My Top 5 Games of 1991: #5 ActRaiser (SNES)

Developed: Quintet  
Published: Enix
Genre: Strategy, Platformer, Isometric shooter
Platform: SNES(reviewed), Wii Virtual Console

It wasn't until years after it was released that I first played this gem of a launch title, but when I finally did, it left a mighty impression on me. I rented ActRaiser for the first time around 1994 or so and I became instantly hooked. I was only 7 years old or so at the time so a lot of the strategy concepts went right over my young head at first. However after some old fashioned trial and error dying a LOT, I soon began to grasp it. The platforming sections were different. I was in my element there. Still, the game was relentless. Deaths upon deaths followed and I never actually completed the game...So why is it one of my favorite games of 1991?

Because that doesn't hold it back at all! Even having only played a little over half the game, I still adore it. The music, graphics, and most importantly, gameplay are some of the best on the console and that's quite an achievement seeing as it was released so early in the SNES's lifespan, releasing less than a month after the console itself in Japan and as a launch title in the United States.

As far as I'm concerned, ActRaiser still holds up wonderfully today. It's one of the earliest genre mash-ups that I can recall (the only earlier one I can think of is Archon, a chess and fighting game hybrid). It combines strategy, city management, isometric shooting, and action platforming into one package. Not bad for a Super Nintendo game released in 1991! These segments are nicely paced as well. You never spend too much time doing any one thing.
This boss should have bought the horse armor DLC.
You begin in a floating fortress and as God, it's up to you to rid the land of evil and help the people better themselves. Each area starts with a platforming level where you fight your way to the stage's boss in your earthly form armed only with a sword and a small inventory of spells earned throughout the game. These segments are where the game is at it's most challenging and rewarding. Level designs are clever and varied, with some stages having multiple paths to the end.
Aha! That's what Sim City was missing. Shooting at things!
After each platforming stage, you are returned to the world map, where you must help the local townsfolk expand their cities, seal off monster lairs, and learn new trades that will benefit current and future towns under your protection. During these segments you control your angelic messenger who must defend the townsfolk from constant monster attacks. You have a bow and arrow, as well as an ever increasing arsenal of spells at your disposal, not only for fighting the monsters but also to alter the land itself. At the same time you must guide the direction that the town is built, and if the town reaches a monster's lair the townsfolk will close it, stopping monsters from spawning from it. Close all the lairs of a particular area and you gain access to another platforming stage, which unlocks a new area of the world map upon completion.

It continues to amaze me that such a deep game could exist on consoles so early on, and so well executed at that! If you have a Super Nintendo or a Wii and have any affection for platformers or strategy games, you owe it to yourself to track this one down or download it off the Virtual Console. And while I don't openly endorse emulation of games that aren't abandonware, I also don't have any problem with it if you so choose to play games that way. It helps keep classics alive and encourages Virtual Console, Xbox Live, PSN, etc downloads by people who want to support truly great classics like this one.

So...After all the praise I heaped upon ActRaiser, you're probably wondering why it's only number 5 in my top 5 games of 1991. While ActRaiser is one of the finest games on the console, I actually played it much less than the next 4 games on the list.

Number 4 of my top 5 games of 1991!
A shoot 'em up based on a fairly obscure manga series.

I'll leave you with the amazing music of ActRaiser's first platforming stage, courtesy of YouTube user 03bgood:

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