than the traditional four reviewers, for a couple months they had some reviews featuring just one score, tucked away on the side of the page. EGM gave Run Saber a rating of 8. Super Play, however, was less impressed. Essentially calling it a homeless man’s Strider, Super Play rated it 59%.

I'm glad EGM didn't keep this scoring system for long
I’m glad EGM didn’t keep this scoring system for long
Too harsh once again, Super Play. Too harsh...
Too harsh once again, Super Play. Too harsh…
Oh yeah? Take THAT, Super Play
Oh yeah? Take THAT, Super Play

Run Saber is often held in solid regards within SNES circles. Most acknowledge it as a fun 2-player game and it frequently receives praise by appearing on many SNES 2-player recommendation lists that various retro gamers have constructed over the years. Similar to the previously reviewed Goof Troop, there are only five short stages but what fun you’ll have with a friend in tow.

"SEEK YAH!"
“SEEK YAH!”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I’m still kind of sad we never got a proper Strider game on the SNES back in the day. But I’m certainly grateful for Run Saber. While it may be a far cry from the glory that is Strider, Run Saber is very competent and enjoyable in its own right. It’s also the closest thing to Strider on the SNES as one can get, and that 2-player option helps it tons, too. It’s pretty bare bones though — what you see is what you get. Visually, the game is a mixed bag. There are parts, namely Tong City, that look absolutely stunning but then there are way too many stretches that come across as rather drab and uninspired.

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The music isn’t anything to write home about and the floaty jumps can sometimes annoy. The control hovers around fine, although it’s not super crisp. For example, climbing and clinging are great in theory but in the chaos it’s easy to get nicked when doing so by the horde of mutant freaks. On the bright side, Run Saber is never too hard where this hampers the game beyond a reasonable point. In fact, Run Saber is far too easy for its own good. And with only five short levels to its name, it won’t last you terribly long to blow through the whole thing in less than 40 minutes or so.

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But bottom line, it’s just a fun game. Run Saber is a short but sweet ride while it lasts. Maybe it didn’t quite live up to its full potential and maybe its development was slightly rushed, but the fact that it still turned out to be pretty good says a lot. It’s just plain fun to slice spear throwing samurais in half and dismantle mechanical monstrosities limb by limb. There’s something very satisfying about that. I also dig its distinctively dystopian post-apocalyptic setting. From the moment you first land on Taj Base you can just sense that something is terribly not right. And that you are the cure summoned to right all these sordid wrongs. Malpractice and mutants run rampant, and it’s your mission to terminate all the viruses and parasites that have ravaged Mother Earth. A solid and steady side scrolling slash ‘em up, Run Saber is one of the better 2-player action games on the SNES in spite of its various shortcomings. Because at the end of the day, fun always wins out and this game is definitely a good time.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7.5
Longevity: 6.5

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award

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... or is it? No, it is :P
Ah, nothing like the promise of a better tomorrow…

3 thoughts on “Run Saber (SNES)”

  1. LOve this game – only got a rom for it, strider enever appeared on the snes? a bit like the 3d remake never appeared in physical form – played it on ps4 & just fell for it head over heels never finished it – YET,might go back to it now soccer training is more evenly paced.

  2. Hi!

    It’s really evident in Run Saber that the people at Hori Electric were clearly fans of Capcom’s coin-op Strider and were not coy to admit it. That’s not a bad thing because on its own terms this game is a good half-hour of arcade-like fun while it lasts, and is the closest the SNES got to having a Strider-esque experience. Maybe it’s me, but a part of me finds it interesting that Atlus (a company presently and almost exclusively affiliated with RPGs) had their names attached to platformers such as this and Telenet Japan’s Super Valis IV (Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome’s American version) at one point in time.

    It’s certainly more manageable than Strider in regards to its difficulty, regardless which of the three you chose to play, and I liked its slick and smooth controls, its sense of nonstop action and the slew of boss fights you fought up until the end of the stage (The Cutting Room Floor website likened this game to a mix of Strider and Konami’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, and I can see that). There is a grotesquely creepy nature to the genetically altered monster designs (the zombie witch, the Jodvalley endboss, and Bruford come to mind), I like the aesthetic of Tong City the most with the neon signs and terra cotta statues (and how some of them spring to life) and how it basically transitions from sunset to night for it makes it a colorful stage, there is one moment during the final stage where you drop down which I personally found striking because I’m sucker for parallax scrolling of the vertical variety on those rare occasions that it happens. I also found it fascinating how you could alter the color of the character you’re controlling to one of eight palettes simply by pressing the Select button while the game is paused, it does make it stand out from the rest, I like Hikoshi Hashimoto’s music (well, mainly the themes for Tong City, Kurtz’s battle theme, Bruford’s base, and the ending), and what I find amusing is that when you get a life icon it sounds exactly like that one cue from Nintendo’s Pilotwings. :D

    All that said, Run Saber is a very brief and considerably manageable game, it’s not high on challenge, I felt the victory pose to be overdone pretty much any time you defeated a (mini) boss, most of the bosses are pretty easy to take out because they have simple patterns (made more disappointing because they have imposing designs; the zombie witch looks incredible, for one, but she’s defeated far too easily), and the hyper bomb I generally reserve for Kurtz who is provides the most challenge of all the boss battles (I like his battle theme, but I hate that it’s one of those themes that are much longer than the battle itself) who occasionally throws knives at you.

    But despite all that I do think it’s solidly handled arcade-like fun while it lasts, and whenever I’m in the mood for arcade action it is good to play once in awhile. It’s no Strider, but Run Saber still works as its own game. =)

    To each their own

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