Run Saber is a 2D side-scrolling game developed by Horisoft and released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo in America and Europe. Run Saber is perhaps best remembered in how much it resembles the original Strider, featuring almost identical gameplay and a similar stage structure and presentation.
A Japanese release was in development and promoted with printed ads, previews in magazines and even a limited release edition of Horisoft's Japan-exclusive "Fighting Commander Gold" pad titled the "Run Saber Commemoration Edition" on May 1993, packaged with a flyer for the game. For unknown reasons, however, Run Saber ended up not releasing in Japan at all.
Playable in either solo or two player co-op, the player controls one of two "Run Sabers", cyborg humans genetically enhanced to possess superior abilities, known as Allen and Sheena (spelled Alon and Sena in the game's intro, though the three-pixel-wide font used can easily be misread as "Alow" and "Sewa"). They battle across five different stages, fending off numerous enemies, mini bosses and a final boss at the end of the stage.
Run Saber is set in the year 2998 A.D., in a dark future where Earth's atmosphere is so polluted the planet is on the verge of a complete ecological breakdown. The only hope to restore the planet lands on Dr. Gordon Bruford, a scientist who developed the "Earth Renaissance Project", a revolutionary program that would harness the universal energy source known as Fusion to clean up Earth's surface. The process, however, would subject the atmosphere to lethal amounts of radioactivity, and so mankind is forced to leave Earth on space colonies for a period of one year while the process is underway.
Dr. Bruford, however, secretly stayed behind and subjected himself to the radiation, mutating himself into an evil being with no trace of humanity. In an effort to gain full control of Earth, Bruford amassed a large army of mutant clones and parasites to aid in his plans. Observing the situation, the world's greatest scientists decided to initiate "Project Run Saber", creating cyborg warriors with superior weapons and skills. Three "Run Saber" prototypes were developed:
- Allen, code name "Thunder Saber", a combat cyborg modeled after an American male. Allen wields the Thunder Sword, created from the plasma generator inside him, capable of vaporizing anything.
- Sheena, code name "Ice Saber", a combat cyborg modeled after a Russian female. Sheena harness an Ice Sword which operates at absolute zero temperatures.
- Kurtz, code name "Flair Saber", a combat prototype modeled after a German male, capable of wielding a fire-powered sword.
Once they arrived on Earth, however, Kurtz's parasite defense apparatus malfunctioned and he was taken over by Bruford's forces, becoming an enemy. Allen and Sheena must now eliminate Bruford's army and the mad scientist while dealing with their former ally's constant attacks.
Run Saber features gameplay elements that very closely resemble those from the Strider Arcade original, most telling in the characters' ability to climb through any surface and obstacle in stages and a number of similar techniques and power-ups.
Run Saber makes use of three of the SNES controller's four buttons: "Y" to attack, "B" to jump and "X" to activate a screen-clearing "Special Attack". Both Allen and Sheena have complete freedom of movement and are capable of scaling walls and cling to ceilings, moving and/or attacking if needed.
The game's HUD is represented at the top left corner of the screen, showing from top to bottom: the player's lives, a red dot indicating the amount of Special Attacks in stock, the stage's score and the character's Hit Points (HP) life gauge. The HP gauge is segmented into eight different red units which take one instance of damage. At the beginning only 3 units are allocated, but the player can fill up the rest by finding specific items during gameplay. In the top center of the stage lies a square frame, which will display a red arrow indicating the path to follow at certain points during each stage.
The player starts with 2 lives, but extra lives are found as items in the stages. If all lives are lost, the player is prompted to continue from the point they were last defeated. The player only has 3 continue chances, however, and they can't be replenished in any way. A 2nd player can join in the middle of a solo run by pressing Start, but this will substract one Continue from the tally, and as such this action can't be performed if there are no Continues left.
A special feature of the game allows players to change their character's color palette by pressing Select, from a total of eight possible choices.
While identical in mobility options, Allen and Sheena are different in the way they perform their basic attack: Allen's attack is a straight slash with his saber, forming a horizontal arc in front of him with great reach; whereas Sheena performs an upward slash with her saber, creating a vertical arc in front of her capable of striking enemies above her. Allen's attack is better at eliminating enemies from a safe distance thanks to its greater range, while Sheena's attack works best against airborne enemies due to its angle.
Besides their basic attack, there are also a number of universal techniques the two characters can perform:
- Jump Attack: By holding Up and jumping, the Run Saber performs a spinning attack in which their body is enveloped by aura in the shape of a circular saw. This move is great to deal with enemies flying above or in otherwise higher areas, and makes the character invulnerable for its duration.
- Aerial/Ground Kick: By holding Down during a jump, the Run Saber performs a quick descending kick with aura engulfing their foot.
- Sliding Attack: Pressing B while crouching, the Run Saber performs a sliding kick. A quick maneuver which can go under attacks as well as through small areas.
- Run: Holding the Attack button doubles the Run Sabers' walking speed.
- Special Attack: A screen-clearing move performed by pressing X, it costs a "Special Attack Weapon" stock. Although mechanically identical, each Run Saber has their own variation: Allen's move is the "Thunder Dragon", and sees him release a green dragon made of electricity around the screen; Sheena's move is the "Ice Cyclone", where she unleashes a powerful ice storm around herself.
Run Saber consists of a total of five stages set around Earth, mirroring the original Strider. The first stage is set in the "Taj Base" in North America, a former defense base for the Earth Renaissance Project taken over by Bruford's mutants. Stage 2 is located on the oriental "Tong City", a high-tech city built among ancient ruins that was once a seat of industrial prowess. The third stage is set in "Jod Valley", a South American jungle that closely resembles Strider's Amazon stage, including the appearance of dinosaur-like enemies. Fourth stage is known as "Gray Fac", a large industrial complex located on Europe and described as an old mining site and former mining capital of the world back when humanity relied on natural resources.
Once the last stage is beaten, an island rises on the pacific ocean and the final stage is revealed: simply named "Bruford", this is the mad scientist's hidden base, a large complex that has become an extension of Bruford himself.
Item capsules can either be found scattered across each stage or are dropped by defeated enemies. They appear as icons encased in transparent bubbles.
- Medical Box: Appears as a medical box with a red cross. White boxes adds 1 unit to the HP gauge, while blue boxes adds 2.
- Flame: A blue sword icon, it powers up the Run Saber's sword, increasing its reach.
- Red Ball: A red/pink ball, it adds one Special Attack stock when picked. The player starts the game with 2 stocks already.
- Faces: Represented by the face of the Run Sabers, it provides an extra Life.
- Allen features a number of similarities to Hiryu.
- His weapon, the Thunder Saber, is created through a plasma generator installed within Allen himself; similarly, Hiryu's weapon, the Cypher, operates using plasma energy to create its cutting edge.
- Allen's basic attack is a perfectly horizontal slash, very reminiscent of Hiryu's basic Cypher Attack arc. The sword power-up even functions visually identical to Hiryu's Cypher power-up, doubling the range of the attack's arc of energy.
- In Japanese previews, Allen is stated to be Chinese instead of American and his Special Attack is named "Fei Long Thunder". "Fei Long" happens to be the Chinese spelling equivalent of "Hiryu" ("Flying Dragon").
- Altough more than likely a coincidence, Sheena shares her name with a character from the Strider Hiryu manga.
- Tong City appears to be set in Hong Kong, and is presented as a futuristic eastern city with an overabundance of neon signs in its background. The setting is remarkably similar to Neo Hong Kong City from Strider 2, introduced six years later.
- The game's box artwork was created by Julie Bell, the same artist who also did the boxart for all American releases of Strider Returns.
- Despite not being released in Japan, the game's first three stage themes were featured in a CD compilation bundled with the December 1993 issue of Japanese Super Famicom Magazine.
- Play-Asia's listing for Fighting Commander Gold (Run Saber Commemoration Edition). Accessed May 19, 2018
- Horisoft (1993, SNES). Run Saber (English). Instruction Manual, Pg. 5
- Horisoft (1993, SNES). Run Saber (English). Instruction Manual, Pg. 12
- Horisoft (1993, SNES). Run Saber (English). Instruction Manual, Pg. 13-17
- Super Famicom Magazine December News Volume Special Supplement. Entry at the Video Game Music Database. Accessed May 19, 2018