Ever felt annoyed with the current trend of video games with terrible monetisation included? Ever got angry with the amount of titles that feature loot boxes? Or with brutal grinds that seem included simply so they can sell you the means to skip them?
Yeah me too, but wow, things really could be SO much worse and this game shows us how!
Set in a not so distant future, on a planet populated by anthropomorphic animals, SuperEpic - The Entertainment War tells the story of what can happen when a company gets too much power. After a series of hostile takeovers, only one video game company remains in the world. A huge corporation which has established a reign of totalitarianism looms, using mind control algorithms disguised as entertainment. It is know as…
Society has become helplessly addicted to their free-to-play games, tailored to alter their behaviour, suck up their money, and to monitor all their communications. From an early age, all citizens are educated by the company to follow one simple set of rules.
Work. Play. Spend.
But a small group of rebels are still able to avoid the brainwashing and, while hiding from Regnant Corps eyes, they play videogames which have long been forbidden and forgotten. One day however, a strange signal is intercepted through an obsolete modem powered console and it might just change things for the better.
"Do you want to put an end to Regnant Corps regime? Maybe we can work together? Tomorrow we'll breach the walls of their headquarters and all brave dissidents are invited to join us!"
Realising that this might be his chance, a little raccoon called TanTan mounts his mighty pet llama and heads off to storm the building, hoping to kick the ass of the corporate pigs who have enslaved the population, and to win back the freedom of every single citizen!
The story has loads of funny, witty, and quirky moments, with the whole "soulless evil corporation" thing being played for laughs during almost every one of the text based conversations that drive the storytelling. All the bosses have their own subject they'll base their jokes around, like the vampiric monetisation officer referencing sucking everyone's wallets dry for instance. If you've been following the recent controversy surrounding video game companies, and their unpopular business practices, you'll find these conversations and their little references quite entertaining. There are also regular nods to classic video games and movies, so fans of popular culture (but gaming in particular) will also have something to amuse them. In the end though, while entertaining, it's simply serves as a mechanism to drive you through the Metroidvania style gameplay. The real fun to be had lies in exploring the surreal castle like office of Regnant Corp, searching out its secrets and battling through its hordes of anthropomorphic animal baddies.
Now unless you've been in a coma, living under a rock, had your mind wiped by aliens or something similar, you'll probably be familiar with the Metroidvania genre. Taking its name from the classics Super Metroid and Castlevania, more recent entries like Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest and Guacamelee have all helped propel this game-type to huge levels of popularity. Just in case you don't know the basics however, these games typically follow a formula where as you progress through the map, you'll regularly come across areas that are out of reach, blocked off, or in some other way made inaccessible. As new abilities are unlocked, these areas became available to explore, and you'll usually be backtracking to previous locations and unlocking secrets you couldn't reach when you first encountered them. SuperEpic follows this formula too and the move set you begin with is fairly basic, consisting of simple attacks and a small jump. It isn't long however till a dash ability, a double jump, an air glide and super leap are all added, as well as others, with most of them being powered by a stamina bar. These fall into the exploration category, and are primarily focused on giving you skills to move around the environment. These abilities are unlocked as you progress through the story and allow you to access new areas, discover shortcuts and, while backtracking, to reach previously locked or unreachable locations where goodies and secrets are hidden. Alongside your health and stamina bars, there's also a third that becomes available, the Rage bar, and it powers your combat abilities. Bought from special vendors using the rare red gems you'll discover on your travels, these include things like a dash attack, where your llama leaps forward attacking the enemy quickly before returning to his starting point, a Scorpion style "Get over here!" move utilizing your steeds tongue to grab enemies, pulling them towards you, a hadouken fireball and quite a few others too. These are activated through certain button presses, and each has its own unique combination. The Hadouken fireball for instance is launched with the traditional quarter circle forward and attack move, that Street fighter players will instantly recognise and you'll find them useful in combat, which is their primary focus.
Dealing with enemies is an essential part of any good Metroidvania, as it's something you'll spend a lot of time doing while exploring and backtracking through the games locations, and it's an area where SuperEpic does rather well. There are a huge amount of different enemies, some who use melee attacks, while others are focused on fighting from afar with ranged abilities. The sheer amount of different designs helps keep things fresh, and every enemy has bright colourful sprites with great designs based around different animals. In the early stages simply mashing your standard attacks will get you through quite easily but it isn't long till enemies with new skills start to appear which require a little more thought. Some can block your hits, before counter attacking with their own moves, and need certain attacks and timing to destroy. They also start to appear in certain combinations whose move sets compliment each other, increasing their effectiveness. There’s a certain toxin spitting vulture for instance that, when paired with hard hitting melee enemies, can be quite a challenge and are rather good at keeping you on your toes.
Obviously you have ways of dealing with them though, and you actually have 3 weapons equipped at one time. This isn't the usual "switch between weapons" mechanic however, as you use a different one depending on your button press, and each type has its own specific use. Assigned to Y (on Switch that is) is your standard weapon and it functions as you'd expect, swinging forward horizontally, it deals damage while stunning the target for a while, and it'll be your go-to attack much of the time. Hitting X on the other hand, utilizes a different weapon type which is used to uppercut enemies, sending them into the air where they can be juggled and kept helpless until they land. The third type, assigned to A, is your "smash" weapons, and these are used to club enemies to the floor, break through their block, or to send airborne enemies hurtling downwards. By combining these three weapon types in combat you can strike enemies, before launching them into the sky, getting in a few more hits and them smashing them into the floor. The baddies can also be sent into each other, causing damage and stunning opponents for a second. Sending a melee enemy skyward to knock a flying enemy out of the air is a great tactic, and when these moves are combined with the rage attacks mentioned earlier, you have plenty of options when dealing with larger groups.
Each strike and hit feels great, with a feeling of weight and effectiveness behind each weapon that gives combat a satisfying rhythm to it. The weapons come in a wide range of shapes and are more wacky than you may expect, with designs that include guitars, swordfish, tennis rackets, umbrellas and toilet plungers to name a few. These are of a specific type though and can't be assigned to another button, the plunger is a smash weapon for instance and can't be used in the uppercut slot, so pay attention to type when buying new ones from the store. Each weapon also has its own stats for damage, speed and range to consider, and can also be upgraded by spending the coins dropped by the various enemies. Each area you go through has their own specific types of baddies to face, and the game does a good job of increasing their difficulty as you go. Even when I'd obtained more powerful weapons, and levelled them up, I never felt overpowered and found challenge in many fights. This was especially true in the later stages and the combat was enjoyable enough that even farming for cash was a fun experience.
Now so far, everything I've mentioned has been pretty standard fare for the genre. It's all very well done but is mostly something you'd see in many other Metroidvanias. There is however a little addition that is fairly unique and gives SuperEpic something that allows it to stand out from the crowd. Located throughout the levels, you'll occasionally come across force fields that block the passage, barring access to some treasure or other. These forcefields are unlocked by entering a code into the nearby keypad and it's how you get the code that's pretty unique. Near the keypad will be a painting or poster with a QR code on it. Scanning this leads to a flash game website, with each keypad having a different game linked to it. Every one is well made and could easily be a decent mobile game in its own right and includes versions of Flappy Bird, Frogger, Puzzle Bobble, a clicker/idle game and a few others too. Completing these titles, which aren't super difficult but have enough of a challenge to be interesting, rewards you with a numeric code for the keypad, lowering the forcefield and allowing you to collect the treasure within. These minigames were a very nice addition, providing a change of pace and serving as a good diversion while exploring. Having to jump over to another device, a tablet in my case, was a little annoying especially if out and about in portable mode, but ultimately was nothing major.
In fact, when it comes to flaws, "nothing major" sums my thoughts up pretty well. There's good variety to both the level design and enemies, combat flows well and feels responsive, and the only annoyance I had was a minor problem with the map. Backtracking is a major feature in Metroidvania games and SuperEpic is no exception. The map unlocks as you progress and is rather good at recording the locations of save points, vendors and the elevators used to fast travel. What it doesn't mark down though is the locations of the aforementioned keypads and the location of secondary quest givers. There was an occasion where I was playing in handheld mode while waiting at a bus-stop and realized I hadn't brought my phone with me and couldn't scan the QR code I'd just discovered. I continued on with my game, planning to return to the location later but quickly discovered it wasn't marked on the map. I spent a good time backtracking through the rather large map and it took me a good 30 minutes to find the location a second time. This happened again when discovering one of the side quests. I'd been tasked by a chef to find some seaweed and, after finally discovering it, I couldn't locate the chef again to turn in the item. Adding these locations to the map would have really helped and I can't really understand why they weren't included. When all is said and done though, this was a minor niggle that hopefully will get fixed with a patch in the future, and doesn't detract from the otherwise excellent experience.
In the end, SuperEpic is a well-executed Metroidvania, with an interesting little gimmick. The basic gameplay, exploration and combat are all well done, the powers and abilities are good (if fairly standard for the genre) but it's the inclusion of the mini-game puzzles that makes the game stand out from the competition. While there are some minor problems with side-quests not being marked on the map, this is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things and isn't enough to take too much away from the enjoyment of the game. The Metroidvania marketplace has plenty of competition right now, but this is definitely one that fans of the genre should take a look at. Worth a peek for the exploration, combat and humour alone, the little minigames push it into "Must Consider" territory and it's sure to appear on "best of" lists rather soon.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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