Here’s a noodle scratcher for you: what would happen if the Serious Sam series was actually a turn-based RPG, and more importantly, would it actually not suck? Indie awesomebros Vlambeer try to answer that age-old question that very few of us have asked with Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, the last (but not least) title of the Serious Sam: Indie Series. Do they succeed in busting that myth, or is an awesome Serious Sam RPG actually plausible? Well, that depends on how much you hate fun.
Vlambeer manages to not only make a Serious Sam turn-based RPG work, but manages to make it crazy amounts of addicting fun as well, all while keeping it simple. Storywise, The Random Encounter is nothing special, a throwaway sideplot about Sam time traveling in order to shoot Mental in the face, but, as always, Vlambeer injects their sense of earnest charm into the dialogue and goings-on to create a game that’s a witty commentary on the archetypes of traditional JRPGs. Things like randomly appearing bosses and stupidly simple “puzzles” involving retrieving a key three steps away are constant in The Random Encounter, and yet never cross the line from “funny and self-aware” to “tedious and repetitive”.
This extends to the gameplay as well, which is extremely rudimentary in The Random Encounter. As Sam and his eventual three-person party, you’re basically walking from setting from setting, room to room, until you jump into a random battle. When walking around, the game is simple as all hell, with nothing really with which to interact besides treasure chests and the dungeon exit. It’s basically a blander Chip’s Challenge, if Chip’s Challenge had monsters and grown men with miniguns and rocket launchers.
Once you jump into battle though, the tone changes immediately from “pedestrian” to “HOLY CRAP MONSTERS”. Vlambeer is known for their solid-yet-simple-yet-brutal gameplay, and it’s no different here. The best analog to the battles in The Random Encounter would be those from the Mario and Luigi series. Before each turn, you’re allowed to set your weapons; this involves choosing the weapon that’s most appropriate in said situation and then using the arrow keys to determine the path/trajectory/general area of where to shoot said weapon. So, if using a minigun, you’ll direct the character to shoot in a line across the sea of monsters. If a shotgun is chosen, you’ll adjust the attack radius of the character; if an enemy gets in that radius, they feel the wrath of hot lead from the character.
After all of that is set, the turn starts. Your turn will last a quick five or so seconds, at which point you’ll have minimal control of your party. By “minimal control”, I mean you’ll be able to move your party up and down, all at the same time. You’re going to want to move them not only to dodge enemy projectiles, but also to spray them all in the face with whatever arsenal you had set on your characters. There’s a delicate strategy to picking the right weapons and positioning them in just the right way to survive the imminent onslaught.
This strategy is key, because when I talk monsters, I don’t mean just one or two at a time. The Random Encounter literally throws hundreds of monsters at a time at your party, and you’ll have to take care of ALL of them through however many turns in order to proceed. It sounds like sheer madness, and even after spending so much time with this game, it still is awe-inspiring to me. The best part? It’s like that from the very beginning, and only gets more chaotic and insane as you progress through the game.
Admittedly, sometimes the randomness can result in battles wherein the literal wave of enemies is just much too overwhelming, and you will inevitably die. But personally, that’s part of the charm of The Random Encounter: whenever I come across a random battle that looks utterly insurmountable, the possibility that I could beat something as powerful and universally present as randomness is undeniably addicting. The game itself is about three hours long, but I’ve put twice that into it, simply because the notion that I can singlehandedly beat five hundred enemies is a massive stroke to my already-formidable ego.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter reminds me of that relatively small mom-and-pop café that manages to stick around forever. They don’t have the budget and/or staff to create truly grandiose meals, so they stick to simple, delicious meals made with fresh ingredients and love and care. The Random Encounter shows us once again how versatile and creative the minds at Vlambeer are, and really makes you wonder: what amazing revolutionary next-gen games would these folks make if they had unlimited budget, time, and staff at their disposal? At only $5 on Steam, this is an absolute must-buy, even if you’re currently engrossed in roleplaying as a dragonborn or being Batman.