Retro Review: Sailormoon (Nintendo SNES)

Roll your eyes and laugh if you must, ladies and gentlemen, but what you are about to read is not just a review of a crappy scrolling brawler- it is, in fact, a public service announcement on why it's in your best interests to avoid it at all costs. You can thank me later.

Based on the anime (which I've never watched) which was in turn based on the manga (which I've never read), Sailormoon is a bottom-of-the-barrel scrolling brawler that doesn't so much borrow a few pages from the Final Fight playbook as photocopy the entire thing and cover it in rainbow stickers. Well, not quite- the poor developers, Angel (an internal dev studio at Bandai who spent their entire career making games based on this franchise) forgot to copy the bits that made Final Fight playable, memorable, and in fact went out of their way to make it as obnoxious and below-average as possible.

When you start the game up, things are looking good- unlike the SNES port of Final Fight, two-player co-op is supported (although you'd need a very understanding friend to get through this thing) and there's a rather generous five characters to select from. Unlike Final Fight, the characters don't conform to the fast-but-weak/normal/strong-but-slow tropes... In that the differences between them are considerably more subtle (with the exception of Venus, the orange one, who fights with a whip instead of her fists, which sounds awesome until you realise this means she has no combo strings and makes the game far more repetitive). While some characters are definitely better than others (Jupiter, the green one, delivers justice with authority due to her slightly-stronger throws) it's not a case where their playing styles are particularly unique- for instance, while you can't play through Final Fight as Cody in the same way you'd do it as Haggar, you can play through this one the same way with every character except Venus. As a result, the variety that comes with a cast of interesting characters is diminished severely here, especially since the one that's really different makes the game even more of a chore than it should be.

Haggar Would Not Approve

Speaking of variety, the game's missing a lot of that in many other areas as well. For a start, the game is very weak in the weapons department- aside from Venus' whip, the only other weapon I ever found was an oversized fan on the first level that only appears if you beat the enemies fast enough. Other than that, there's no knives, no lead pipes, not even throwable rocks to spice things up. It doesn't help that, outside a chargeable projectile (which later enemies will learn to avoid or will be invulnerable to entirely) the characters barely have any more moves than the Final Fight dudes. While it's true Final Fight doesn't have as many moves as later beat-em-ups, it makes up for it in other ways, like the weapons (and the fact that the three characters use them differently), the very distinctive enemy types, and the fact that each stage is relatively short and varied. It's these elements, as well as the gritty, run-down aesthetic, that makes Final Fight very playable to this day. Sailormoon doesn't do any of that- no weapons, not enough different/interesting enemy types (only the disturbing clown enemy really requires a different approach, mostly through exploiting his feeble A.I.) and levels that seem to drag on forever.

It's that last one that kills the damn thing. I'd be able to forgive the lack of variety and discount the game as average if it went at a decent pace, but no. The game is so slow, it has to pause for a full second to load each boss! While the controls and attacks don't feel that much more sluggish or slower than any other scrolling brawler, the pacing of the levels themselves is agonizingly slow- enemies take their time spawning (and even then you'll rarely be surrounded) and move at a leisurely pace, each section overstays its welcome by far too much (the scene on what looks like one of those travellator things you see at airports is particularly offensive in this regard) and, dare I say it, the whole thing feels dull and lifeless (despite having some fairly colourful graphics, and an amusing section where the girls apparently walk onto the set of Aliens). It feels more like a chore than anything remotely fun, which is the last thing you want in a scrolling brawler. It's a game that makes punching the life out of bizarre-looking monsters boring, and that's not on at all.

Now, as you've noticed, I've compared this to Final Fight a lot. That's because I personally feel that Final Fight is the benchmark for other scrolling brawlers- if your brawler can do what Final Fight does and then build on it (as games like Undercover Cops, Streets of Rage II and the arcade Aliens Vs. Predator do) then you're doing it right. Sailormoon just copies Final Fight, and copies it poorly at that. Only a devoted fan of the series could muster anything beyond indifference for this game- avoid.

Gameplay Footage:

Collectors, Beware!

Now I know what you're thinking, dear reader. You're thinking, 'My good sir, this is absurd, what did you expect? Why have you decided to review a game absolutely no-one, aside from die-hard fans would dare to play?' and I answer, 'Because it exists'. Specifically, it exists in PAL format. The show was popular during its initial run in mainland Europe, and so the SNES game was localised for France (a fate the game shares with a few Dragon Ball Z titles) and, according to this website you're reading right now, it was also released in Italy and Spain. Naturally, any of these PAL versions are quite hard to come by and can be expensive when they do. That's where the public service announcement comes in- I didn't review this game to mock it, to shame it by exposing its shoddy ways, no. I wrote it to tell you to stay the hell away from it, in spite of its scarcity in PAL Land.

... Or maybe I'm just being a jerk. You decide, reader!

Last Updated ( 19 January 2011 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Cauterize 2011-01-18 00:12
This game is one of my guilty pleasures... :oops:
(Link to this comment) Tepid Snake 2011-01-18 09:35
Not going to lie, the arcade Sailor Moon game is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but I have this love/hate thing going on with it- everytime I find something to like about it (there's loads of enemies on-screen!) it kicks me up the backside (they take several centuries to kill and the ordeal goes on for eight rounds).

It's still better than this one, though.
(Link to this comment) Blast Hardbody 2011-01-18 04:01
It's about as shitty as Aliens Vs Predator, with this being only slightly more playable.
(Link to this comment) badinsults 2011-01-18 07:10
The graphics look pretty good. Personally I can't stand Final Fight and its clones, they are a bore fest. The only games that did the beat-em-up genre right were in the NES era, with games like Double Dragon 2, River City Ransom and Ninja Turtles 2.
(Link to this comment) olofthegreat 2011-10-28 07:57
I've got the French version. Don't intend on playing it, just got it because it's rare. Paid £'s worth £40-50.

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