Sapu Review

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It’s easy to forget how much work goes into a game. We take it for granted, because games (often) arrive in a polished, complete state that fails to show the marks of its meandering journey. When we play a game, it’s commonly shorn of bugs, weirdnesses and stuff that simply didn’t work. Months of work might have been spent in removing them, yet we’re none the wiser. 

Sapu makes us realise how much work goes into polishing a game because it’s so bereft of polish, so alive with bugs, that it’s like looking at a block of wood before it’s been made into a table. Now we understand how much work must go into other games. 

sapu review 1
Sapu should be so simple

It’s such a simple game that it really shouldn’t be so unfinished You play as Sapu who is, and we’re not 100% convinced by this, a frog. We’re not convinced because the title screen and opening cutscenes make Sapu look more like a grasshopper. Honestly, the two characters look nothing like each other. 

Sapu is on the hunt for an antidote for his father. His father was bitten by a poisonous plant, and Sapu has taken it upon himself to save him. The story is about the most polished and coherent thing about Sapu, and the cutscenes are pretty decent too. As first impressions go, you can’t get much more misleading than Sapu.

The story translates into dozens of discrete levels. Your job is to reach a bush that represents the end of the level, and that means navigating long stretches of platforming and enemies. It’s the standard platforming fare, then, as Sapu jumps, double-jumps, wall-climbs and bottom-bounces his way to victory. About the only slightly unusual ability in his locker is a rush move that surges him forward in a straight line. 

The problem is that, for all of its simplicity, none of it works. Not really. Take the bread-and-butter of any platforming game: the jump. This should be a predictable arc from one position to another, right? Sapu can’t get this right. Constantly, the arc is stopped mid-air, as if Sapu hits an invisible pixel. Now, that’s a problem for any platformer that demands a modicum of precision, as you can be jumping onto an enemy or over a chasm, only to suddenly drop vertically downwards. We constantly died thanks to mid-air hugs from the Invisible Man.

sapu review 2
But those jumps…

What about the wall-climbs and wall-jumps? Again, pretty standard for this kind of game. As you could probably have predicted, Sapu fluffs them. On jumping onto a wall, Sapu fails to make his mind up about whether to stick or not. It’s erratic, entirely unpredictable, and will cause you to slide gracelessly down the wall, just as often as you will stick to it. Now, consider that a series of wall jumps involves five or six of these moments, and you have a recipe for frustration. 

The bottom-bounce is next. Mario has been getting these right since 1983. Forty years later, Sapu is butchering them. There is absolutely zero logic about whether you succeed to bounce on an enemy or fail. When failing means an instant death and a restart to the beginnings of the level, that’s quite the two options. We’ve missed a bottom-bounce, fully expecting to die, only to inexplicably land the hit. Equally, we’ve made a pixel-perfect jump and died. 

Those are three pretty large swings-and-misses. You can’t reliably jump, you can’t reliably attack enemies, and you can’t reliably climb walls. It doesn’t leave much that actually is reliable. And baseball tells us what happens when someone swings and misses three times in a row. 

Given a little more time to bake, could Sapu have been a capable platformer? We can say, unequivocally, that no it couldn’t. Because Sapu doesn’t have much more depth or variety than 79p platformers. Considering Sapu is carrying an £8.39 price tag (not super-expensive, but a notch beyond some other indie games), it’s all rather inexcusable. 

sapu review 3
Will you stick? Won’t you stick?

The backgrounds barely change, the enemies switch out even more infrequently. If you’ve got the stomach for reaching the later levels, you will see the same repeated wall-climbing sequences and stretches of spikes. It’s mouthfuls of bland, tasteless stuff, with the added misery of biting your tongue whenever a bug pokes you in the ribs.

If you’ve ever wondered what early game builds might be like, play Sapu. It’s the building blocks of a game, but not a game yet. It hasn’t yet coalesced. If you can muddle through the self-sabotaging then you’re better people than us, but we found Sapu to be borderline unplayable.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Cutscenes are well made
  • Story feels relatively fresh
Cons:
  • Basic actions simply don’t work
  • Riddled with bugs
  • Unremarkable levels
  • Incredibly tiresome to play
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC
  • Release date and price - 4 August 2023 | £8.39
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Cutscenes are well made</li> <li>Story feels relatively fresh</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Basic actions simply don’t work</li> <li>Riddled with bugs</li> <li>Unremarkable levels</li> <li>Incredibly tiresome to play</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC <li>Release date and price - 4 August 2023 | £8.39</li> </ul>Sapu Review
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