SJ-19 Learns to Love! is a 2D action platformer from Grizzly Wizard Games and feels like a quick-fire Metroidvania game. Although short, only a couple of hours, this 8-bit inspired mini romp is charming and challenging. There are nine bosses that take some working out and some interesting puzzle like arears. SJ-19 is available on Steam from 23 April 2021. This is the developers third title and their second action platformer. The headline is that this new game is worth the small asking price, that I assume will be under a fiver.
Story wise, things are a little thin on the ground, but what did you expect for a purposefully short game created by one man. You play as SJ-19 who is the latest in a long line of battle robots. You are sent on a mission by an unknown power and you uncover more of the story as you progress. To be honest, with a game this short it is hard to critique the story at all but for a pocket money indie title it does what it needs to. This game is all about the action, and there is plenty of it.
You control SJ using typical directional controls with buttons to jump and fire. Anyone that has played a 2D game with a shooting mechanic will feel right at home. The controls are tight and you always feel in control of SJ. You acquire more power-ups such as a dash move and rockets as you progress. These in turn can be upgraded from special shops spread around the place. There is a certain elegance to racing around the levels and you will be surprised how good this budget title plays. Make sure to kill as many enemies as you can because the upgrades depends on your overall score.
You might find that the gameplay is a little basic at first but the more you play the better you need to get. Some of the bosses are very tricky but there is an easy mode if you are feeling the pinch. If you do manage to get through the game on the normal mode you can feel accomplished. Normally these kinds of games are very easy but SJ-19 has a real challenge in it. If you enjoy retro inspired platform games this is one of the better ones I have played recently. It is easy to dismiss these budget indie titles as shovelware but once in a while a rose buds from the thorns.
Graphically SJ-19 looks like a very polished 8-bit game. It really reminds me of the late Atari games on the 2600. Although the game plays more like a 16-bit game the visual presentation is lovely. If you are a fan of only a few colours and rigid, pronounced pixels this one is for you. The use of colour is excellent with each area distinguishable. The whole game is one huge map, like Metroid, and there is variety in the scenery. You will find yourself admiring the simple yet effective design.
You will not notice the sound or music much. It is there but it feels subdued which is a real shame. The sound is fine for what it is but is certainly the weakest aspect along with the games length. But everything else is a joy to experience and you will not be disappointed by these slight niggles. Taking the limitations of a one man team making a budget title, SJ-19 is impressive. If you play indie games regularly you will understand why this one stands out from the bunch.
SJ-19 is a refreshing blast of retro action that stands out from its competition. Those looking for some quick blasting action will find it here as will those looking for a mini adventure. If you just want something easy to get into you could do much worse. The characters are charming, there are a few secretes to uncover and the gameplay is tight. Although a little short, SJ-19 feels accomplished and polished with just enough retro feel without being dated. An easy recommend from me.