Title: SuperEpic: The Entertainment War
Publisher: Numskull Games
Genre: Metriodvania / Platformer
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Audience: PEGI 12
Release Date: 12/12/19
Price: £14.99 – Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Dystopia. A perfect description for the year 2084 where there are no good video games left. What manner of hellscape are Numskull Games trying to inflict on me? I feel a panic attack coming on…
A super-sized corporation has taken control of the gaming market, performing hostile takeovers until monopoly ensues. The predatory mobile gaming model has become the only model. Yes, Regnantcorp (tip of the iceberg, by the way) has a lot to answer for, having shut down the industry and monetised addiction. I can’t think of a greater incentive for slapping anthropomorphic corporate dogs with a stop sign. Well, I can, but nothing as noble. Oh, and you play as a racoon riding a llama.
Meetings about meetings
Enough about the rage-inducing nightmare scenario (seriously, hands-off my games), let’s cut to the chase. It’s another 2D, pixelated Metroidvania. Upgrading skills required to access previously unattainable areas gained through non-linear exploration. All that stuff. The Switch had 1,700 of them last time I checked. Fortunately, there’s some sharp writing, a pseudo-Orwellian theme and a load of microtransactions to give this one a step up the ladder. Put your pitchforks down, the microtransactions are part of the game narrative and don’t cost a thing. In fact, they lean into one of SuperEpic’s more interesting features; QR codes.
SuperEpic has some seriously neat ideas tucked in between the core gameplay loop of collecting; upgrading and exploring, which usually manifests through the writing, however, the most inventive of these ideas has to be the hidden QR codes. Scanning a QR code actually launches an HTML5-based game on your mobile, allowing you to unlock in-game rewards. These games, much like the narrative, focus on a satirical view of the low-rent asset-recycling gaming market and morally bankrupt business practises. One game has you tapping to make in-game money and, like its many strange, mindless, dumb counterparts found on real-life mobile storefronts, it’s boring-as-hell but doesn’t overstay its joke. Others like the endless runner-style platformer are functionally fine meaning they’re never truly a chore and hold their comedic novelty value. Rewards are modest but these mini-games demand only a fraction of your time, so you’ll still hit your targets.
Using your three simultaneously equipped weapons (bats, clubs, signs, whatever you can get your paws on), you can string long combos by smashing your opponent in the air and following them up in a brawler-like fashion. Separate buttons are assigned to your three basic methods of attack; a normal quick combo, an air-combo-entering uppercut and a finishing smash. All of which can be fluidly strung together with relative ease. As you earn more money there are opportunities to buy special moves such as air to ground diving attack or a ‘get over here’ pull to drag angry, suited animals into your face.
While I found myself utilising a few of the specials to escape the odd sticky situation, or the occasional projectile to stun an enemy before entering a combo, all-in-all the extra moves saw limited use after it became clear the most effective method of combat was to gather enemies in one place and keep them in the air. Getting to the point of being able to do this competently took little time and once that box was checked, I found that longer manoeuvres such as air-dashing into a combo, smashing down an enemy into another, dropping down, uppercutting the pair of them back in the air and juggling them into oblivion to be fluid and easy to pull off. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t as deep or difficult as it might sound but instead offers accessibility in place of complexity.
Leverage your beverage
As any good capitalist pig knows, money is the key to success. Each victory awards some of that sweet, sweet cash which you can invest in life, rage (think MP) or stamina. There are a handful of NPCs to offer equipment, items, techniques and stat upgrades for a share of your dough. What’s great about this system is that, while money is dropped by every enemy, it’s done so in small amounts. The natural speed in which you progress through the game is skillfully balanced against the availability and cost of upgrades. An extra stamina bar can truly make a difference in skipping through waves of enemies when you’re low on health, but that shiny new lamp offers greater DPS.
Incidentally, when you’re low on health, much like when you’re low on morale in an office job, you go to the loo. The water closets, ranging from posh to piss-poor, act as safe houses where you can save and recover health by relieving yourself. Not a new concept, surprisingly (Travis Touchdown and Frank West say ‘hi’), but fun all the same.
All else told, there’s a nagging gripe that marred the experience somewhat. Taking place in a corporate tower, the level design always feels muted, even when branching out into rocky, underground basement areas. There’s a good variety of background art, offering the Big Brother establishment vibe with plenty of nods and references to gaming swine, but the entire map manages to feel procedurally generated during the story mode. There’s little to separate the layout of platforms from one room to the next and honestly feels like it was ‘snapped’ together without much consideration for natural flow and progression.
Granted, SuperEpic only uses its platforming as a means of gating off areas and aiding those long juggling combos but it rarely feels like any area has a purpose beyond housing doorways and enemies. It’s not the worst criticism that can be levelled at a game within this crowded genre, but it doesn’t improve throughout the adventure. Of course, if you’re looking to tackle the Roguelike mode where the maps truly are procedurally generated, then you’re in luck because it probably won’t bother you.
Close of play
Alleviating the boring layout is clever enemy combinations. There are a limited number of enemy types, for example, larger enemies that block, enemies that fly and use projectiles, enemies that counter and so on. However, these enemy types evolve as you get to access new areas. Projectiles will now fire at awkward angles that, in isolation offer no threat, but prove much more difficult to deal with while you keep two other grounded enemies busy. Though the enemy types fall into these set categories, their visual designs are completely different for each variant so there are no cheap tricks like an on-brand ironic use of colour palette swaps to be found here. This extends to the bosses as well. These Regnantcorp employees have personalities extending to both design and dialogue, leaning into tropes and archetypes for inspiration but delivering them in interesting ways. There’s a game designer who offers a fantastic boss fight but to say more would be to ruin it. I’ll just say it involves CRT.
To round it off, SuperEpic is a visually pleasing and polished title with strong performance, bar a couple of hitches in the few areas that house a large number of enemies. An easy to navigate UI with a simple but effective map and mini-maps nestle nicely in a well-realised if well-trodden, concept.
If the writing and thrill of meeting a new batch of enemies weren’t as delightful as they are, I may have spent more time focussing on the very similar combat methods I used for dealing with the majority of foes, or the tedium of knowing the next area may not look but will certainly feel like the last, but ultimately these problems didn’t break my enjoyment and the overall package proved rounded enough to earn my investment. The flaws are flaws but in business, distraction is half the battle. The tight controls and accessibility combine to form a partnership worthy of bonus, deserved or not.
Rapid Reviews Rating
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