Steven Universe is the pinnacle of what a charming cartoon is. Clever and sweet writing, beautiful animation, occasional musical numbers. I will easily admit that I was handed the review of Steven Universe: Save the Light largely due to being a big fan of the source material. And for what it’s worth, Save the Light captures a lot of the same crystal-clear beauty of what the show gets right at its best. Unfortunately, it’s also an oft-buggy mess that can be really frustrating to seep much enjoyment out of. It’s working with good ideas by the score, really. But that only makes its flaws all the more frustrating. Ultimately, even after some of them have now been patched, Steven Universe: Save the Light is definitely one to flicker in the face of its shortcomings. Sometimes, it’s just not that fun a game.
The cut of the jib in the cut of the stones
Steven Universe: Attack the Light was a fairly simple party-based mobile game. Steven and the crystal gems comprised a four-person party, assumed you knew what the show was, and introduced a fun story about dealing with a strange gem artifact that can create matter. Save the Light, on the other hand, aims bigger. A total of 9 characters can join your party, four in active use at a time, and all loveable members of the show’s cast. The four main crystal gems are all there in appropriate glory. Connie shows up, as the show has long since embraced her as Steven’s sword-handy partner in action. Greg, Steven’s dad, is even there, toting guitar and amp around and serving handily as a bard figure for the group. Peridot and Lapis Lazuli eventually come along too, taking a break from the barn. It’s an absolute joy having this group of characters all travel together, spitting witty voiced banter straight from the show. An evil Homeworld gem named Hessonite comes to Earth to take control of the same light prism that Steven managed to befriend at the end of the first game. Now, it’s time for some savin’.
As a full console release, Steven Universe: Save the Light sports much more thorough gameplay than the first game did. It essentially plays like a Paper Mario game or similar RPG. A timer continually fills up, granting the player does after a dose of star points. These points are used for just about every type of attack a given character can employ, from Amythest’s sweeping whip attacks to Connie’s precise sword strikes. In theory, it’s a really well-broadened RPG system. It can lead to some fun moments of strategy, especially when it comes to the elegant and awesome fusions between characters. But the problem is, everything around the good ideas punishes those ideas for being good.
Cracks all over
Steven Universe: Save the Light hurts itself on what feels like a constant basis. Those battles that sounded like fun have a persistent tendency to lean way longer than they have any right to be, and seldom due to a variety of interesting developments. In some RPGs, being at the right level to take down an enemy means being able to have fun doing it without feeling like you’re looping through the same things over and over. Save the Light doesn’t seem to get that. A lot of fights just feel like tedium.
This is made worse in the boss battles. The first couple bosses of the game, in particular, bring some really neat ideas to the table but have a problem knowing what proper pacing looks like. There were quite a few times when Attack the Light became a strategy game that gave me no room in which to strategize, because of how damn fast things were being thrown at me.
It doesn’t help, either, that Steven Universe: Save the Light has already become notorious for some severe bugs. The game was originally slated for a summer 2017 release but was delayed until late October. One might hope this would be to fix bugs or glitches discovered during programming. But when the game released, there were attacks that would break the game when used in the wrong order, character audio that would never stop playing, and horrible load times. The audio issue was patched, but the load times remained unreasonably long through my time with the game. Some bugs definitely cropped up in combat, causing me to restart my system on multiple occasions, and moreso with sloppy NPC AI out of battle.
Then there are other things still that can’t be patched so easily, like the game’s horrible fixed camera. There’s a lot of traversal, platforming, and puzzle-solving that flat-out sucks because there’s no way to adjust your view of your surroundings. And there’s no map whatsoever, either. There are even smaller things that still persist. The final cutscene in the game took place with the villain still surrounded by a circle of “defense down” icons I had cast upon her during the final boss battle. The whole thing just feels like a package that wants to be pretty, but has been put together poorly in ways that cannot be hidden.
Steven Universe: Save the Light is a lot of things. It’s pretty. It’s bright. There are beautiful music tracks and great voices. There’s an RPG combat system that really could have been something, and almost is. But at the end of the day, this crystal gem adventure is just an example of what happens when developers make some really nice tools, but fail to put those tools properly to work.
Final verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One; Publisher: Cartoon Network ; Developer: Grumpyface Games; Players: 1; Released: Oct. 31, 2017 ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Steven Universe: Save the Light given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.