In recent months, the platforming genre has been subject to a vast rise in popularity. But even with so many titles available, finding a game that really harks back to the original platforming days (those that the retro gamers among us will remember only too well) can be quite difficult. With that in mind, I took a look at Super Mutant Alien Assault, the latest to arrive on Xbox One.
Before I sat down to play this addictive little slice of brutal arcade action, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. However, several hours later having beaten the final boss, and sharpening my reactions to a fine point in order to do so, I sit proudly at the top of the global co-op leaderboards, (for only a short while I’m sure). I have bested a large number of alien critters and I have now experienced a truly magnificent return to retro platforming titles of old.
Super Mutant Alien Assault sees the player take on the role of a small robotic defence drone tasked with protecting the last three remaining ships of a fleet that have escaped earth after the destruction of our big blue planet. Each ship is harbouring the last living humans in cryogenically frozen chambers, after a large horde of alien ships appeared out of nowhere and destroyed the earth in one foul swoop! Quite a job for a little robot don’t ya think?
However, despite its very innocent and cute appearance with a charming retro look and straightforward objectives, Super Mutant Alien Assault is by no means an easy game!
With nothing more than a short intro video, showing a basic outline and very bland main menu, you would be forgiven for thinking this was about to be the next indie flop that would be forgotten in a couple of weeks. After my first look and initial understanding, I was left underwhelmed at what was seemingly on offer. I started off on my mission expecting nothing more than another weak platforming title that I would be sure to forget.
However just a few minutes into my first run and I was very quickly put in my place by possibly one of the most addictive, fast paced and brutal platformers I have ever played.
From the set-up screen players choose from a few basic options including difficulty, the starting galaxy, character selection and starting item. At this point, should you have a friend or family member willing to join you in defeating the little critters, then this is also the opportunity to jump on that second controller. The entire game is playable in local co-op as well as being a lone single player experience.
After putting in some decent time with the game, more options start to become available. At first, players are left with minimal options, with the difficulty locked to normal until you’ve completed an entire run. Character selection gives adequate variety for a title only spanning twelve levels and with four robots to choose from, with no differing features other than appearance, I decided to stick with the first option. Otis is a small and tubby defense drone, whilst other options include Spark, a robotic saviour eerily reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Spud, a one-eyed spherical robot complete with arms and legs, and Axel, a small and square multi-legged human saviour complete with waving antennas for ears!
Players are immediately placed into the first of the three ships, each ship has relocated to a different galaxy and progress is made by defeating the Alien boss of each ship, therefore ending the attack and saving the day. As with most games the boss arrives after defeating all of the less daunting enemies that like to jump in the way first, however despite the game only sitting on the normal difficulty level, this became much more challenging than I had anticipated. With only a short campaign offering, each level adds new elements into the game until the fourth level in which you are expected to have retained everything and been deemed worthy of fighting the dreadful boss.
However, in no way is this the usual practice makes perfect situation; this is because each of the levels are given to the player in no particular order, therefore making it impossible to know exactly what’s next. The first stage sees the player introduced to each of the many early enemies, along with a machine in which weapons can be purchased from, as-well as another emitting a pulse with the ability to evolve all onscreen enemies. Evolved enemies bring forward an entirely new challenge, with each one becoming vastly more powerful with damaging attacks and double the usual health. You’ll need to prioritise which enemies to kill off first should you wish to survive the onslaught.
As you progress through each the levels, simple objectives such as turning off explosive canisters, to taking a required item from one part of the screen to another arise. But whilst this all sounds rather simple and easy, the enemies are certainly much more ferocious and active than that of many other platforming titles and the fast paced combat in place requires much more than a simple attack on each enemy. Combat is truly brutal and with weapons such as RPG’s, machine guns, mini guns and grenades available along with many other explosive, dangerous weaponry, combat has never been so enjoyable in a platforming game.
Along with weapons, players are also gifted a little wooden crate offering up an extra attacking item such as a boomerang, pistol, or a valuable defensive move such as dodge, speed boost, and double jump. All can be unlocked as a starting option too, although due to me dying so frequently, I was never fully able to understand how to unlock these and instead just felt a level of appreciation each time one did eventually pop up as a full unlock.
Should you manage to achieve the meticulous attention to detail required when running, gunning and jumping through each of the crowded areas, you’re given a chance to try your luck with the ship’s boss. There are three initial bosses within the game, one on each ship, with more available as unlocks. For those who want the ultimate platforming challenge, the bosses certainly bring a challenge to the table. With most of my five lives already depleted from the number of attacks I’d fallen victim to in previous levels, I found myself falling at the last each and every time and it wasn’t until deciding to try out the co-op offering that I found a way to successfully manage all the fast paced action.
It’s at this point that I need to mention that whilst the game is a truly enjoyable solo experience, the level design and sheer number of enemies makes the cooperative option the most enjoyable way to play. If not for fun (although it is a blast), then for the extra firepower it brings when it comes to the horrible mutations in the final level of each vessel.
After reaching the second galaxy, the Super Mutant Alien Assault’s starting options open up, with players able to start from the beginning of just the chosen ship, instead of tracking all the way back to the start. This is a nice addition for those looking for a challenging but achievable experience.
On top of this is an Endless Mode which offers a much simpler goal than saving the last humans. The task here is to save yourself! With lives stripped away so just two remain, you are then sent through a continuous loop. Should you make it to the end of the main game ,then all of the levels will become available, offering an experience that requires some incredibly nimble fingers, bullet-like reactions and a mountain of luck! This game mode comes complete with separate online leaderboards for solo and co-op, and with truly addictive gameplay and nothing to blame but your own poorly judged actions, should you end up a miserable pile on the floor, then you will find yourself having ‘just one more go’ until the early hours of the morning.
Okay, so there are lots of positives with Super Mutant Alien Assault. But what are the negatives?
Honestly, very little, as Cybernate and Surprise Attack Games have even managed to include something I truly don’t enjoy in the form of a heavy dubstep soundtrack throughout and turned it into something that is rather fitting to the experience. In fact, the music adds to the fast paced nature and gruelling difficulty curve on offer in a way which is rather pleasant on the ears!
Overall, Super Mutant Alien Assault is a retro style platforming masterpiece with the only shortfall coming in the small number of included levels. However with random levels in place each time you start a new run and a vast selection of items, weapons and beastly enemies on offer throughout, as well as a truly addictive and challenging gameplay experience, this title is one that I recommend picking up. The wallet friendly price of just £6.39 ensures it is certainly one of the years bargains as well as being one of the most enjoyable experiences available on the store.