RELEASE DATE: 09/23/88 – (JP), 09/89 – (US), 1989 – (EU)
Futuristic samurai warriors, ancient Japanese landscapes, resurrected serpent gods, and an extravagant amount of spell casting all can be found in SpellCaster. You play as Kane, a warrior of the mystical arts, and your master Daikak has commissioned you to check on the whereabouts of other mystical warriors. The story gets hazy and nonsensical from the get-go, which might seem like a detriment considering how much the game wants you to care about the plot. Roll with the “shocking” plot twists and babble between non-playable characters, and you’ll find plenty to appreciate here.
SpellCaster‘s strength lies in its perusal of different genres. The game starts off as a side-scroller, like Kenseiden or Shinobi. Enemies fly at you in clusters, you shoot them with your blue fiery magic chunks, they explode, and the cycle begins anew. Once you head into a temple or a town, the game turns into an adventure. You’re expected to LOOK at strange items, TAKE swords, use SPELLS to break down barriers, TALK to cybernetic samurais, and MOVE to your next location. There are minor RPG elements, as well. Kane has nine different spells he can use from the beginning of the game, most of which are useful for one scenario or another. For example, Makiri allows you to fly for about thirty seconds. Given SpellCaster‘s abundant one-hit death pits and chasms, Makiri is a spell you’ll often use in the side-scrolling portions. You also have Strength and Energy, as indicated by the numbers at the top of the screen. Strength is your life, Energy is for spells. These can be upgraded a few times by getting items, but you never manually use or equip any item you find; ditto for upgraded armor and weapons.
Because SpellCaster never commits to one genre, the game isn’t very deep. Side-scrolling portions are quite easy, particularly when you’re shooting out one-hit kill energy balls and you’re flying over the level with Makiri (which I did – a lot). Because SpellCaster isn’t a mystery, per say, the adventure portions never require puzzle solving or in-depth sleuthing. Usually, the screen will show one person or one item and you’ll have to TALK/LOOK at said person or item to progress the story, but that’s all. That’s not to say SpellCaster doesn’t take spooky turns into Difficultville. Wait until you’re trying to cross the ocean around the game’s halfway mark. Not only do you not have a map, but most of the ocean screens look exactly the same so it’s easy to get lost.
SpellCaster wasn’t born from some crazy Sega employee’s head. The game is actually based on the manga “Kujaku O” or “Peacock King.” In the manga, “Kane” is Kujaku, a Buddhist monk who hunts and exorcises demons. According to the Wikipedia page, he is the reincarnation of Mahamayuri, one of the Buddhist Wisdom Kings; Lucifer a.k.a. Satan from Christianity; and Melek Taus, or “Peacock Angel” in the Yadzi religion. Kujaku also likes porn and seafood because, lest we forget, he’s a main character in a manga. Needless to say, none of these controversial aspects of the manga made their way into SpellCaster‘s story. I don’t blame Sega in the slightest. Playing as a Buddhist monk who is 1/3 the reincarnation of Satan would be a little tough to stomach for American audiences, even today.
I’ve reviewed a ton of games over the years, most of them 8-bit. Due to their simplistic natures, my opinions of them usually fall between one of two options: a) this game is an atrocious waste of time or b) hey, that was great, how about I play some more. Then there’s SpellCaster, which is… enjoyable enough? The side-scrolling was tight, if not a bit short. The adventure/story was cheesy and filled with spelling errors. The light RPG elements were nice, even if I had no control over them. And yet, despite the game’s window dressing, SpellCaster as a whole is shallow. The game exists not to immerse you in itself, but to tell its weird pointless story. Just when you’re starting to enjoy a portion, it’s over and you’re on to the next plot point. Then again, take any one genre out – side-scrolling action, adventure, or RPG – and who knows whether SpellCaster would hold mine or anyone else’s interest. I’m conflicted, you see. Which is why I recommend every Master System fan play SpellCaster, if only because I’m unsure of its appeal.