Had this combat-focus Metroidvania launched in the ‘90s, it would be a SEGA Saturn-exclusive; the kind Saturn owners championed as a reason to own the failing system, showcasing all-manner of fancy 2D visuals. Think along the lines of Guardian Heroes and Silhouette Mirage. Or in fewer words: this is a Treasure game reincarnate.
It takes its cues from Treasure’s finest. There’s crunchy and satisfying combat, complete with a three-button set-up and a knockback effect that catapults enemies into one another. RPG elements are present too, as the weapons (household objects, mostly) carried by the righteous raccoon and llama duo have upgradeable stats for damage, speed and range.
Then there’s the pleasingly daft plot, entailing a greedy gaming corporation with a monopoly on the market. Their games are nothing but rip-offs of past classics, packed full of microtransactions. Hooking gamers and rinsing their bank accounts, they’re greedy corporate pigs. Quite literally, in this case. Fed up with their nefarious ways, our unlikely heroes break into their castle-like HQ to save the good name of video games forever.
Each area of the HQ has a different theme, ranging from a grand escalator-filled lobby – the opening area – to a high-tech server room with robotic guards. There’s also an outdoor graveyard-style location, home to the ‘Senior Monetization Vampire’, and an employee lounge with a whip-cracking slave driver. These creative antagonists, full of smugness and self-satisfied attitudes, make themselves known at the beginning of a new area before luring you through their domain to an eventual showdown.
The fact that every area has a distinct start, middle, and end makes the sense of progression different to most free-roaming Metroidvanias, feeling more like a typical side-scroller. Initially, at least. Make no mistake – this is a Metroidvania, and all that it entails. Certain ability-bestowing items are required to progress, with the first duly being a newfound double-jump. Revisit past areas and you’ll find lots of previously inaccessible areas to explore, many of which contain cash stashes, gems that unlock skills, and rare single-use consumables.
Our heroes aren’t alone in their quest – a curiously tight-lipped female freedom fighter is also sneaking around, while new items and upgrades are provided by mysterious cloaked individuals. The map slowly populates with their whereabouts, along with toilet locations (save points). Because there are no auto-saves whatsoever, you’ll soon learn to return to a toilet after beating a boss.
Dying doesn’t necessarily lead to instant failure, though – kick the bucket during combat and you’ll be thrown an optional second chance, but at the cost of half your cash. If you haven’t visited a store recently, this can prove to be an expensive way to get straight back into the action. It’s always worth bearing in mind how much progress you’ll lose.
Upon reaching the halfway mark the map’s colossal size becomes apparent – the multi-floored HQ is huge, featuring over a dozen large areas. Later locations overlap, particularly those underground, eventually looping back to the opening area. In addition to fast-travel elevators, this makes backtracking relatively effortless. It also helps that the map is always on screen. It isn’t all smooth sailing, sadly, as backdrops suffer from repetition and there are a few too many elevators shaft-style vertical rooms. Due to several rooms in one area looking almost identical, this did lead to some aimless wandering, again around halfway through.
If you overlook upgrading your weapon loadout – which includes stop signs, golf clubs, and vacuum cleaners – then you risk finding yourself underpowered. Only once did we find ourselves having to grind for cash after failing to make a dent in a boss’ health bar – a task not too demanding given the high enemy quota. Every room features several enemies, usually of varying types. Flying, charging, and blocking your attacks, there’s a decent mix to prevent combat from becoming stale.
Character designs often raise a grin, particularly the pigs bouncing around on yoga balls. A few cheeky digs at a certain publisher also makes the security sector one of the more humorous areas to explore. While the level design and map layout could be a little tighter, and the means to access new areas isn’t amazingly creative, there are a lot of sights to take in and locations take time to fully explore. Go for 100% and you can easily expect a double-figure runtime.
In terms of presentation, SuperEpic is remarkably polished. Menus bear eye-catching design; the music is memorable and upbeat – accompanied by calming and sombre tones at save points – and the pixel-art is well drawn and smoothly animated.
It feels as if the developers have played a lot of Metroidvanias this generation, worked out what makes them tick, and then taken the time to figure how to introduce their own twists, all while telling their own unique story. The fact that it’s more combat-focused than most helps to set it apart from the competition, as does the cast of creative critters. In a crowded genre, SuperEpic does more than enough differently to stand out.