PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Announced completely out of the blue with an unexpected trailer and made available to buy just moments after the reveal had taken place, ActRaiser Renaissance is a remake of the acclaimed 90s SNES classic that quite literally asks you to play God, watching over your "children", helping civilisation evolve and guiding the humans towards becoming a fairer and more unified people, all while your efforts are constantly interrupted by incoming attacks from invading monsters and demons. Part top-down town-builder, part tower defence and part side-scrolling action-platformer, Renaissance retains the beloved and familiar addictive and rewarding ActRaiser gameplay and adds a host of modern mechanics and features that take a while to settle in but eventually prove to be more satisfying than its shaky opening hours might suggest.
The majority of your time is spent in the overworld, hovering above the various towns and villages while commanding an angel who is more than happy to obey your every whim, whether it's something as innocent as guiding humans to the best location for a new building or something more sinister like summoning a lightning storm to clear some ground for more advanced constructions. As the human population grows, demons start to attack with increasing frequency, leading to what, at times, can feel like the neverending tower defence aspect of the game - it's fairly simple to get the hang of, but your troops take a long time to attack their enemies and your angel's powers rely on large amounts of randomly-spawning power-ups. You'll often find yourself being forced to wait around for essential potions or materials while the invaders run riot on the innocent villagers, which prevents you from being as hands-on as you really need to be, and the abundance of tutorials during the first couple of hours breaks the flow up more than necessary.
Renaissance feels most accomplished during its platforming sections, which are closely based on the original game's level design but now include additional routes, enemies and collectible crystals that power up your attacks. There's some really excellent gothic environments and enemy design, and the rearranged music (by the original game's composer) does a tremendous job of getting the adrenaline going. On the downside though, the difficulty doesn't feel too well-balanced, often being either far too easy or just crossing the line between challenging and frustrating, and the general performance is very choppy to the point where it becomes distracting, especially during the opening stage (which also has a rather odd and slightly off-putting look to it). Fiddling about in the options menu improves things slightly and things do start to look better as you progress further into the game, but it always feels like a bit of extra polish could real help to elevate the overall product.
There's no doubt that Renaissance can be extremely addictive - the core gameplay loop of building towns, smashing them up, making them better and watching the city grow is endlessly enjoyable, the platforming sections are solid, and the symphonic rock score is surely destined to go down as one of the all-time greats. The slow and unwieldy tower defence sections tend to get in the way though, as does the endless chatter (and the associated weirdly-worded dialogue boxes) which, when combined with the peculiar performance issues, make it difficult to give Renaissance the full seal of approval. Fingers crossed that these issues can be addressed in future patches and updates, which is certainly an enticing prospect indeed. Having said that, for now, you'll still have a great time if you're into the type of gameplay that's on offer and can look past the game's shortcomings. A "solid seven" from the days of rating things out of ten. Just give it the time it needs to find its feet and you'll end up finding it difficult to put down!