In 2015, mobile developer Grumpyface Studios released Steven Universe: Attack the Light, a wonderful turn-based role-playing game that channels Paper Mario. For its console debut, Steven Universe: Save the Light, the studio delves even deeper into Nintendo territory.
There are several choices for naming the game's first boss. This was my pick.
Picking up where the mobile game left off (though you don't have to have played the first game to enjoy the second), Save the Light opens with Steven Universe's new friend, the prism-powered Light Steven, captured by a nefarious new foe named Hessonite. Not keen on his friends being kidnapped and concerned over the new enemy's evil intentions, Steven and friends embark on a quest to save the light, and probably the world as well.
Before getting into my impressions, note that I am aware of reports of the game glitching, freezing and otherwise bugging out. Polygon's reviewer seemed to have a particularly bad experience. Cartoon Network Games even issued a statement addressing issues with the game.
Cartoon Network Games and Grumpyface Studios are aware of the issues some players have experienced in playing Steven Universe: Save the Light and are working together to address those problems as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to @CartoonNetPR and @Grumpyface for updates as they become available.
All of that said, I am between four and five hours in and have yet to experience a single glitch, crash or freeze. Maybe it's because I am playing on a PS4 Pro, maybe I am made of magic. I have the latest version of the game installed, and it's running great. Just be aware that others are reporting issues that I've yet to encounter. Moving on!
Freed from the shackles of touch screen controls, Save the Light expands and improves on its mobile predecessor in every way. The turn-based battles are more challenging, requiring a fair amount of teamwork between the seven new and returning characters.
New characters bring some cool new battle mechanics. The now-playable Steven (in the first game he was more of cheerleader) and his dad, Greg Universe, can function as bards during battle, playing songs that heal friends, damage foes, and speed up the flow of battle. My go-to party at the moment features Greg playing a healing or damage riff, Garnet using her taunt ability to keep the enemies off the others, Pearl on damage-dealing duty, and Steven strumming his ukulele to buff Pearl's attack.
Here's how that plays out. Be sure to watch with the volume turned up, to catch the way the battle music transforms when Greg and Steven play their tunes. It's one of the game's cooler little details.
Another new technique used in battles is the relationship meter. By using special skills in battle, players can build up the friendship meter between any two characters in combat. Once full, new combined abilities are unlocked, from Crystal Gem fusions to musical duets.
The combined forms are especially cool, each having its own unique abilities and effects. In the clip below, Garnet and Amethyst fuse into Sardonyx, whose special Try Your Luck! ability launches a game show style wheel spin.
I'm several hours into the game now, and my party has a significant number of abilities at its disposal, all of them useful. Even Steven's very first ability, a running shield bash, is useful for knocking enemies off the sides of battlefields, killing them instantly.
As characters level they earn points to upgrade their four stats, with special abilities unlocked at certain milestones.
Outside of battle, exploration has be significantly changed. Instead of tapping to move, now the party jumps across platforms, rolls through tunnels to secret areas, and uses their unique special abilities to solve puzzles and uncover hidden treasures. My favourite puzzles involve Greg Universe whipping out his guitar and playing along to prompts carved into dungeon scenery to uncover hidden chests and other secrets. He makes his son so proud.
Pearl is very good at jumping, and she knows it.
While it has the Paper Mario look and feel, Save the Light doesn't quite have its charm. Aside from the odd cutscene, there isn't a lot of talking with the Crystal Gems and friends as they explore sprawling dungeons. The enemies repeat a lot, and they don't have much character to them. Aside from Steve. Steve is pretty great.
I love this art style so much.
Otherwise this is a very impressive console debut for Grumpyface Studios, and a joyful treat for fans of Rebecca Sugar's popular animated series. It has drama, friendship, good-natured fun, and a balding rocker in a tricked-out panel van. It feels a lot like Paper Mario, but that's a pretty great thing to feel like.