If it’s pure arcade shooting action you’re looking for, Super Mutant Alien Assault is the game for you. If you want to do all that with a partner in the same room, on the same machine, this is definitely the game for you. You should just go to whatever digital marketplace you frequent and buy it now. If you want a more in-depth look into what the game has to offer, keep reading.
If you look this game up, just see screenshots or a quick little video of it, you likely won’t get the real sense of how the experience feels with the controller actually in your hands. That’s how I grew to feel, at least. I saw screens and video prior to release and thought it was up my alley based off that, but when I started playing it, while it looked essentially the same, it felt much different than it looked in motion.
The story set up to the game is largely throwaway: Earth is attacked and destroyed while the last remaining humans – under cryostasis – are fleeing in spaceships, chased by aliens. This is where you come in, as their robotic defenders, using everything you can acquire to stop the alien assault. From there, you jump into the main menu to select your mode and set up to fend off the super mutant alien scourge.
From the main menu you choose which mode you want to play, the regular mode or Endless, which needs to be unlocked, though I forget when I actually unlocked it, if it was after beating the game or beating a level. Endless is exactly what you’d expect, choose a load out and try to last as long as possible. The normal mode has you choosing 1 of 3 galaxies while trying to get to the end of the 4 levels of each (including the final boss level). If you choose the first galaxy, you can fight through all 3, provided you don’t die before you make it to the end.
I want to get into probably my favorite thing about the game right up front, and that’s the music. The main theme immediately put me in a fun, funky mood, and every song from there on really hit it out of the park. The rap/dub-step beats are top shelf. I don’t seek out the dub-step style of music personally, but when it’s to accentuate a product like a movie, commercial, game, etc., I really enjoy it. Assuming it’s good, of course. This soundtrack definitely is. I never muted. I never wanted to. Even with the 8 songs we have here, they repeat pretty often, but I still haven’t tired of them.
Graphically, as you can see from the screens, the pixel-style artwork pops, and the color palate is all over the place, so you get a good look at all the major colors all throughout. Enemy designs are neat and mostly varied, especially the bosses. The game doesn’t look AMAZING, but it’s not a dud in any way, either. A big plus in the visual department is the way explosions look. They all look great, almost as if they’re more detailed than the other things shooting, floating, and running around you. I’m not saying they are, they’re just so striking it seems like they are. Everything on-screen is pretty small scale-wise, but it doesn’t really hurt the game at all, because what it’s going for is realized well.
Super Mutant Alien Assault is definitely a look back at the arcade shooter, and it certainly plays like them, too. Speedy movement, platforms to jump to and from, and plenty to try to dodge coming at you from all angles. Sometimes it can get overwhelming, but, it all adds to the tense and intense game play. There are scripted sections where hyper speed is simulated and you kind of slow down, but, it doesn’t work as well as I think it was supposed to. It feels more like a purposeful frame rate drop simulation than “cool” effect, and it kind of made me dizzy because of it some of the time. Props on allowing us to fully customize the controls, because not every game allows for that.
While shooting your way to victory, each level houses a different, random way to obtain weapons and items. Crates randomly appear to break open and reap the benefits, while computer terminals house a random set of grenades and/or weapon on a timer. So sometimes you’ll play a level where the only options are your low-powered side arm and explosives, or weapons with no explosives, etc. Luck of the draw is part of the experience, so fingers crossed you get something you like, because there are plenty of weapons and explosives to choose from, but it doesn’t mean they’re all equal, nor does it mean you’ll enjoy using them all.
The way the game plays out is in a semi-randomized way, because each level has a different variant on winning out of a handful of scenarios, but the design and order you do them in changes up each time. One level may need you to bring a canister to a docking point 3 times, while one may need you to deactivate switches before they power up and cause an area attack that hits the whole screen, and then one may want you to just kill all the enemies, just to name a few. After a while I can see some getting bored with it, but I never hit that point, and I pumped a lot of runs into this game.
The main hook other than Achievements for beating the levels is the unlock system. There’s a big number of unlockable weapons, powers, and perks available. You start with nothing, but then once you unlock one you can then choose it as a starter item when you begin a new play through. You can choose whatever you want it to be, but you only get one, so choose wisely. I don’t know the exact number of unlocks in the game, but it took me quite a while to get them all. The progression is after beating a certain number of levels you get awarded with an item. You also win new droids to play as, though only 4 grace the game. It’s not a bad number, but I definitely would have liked more. Enemies also get introduced this way, too, which is kind of interesting.
Co-op is in the game, but only on a local basis, so you won’t be able to play with your homies on the other side of the country in this one, which is a major bummer. I understand the logistics of a small indie game’s battle to get online multiplayer in (which is a major uphill one), but it still doesn’t change the fact that this game is so well suited to both options, that when one is missing, you feel it. And with co-op, the timed terminals become a bigger concern, because you now have to account for another player. Who deserves the drop this time? You’d best coordinate it, otherwise you could be fighting someone other than aliens by the end of the session.
The Achievements offered here are a mix of standard fare and action specific, and not all are super simple to attain. I will have to warn you, though, because some are glitched. I don’t know if they’ve been fixed yet or not, but a couple have not unlocked for me, and one includes beating the game on Normal, which, of course, sucks. Some will be tough, especially if you don’t have anyone to play with, because multiplayer ones are present, so keep that in mind if you’re a major hunter of these bad boys.
There is a certain player in mind with this style of game, and I’m well aware it’s not for everyone. If an arcade platform shooter is something you miss or just downright love, as I said earlier, this is something you should grab now, because you’ll get your money’s worth out of it. I never played the developer’s first game Mutant Alien Assault, a Flash game, until after playing this one. I think it’s easy to envision the design for the sequel to be like moving from NES to the SNES (even in naming conventions), but this feels like an NES to N64 kind of upgrade in a sequel, at least to me, and it’s appreciated. Publisher Surprise Attack Games brought us a nice little shooter, and considering developer Cybernate is made up of a single dude (and his dog), I think what has been accomplished is a good one to add to your growing backlog.
Super Mutant Alien Assault is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam for $9.99 (PS4 and Steam discounted to $7.99 until 7/18/16). A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.