Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Review

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) bears no shame in calling itself a clone of “Super Crate Box.”  Fortunately for SMAA, I never heard of (nor played) the game it is a clone of, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt when it says that’s what it is.  Now, aside from the gasping in the back corners of the room by those who cannot fathom that someone does not know the “smash hit” Super Crate Box, I say nay nay, good sir.  I heard of it now, and Super Mutant Alien Assault appeals to me on its face much more than whatever that other thing is.  Plus, I like clones because it reminds me of one of my favorite Schwarzenegger movies, The 6th Day.

“You should clone yourself.  So you can go fuck yourself.” (Paraphrased quote from The 6th Day)

SMAA is a platforming shooter that constrains you in one small level.  Each level contains a particular objective that must be completed before proceeding to the next, along the way massacring as many aliens as you need to.  SMAA, at its core, rides on the “roguelite” wave, but only wades in just a bit.  Power-ups are collected, but don’t endlessly stack — you have a limited amount of slots available for special abilities, weapons, and defenses.  Your character isn’t going to get crazy combinations of power-ups, but most of what you use will be swapped for something else that drops.  This forces you to work on a constantly changing strategy throughout your gameplay, rather than sticking with “what works” for as long as you can.  On top of it all, health can be very hard to come by, which makes the game quite a bit unforgiving.  Friendly-fire is also a thing here, so you’ll have to be careful where you chuck your explosives, just in case it bounces back in your general direction.

Level designs and objectives are randomized, but there is a set amount of maps that cycle within each “Galaxy,” which is a set of four levels.  There are no procedurally-generated maps, and objectives will only appear on particular levels designed for that objective.  This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment but it can get a bit stale depending on how long you decide to play in one go.  Objectives include moving an item from Point A to Point B or releasing a build-up of pressure on multiple points on the map.  It is important to get the objective done as fast as possible, as enemies will gain strength the longer you stay in a level.  A level will always require you to clear whatever enemies remain once the objective is fulfilled, so the path of least resistance will not be rewarded in the slightest.

Game unlocks occur as you complete more levels.  Each time you clear a stage you gain a token that sets you along the path to the next automatic unlock.  As you unlock more weaponry/items you’ll also unlock more enemies to have fun with — although this seems more like a punishment when it happens.  It would have been nicer to see enemies unlocked in a different progression, such as number of enemies killed or if a particular boss was cleared.

“Kinda takes the fun out of living, doesn’t it?”

When you actually get into the gameplay it can be quite frantic and most of it is satisfying.  Each level is equipped with its own configuration of Weapon/Explosive vending machines that randomly equip you with one of the weapons you have unlocked so far.  Explosions are by far the most fulfilling thing about the game and it’s a lot of fun to be able to blow the aliens up with a well-timed grenade or cluster bomb.  Some of the normal weaponry is not as exciting, such as the dual submachine guns and the AK47, but the minigun, sniper rifle, and grenade launcher are fun to wield.  My favorite by far is the pogo stick that explodes things you jump on top of — it would have been great if this was more the kind of thing you saw in the game, but instead it is the outlier.  Your weaponry/explosives all have a set number of charges, so you’ll be needing to re-equip yourself as soon as you use up your ammo, which means you’ll get a random item and change your strategy to effectively use your new combination.  Each level also grants you new power-ups in crates to fill out your other ability slots, such as Special Abilities and Defenses.

Special Abilities are fun to use and varied, despite the fact they aren’t able to be used that much due to needing to collect Special Ammo.  Special Ammo drops when you defeat empowered monsters that stick around for a while on the map, and you have to run over the green squares that are dropped before they expire.  This may not always be possible.  Special Abilities and Defenses (that are free to use) include but are not limited to a pillar of energy, pushbacks, running fast, and bullet time.  Defenses don’t damage enemies, but not all Special Abilities deal damage either.

The art is nice and attention is paid to the aliens and levels.  The art style reminds me of old Windows 3.1-era games (not that far removed from DOS games) with a 90’s retro-futuristic design.  The game also runs like a dream 95% of the time, except when you enter hyperdrive when that objective comes around.  The frame lag is helped if you turn off the Screen Shake in the options, but is still apparent even after turning it off — I’m unsure if this is actually intended or not, though, since it “snaps out” of the frame lag as soon as you exit the hyperdrive sequence.  It unfortunately gets pretty annoying when you experience it for the umpteenth time.   The music is all high-energy EDM/Dubstep/electro music and depending on your personal tastes may either be enjoyable or create misery.  It all matches the tempo of the game, but I was somewhere in the middle of the scale with the arrangement.  After about an hour of gameplay, I muted the music and opted for some of my own with the sound effects still on top.

“Doesn’t anybody die any more?”

The game feels a bit bare-bones when you realize that the progression is tied to unlocking weapons through a small number of levels.  Three Galaxies of four levels account for a total of twelve stages, each Galaxy cycling from its own small pool of levels/unlocked bosses.  By design, you’ll be retrying the game over and over since death is inevitable.  Each Galaxy has their own color scheme and set of levels to cycle through, and the game lets you begin on either of the three galaxies you like once you’ve beaten the previous boss level.  To unlock a higher difficulty level you have to start from the first Galaxy and go all the way to the last without dying — which can be quite a task depending on your skills.  Familiarizing yourself with the levels that cycle within a chosen Galaxy is the only way you’ll be able to get through it all in one go.

Super Mutant Alien Assault essentially appeals to those who look for a challenge in their games.  A lot of gameplay comes from perfecting your skills and attempting to get through as many levels as possible before dying and resetting.  The assortment of weapons are fun, keep you on your toes, and as you unlock more powerful weapons and abilities, you’re bound to get further at some point.  However, the biggest buff isn’t a tangible item in the game, it’s your own perseverance to try again and again and again and again….

Super Mutant Alien Assault is available now on Steam for $7.99, currently discounted by 20% from $9.99.

 

Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Super Crate Box /soo-per kreyt boks/
          (Proper Noun)

  1. a retro style indie game known for it’s three major gameplay aspects: the item
    crates that appear throughout the level, one-room-per-stage level design and
    wave after wave of enemies are set upon the player.

          (Adjective)

  1. based on “Super Crate Box” and often sharing many similar designs.

There you go! I took that made up and somewhat redundant combination of words and defined it so you didn’t have too. You can thank me later.

Developed by Cybernate, published by Surprise Attack Games and in the very early part of its early access career, Super Mutant Alien Assault is a retro-style action game that sets to re-polish your 2D trigger finger and reacquaint you with your old jump-to-dodge tactics from days of video games past. Considering itself the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones (this is about the point where you should be thanking me), it shares many similar designs with the old 2010 game, as well as, it’s own little spin on the little known sub-genre.

Playing the part of security droids burdened with protecting cryogenically frozen humans that have escaped a dying earth, you must defend against herds of aliens while wielding a varied and random assortment of weapons, explosives and special abilities. Along the way to extraterrestrial genocide, there is a simple but sometimes difficult objective that must be cleared. Whether it is transporting something from point A to point B, stopping a series of explosives set around the stage, or simple eradication of the alien menace, it usually requires a careful balance between killing and completing the objective. To add to your troubles, the radiation your ship is apparently leaking (which I’m sure passed the high standards of whatever safety commission was involved in designing these ships) makes the Aliens evolve into bigger and stronger versions of themselves every few seconds. So if you somehow complete the objective without destroying a single alien, you’d find yourself with a screen’s worth of aggressive and powerful aliens that must be destroyed before moving onto the next stage.

If put into one word, I’d say this game is hardbutfair. Though there is a spot of chance involved with the abilities, guns and explosives you have at any particular moment due to their random nature, I never thought the game treated me unfairly. The randomness, in fact, was part of the fun. Responding and adapting to my ever-changing assortment of explosives and guns forced me to think on my feet and change my strategy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the game had plenty of options even in this early version. From the standard to the bizarre, one moment you’ll find yourself gunning down the alien herd with a machine gun and double jump combination, and the next  having to use your explosive Pogo stick to “Mario” your way to victory by jumping on top of the aliens. Local multiplayer is also available and strikes the same strategy-changing beats, though it is a bit easier since you are allowed to revive a fallen comrade. Overall, even at an early stage, the game has the potential to be a challenging but fun game.

While fun, that’s not to say the game doesn’t have its hiccups. The game is still very early in its Early Access cycle and it shows. In particular, the game has a few bugs to iron out. Though, not always, if the game is left paused for a few moments it will freeze and then close itself. Another bug makes the game’s frame rate drop by half whenever a countdown is taking place. Super Mutant Alien Assault is also very short, packing only 9 regular stages, three boss stages and a few unlockables in this early build; it has very little content. Of course, this is all likely to change in the coming months and upon full release.

Much like the security droids in the game, the developers of Super Mutant Alien Assault have some bugs to work out before its full release, sometime later this year or early next year. Though if they do manage to eradicate the alien menace that makes the game buggy and add more content to it in the process, the game might keep its promise in being the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones… whatever that means.

When not writing previews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.