![Cover](http://www.segasaturnshiro.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/SW-Cover.jpg)\r\n\r\nBack in the mid to late 2000s, I (Peter) made a commitment to go for a North American Saturn full-set. Of course, this meant picking up all the filler games as well (The Crow, The Incredible Hulk, NiGHTS into Dreams\u2026 KIDDING) and despite me aiming to give each game a chance, inevitably there were some titles that slipped by my radar and went straight from the post office to the shelf. One such title is Playmates\u2019 Skeleton Warriors. I always knew I had it, and I always thought I had given it a go\u2026 but until I decided to \u2018re-visit\u2019 the game to write this article, I didn\u2019t realize that I\u2019ve actually NEVER played it! Imagine\u2026 owning a full North American Saturn set for a decade and playing one of these games for the very first time, accidentally, in 2018. Weird.\r\n\r\nI had a notion that the game would be pretty forgettable if not outright bad, simply because no one ever talks about the \u2018classic, hidden gem\u2019 that is Skeleton Warriors. It was a bit of a surprise, then, that when I booted the game up, my initial reaction was that the game wasn\u2019t all that bad! Let\u2019s explore.\r\n\r\nAt its core, Skeleton Warriors (also available on PlayStation) is a side-scrolling hack-\u2018n-slash based on the short-lived 1995 cartoon series (more on that later) that also contains a sprinkling of 3D, hover-bike bonus sequences thrown into the mix. The player takes control of Justin, a.k.a. Prince Lightstar, and his big shiny sword, a.k.a. the StarSword, and proceeds left-to-right battling enemies through the various 2D levels. The evil Baron Dark has been trying to steal the Lightstar Crystal that powers the city of Luminicity and has managed to get his wretched hands on half of the crystal. Armed with the other half, Justin sets out to make right the wrongs of the Baron. Only by reuniting the pieces of the Lightstar Crystal can Justin bring an end to Baron Dark\u2019s ambitions and usher in an era of peace on the planet Luminaire. Not a very original story, but then that was the cartoon. Not a very original gameplay paradigm either, but any kind of game can be made fun if the gameplay is there, right?\r\n\r\n![Gameplay](http://www.segasaturnshiro.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/skeletonwarriors.jpg)\r\n\r\nInitially, the visuals in the game exceed expectations. The graphics are rendered as opposed to hand-drawn, and they are smooth and colorful. The \u2018ground\u2019 moves with perspective correction: the foreground moves by faster than the background, and this looks novel. Players still graduating from 16-bit, where side scrollers ruled the generation, would have been suitably wowed. The player and all the enemies animate very smoothly (is that 60 FPS animation I detect?) and the backgrounds are very vivid and pop with color. There are certain sections where the 3D landscape is well thought-out; for example, there is a level that takes place inside a castle. You appear to be walking on a rampart, with the occasional bridge jutting out into the background and the castle itself. Of course, you can only move left and right, but as these bridges come into your field of view, they do so in a neat 3D way. At the end of the bridge is an enemy that is catapulting fireballs at you and since you cannot move into the background and dispatch the enemy, you must simply avoid the fireballs. This is imaginative and visually comes off quite well. The game is peppered with rendered cutscenes, and these are standard mid-90s fare. The 3D sled sections see a polygonal Prince Lightstar mount a hover bike and glide along a very rough-textured landscape chugging along at a just-respectable frame rate, collecting sprite power-ups and firing at polygonal enemy hover-ships. This mode is entirely for collecting bonuses, and unfortunately looks much rougher than the smooth-looking 2D part of the game. Overall, the 2D sections comprise roughly 85% of the game with the 3D taking the remaining 15%. \r\n\r\nThe sound is good, too. As with many games, the sound effects themselves are serviceable (and there is nothing wrong with that) whilst the soundtrack is\u2026 pretty good, actually, as it was composed by Tommy Tallarico (Cool Spot, Earthworm Jim, Aladdin)! The music tries for an epic, full sound and largely succeeds. \r\n\r\nSo how does it play? Well. It plays well. Justin controls relatively responsively. You can jump, walk, run, and slash, as well as hang on to some ceilings. In addition to the sword, you also have a limited store of crystals which you can fire forward by swinging your sword, and therefore damage enemies from afar. You also have upwards and downwards (if in a jump) attacks. When you have multiple enemies on screen, a jump into the air followed by a downwards sword attack is especially effective. When you strike an enemy in this fashion, you rebound into the air a bit. This makes for some interesting chain-type attacks, and the player can leverage the rebound to reach some otherwise inaccessible power-ups. Another neat gameplay mechanic here is that most of your enemies are skeletal \u2013 denizens of Baron Dark, no doubt \u2013 and when you \u2018kill\u2019 them, their various bones scatter and a small glowing crystal, called the Heartstone, is left behind. You have a few seconds to collect the Heartstone, which then adds to the amount of crystal shots you have in your inventory. However, if you fail to collect the Heartstone in time, then the bones of the skeleton will slowly slide back together, and the enemy will be re-animate! This is an interesting concept. There are also various pick-ups to be found, including life-restoring crystals and a 10-second invincibility shield. The levels are relatively long and allow you to backtrack, with the occasional intra-level barrier preventing you from backtracking past that certain point. The 3D sections, whilst weak by themselves, do provide a nice distraction from the hack-\u2018n-slash action. \r\n\r\n![The Rendered Intro](http://www.segasaturnshiro.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/00000327-e1539572345504.bmp)\r\n\r\nSo\u2026 it looks good, it plays well, it sounds nice, there are some neat set-pieces and mechanics\u2026 so why isn\u2019t this game being touted as a Saturn masterpiece; a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by an unsuspecting Saturn aficionado such as yourself?\r\n\r\nThe more I played this game, the more I got a feeling that ultimately, this was an effort that simply fell flat as a complete package. For starters, the level designs and the gameplay itself is unremarkable \u2013 you\u2019ve played this game a thousand times before. There is nothing wrong with the levels but there is nothing interesting about them, either. They just exist. The animations on Justin are super smooth \u2013 but he walks in a stiff and stilted manner. Clearly, care was put in to achieve very smooth animation, but the motions are unnatural. The visuals are really colorful, but often feel like they are too colorful, as if the attempt to blend the design choice of using \u2018hot! new!\u2019 rendered visuals with the look of the cartoon does not work super well. There are tons of cool concepts in the game that are, for the most part, executed nicely, but the whole thing just doesn\u2019t come together very well. The game feels disjointed and shallow and is only loosely tied to the 1990s cartoon. As perhaps a testament to the shallow nature of the game, it is impractical to come up with any Shiro challenges for this game: I mean, what do we do? Finish the game in one sitting? Find a secret or special character or move? None of that is applicable here \u2013 it\u2019s literally move left to right, hack-\u2018n-slash, rinse, repeat.\r\n\r\nTo top it off, a few cardinal sins with this game need to be called out. First of all, there is no 2-player mode. Skeleton Warriors is purely a single player experience. The game could be so much more fun with two. As an example, Batman Returns is a relatively weak game, but is more fun as a two-player affair. Skeleton Warriors does not give you this option. A second big no-no is the lack of any save feature. To be fair, this was the case with many games from the time period (Bug!, Sonic 3D Blast, Clockwork Knight), but that doesn\u2019t make it OK. When I was younger, I had all the time in the world to devote to a game like this and play it from beginning to end in one sitting, which is the only option if there is no save system \u2013 but that just isn\u2019t the case for many of us anymore. Life priorities dictate that most of us often get our gaming in chunks, and a game must be really compelling to justify the time investment. If I have an hour to spare, would I really want to play Skeleton Warriors knowing that \u2013 at best \u2013 I\u2019ll get about halfway through a mediocre adventure? The answer to that, unfortunately, is no. \r\n\r\nThe thing to remember is that \u2018back in the day\u2019, when this game was current, its disjointed nature was probably overlooked because of the (for the time) novel graphics, interesting music, smooth animations, competent level designs and such. Contemporary reviews rated this game as average to above-average, with the finer publications calling out the lackluster underlying gameplay. Can you have some fun with Skeleton Warriors? Sure, it\u2019s possible. It\u2019s certainly not a complete disaster or a broken game, and if it were your only Saturn game, it could grow on you\u2026 but most of us will tire of it swiftly. You\u2019ll wonder if there is any more to it. You\u2019ll wonder why your initial impression was that this is an OK game. And after only a few playthroughs, you\u2019ll put it on your shelf and reach for Guardian Heroes. As such, Skeleton Warriors is best looked at today as a game that represents the era in which it was created, and not one that has stood the test of time in any meaningful way.\r\n\r\nShiro Challenges:\r\n\r\n\u2022\tComplete the game in one sitting. Not that you have a choice if you want to see the ending.\r\n\r\n\u2022\tReach for Guardian Heroes, and be reminded of what a well-done beat-em-up looks like on the Saturn \ud83d\ude0a\r\n\r\n\r\nPeter Malek\r\n\r\nSega Saturn, Shiro!\r\n\r\n\r\nBonus: The Skeleton Warriors cartoon\r\n\r\nSkeleton Warriors is a 13-episode, 1994 cartoon series produced in America by Landmark Entertainment. Hand-drawn (as opposed to the rendered look of the game\u2026 being a licensed product, why didn\u2019t they use assets from the cartoon for the cutscenes??), it most closely resembles the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It revolves around the struggle of Prince Justin, holder of one half of the Lightstar Crystal, to regain the second half of said crystal from the evil Baron Dark. Although not up to the same standard as He-Man MotU, it is a fun distraction in its own way. The game\u2019s story is loosely based on the overall plot of the series, and the bosses you encounter are the actual henchmen of the Baron. Overall mini review: the cartoon series gets a C+.