I don’t think I’ve felt so pressured playing a 2D platformer. Most games like Super Mombo Quest are tense enough, requiring you to get from A to B through twirling blades, moving platforms and enemies. But Mombo Quest sneers at those games. Getting from A to B is too simple, too pathetically easy. It sidles up to you after completing a level, and says ‘now, see if you can do it without touching the ground AND while collecting every collectible on the way’. It’s a drill-sergeant who is never happy with ‘trying your best’. It wants results.
It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But Super Mombo Quest is, instead, an absolute gem of a platformer. While it turns up with a clipboard and a stopwatch, determined that you beat your personal best in every session, it manages to be exceptionally rewarding at the same time. You will try, you will get better, and suddenly you will be nailing its every request.
We should reverse a bit and explain what Super Mombo Quest is. In the simplest terms, it’s a 2D platformer with a Metroidvania world layout. You are a purple blob called Mombo who starts in a village that increasingly gets filled with people you save. Those people set up shop, offering amenities like permanent upgrades, relics to be equipped, and maps that pull back the curtain on the game’s hidden items. Most importantly, it houses the totem that can transport you to far-flung parts of its map.
Like Castlevania, Shantae and any number of other Metroidvanias, the world is broken up into smaller ‘rooms’ that you can merrily jump through in an effort to find other rooms. The rooms themselves aren’t massively inventive, but they are tight as a drum, with platforming sequences that require some brainpower and reflexes as you navigate them with the various controls at your disposal. There’s double jumps, floats, wall grabs and more, as they get continuously added to at level milestones.
Super Mombo Quest gets the basics spot on. Controlling your purple hacky-sack is an always-on joy. It does everything you want it to, and the arsenal of abilities means that you regularly have a get-out for any situation you find yourself in. Mistime a jump? Wall-grab, then climb up to the top. Find yourself some distance from another platform? Float on over to it. Mombo, particularly as new forms are found, becomes a bit of a one-blob-band.
Combat, as well, is great fun. This is very much from the Mario School of Bottom Bouncing, as you shove your rear in enemies’ faces. But Mombo is as bouncy as they come, so this means chaining together enemies like they were skipping stones on water. Levels are built with this in mind, giving open spaces to chain together as many bummed enemies as possible, offering a great sense of flow.
But what makes Super Momob Quest so special is how it builds on these ample foundations. Arrive in a room of this map for the first time, and you are greeted with both a Mombo Combo and Purple Gem objective. A Mombo Combo starts as soon as you bottom-bounce your first enemy. From then, you have a timer that ticks down before you defeat the next one, and collecting purple gems or defeating enemies lightly adds to that timer, giving you a bit more breathing room. Defeat all enemies, and a Mombo Combo message swooshes across the screen.
This simple objective – to keep a beat ’em-up style combo going – means that levels are no longer simple. You need to be a lethal fighting machine, killing enemies in few hits and even fewer beats in between. It’s almost like a game of Floor is Lava, as you attempt to sequence enemies together without touching the ground.
The Purple Gem objective is simpler, and just requires you to gather every purple gem in the level. That’s often simple, as they can be in plain sight, but other times they can be a nudge towards hidden areas, as you finish the level but don’t get close to that gem tally.
Now, the secret sauce of Super Mombo Quest is how these two work in concert. If you want to rattle through the game, you want to be doing both objectives at the same time. You sense that the designers want this too, as picking up gems keeps the Mombo Combo timer from decreasing, as well as contributing to the gem tally. Suddenly, Super Mombo Quest becomes a precision platformer, where every single press of a face-button is important. Arriving at the end of the level with a complete Mombo Combo and Purple Gem tally is a sign of gaming godhood, and everyone should bow at your altar.
Complete these two objectives and you never have to return to them. They’re done, checked off on your map, and you can handily skip them once you complete a combat totem at the end of a sequence of levels. Their rewards are used at the main hub to purchase valuable and transformative upgrades, so there’s a genuine sense that it’s worth doing them, too. They are woven into the fabric of Super Mombo Quest.
There’s a downside here, but a subjective one. It’s a degree of pressure and intensity that we didn’t always want. Sometimes, we just wanted to play and explore, widening the map, perhaps. The drill-sergeant approach to the levels is constant, and means that there are few opportunities for a drop in pacing. And while we could come back and complete the combo later, for example, it would mean learning the level all over again. It’s just easier to do it now.
We haven’t even mentioned the gleeful art style of Super Mombo Quest, which deserves its plaudits. It’s brimful with colour, and bosses and characters manage to still stand out. The story and dialogue could have done with some work – the joke that Mombo is a piece of Play-Doh that somehow still manages to save the world is overdone and tiresome – but the world itself demands to be explored. Finding hidden nooks and its troves of purple gems and villagers is always a joy.
It’s the best word to describe Super Mombo Quest: joyful. And that joy comes from the sense of flow that comes from playing it. Hopping and bottom-bouncing through its arcade-like combos will never fail to put a smile on our face. And once we reached the end of that flow, we could hotfoot it back to the hub area and receive our spoils, as we paid for upgrades that made the gameplay even more satisfying.
It may not be the easiest, and it can be a little insistent in its objectives, but Super Mombo Quest is as rewarding as they come. Just keep that combo up, soldier.
You can buy Super Mombo Quest from the Xbox Store