When skimming some new release arcade titles on XBLA, my interest was immediately piqued by an arcade style beat-em-up with a heavily comic book theme titled Unbound Saga. As a reviewer I couldn’t resist the pull of the story, but did the co-op and gameplay really hold up to this geeks expectations?
Firing up the game laid out the story of an overused comic book hero named Rick who just can’t get a break from his creator. He spends his time in a cross-over story with an equally angry woman named Lori, tracking down the creator to try and put an end to the cruel fighting situations and strange dialog you encounter along the way.
Visually the game is stunning - nice stylized art, beautiful backgrounds, and a heavy comic book influence with each “scene” being played out in a comic book panel. Changing scenes or moving forward has the players gliding between panels. To slow things down the game has a lot of dialog in between a lot of these panel changes, inquiring about the strange goings on, or why there are werewolves in the city landfill.
To keep the mood, the enemies also bleed a black, how you say? “Inky” substance. Actually, it is ink. The creators hand drops in periodically to draw new enemies, and you dispatch them in a gush of ink all over the place. The creators hand gets in the way periodically, but otherwise that aspect is kind of neat.
While playing the co-op, characters share the various health bar/stamina bar refills. And I don’t mean it’s split, I mean each character will receive the full amount of health or stamina to continue moving forward. Stamina is important to various skills (like Rick’s charged fists, or Lori’s gas grenades), so it’s a good idea to pick those things up.
Speaking of various skills, the game is fairly unbalanced when it comes to amount of damage dealt early on versus later in the game. Trying to keep things as balanced as possibly my co-op buddy and I spent upgrade tokens on what we thought would be similar things. Early in the game that just means Rick’s melee will be extremely overpowered as Lori picks up passive skills first (healing for herself, vanishing in the shadows, etc).
By the end of the game however, Lori was the one dealing the death blows with some pretty heavy combat (gas grenades, faster melee, etc). This lack of balance was frustrating when dealing with the competitive score (largely effected by multipliers that were only attained through multiple hits and not being hit by the enemy) at the end of each full stage, and felt unfair to either player just about the entire time.
Aside from being a fairly short title, Unbound Saga is a solid co-op title to be played in about one sitting. If you’re down for more than just the story to cope with your 800MSPoints spent, the co-op is also available in a survival mode that relentlessly pits you against every type of enemy from the campaign until you just can’t keep up anymore. Minimal issues and loads of comic book/video game crossover references really made this reviewing geek fairly happy.