When I receive a new game to review, I like to go in completely blind. The only expectations I have come from the name of the game, the box art and the screenshots. Occasionally, as was the case with Pharaonic, it’s accompanied by the pedigree of the developer. That’s it. As I specialise in Indie titles, all of those facets vary wildly; sometimes I leave the experience disappointed, as with Lost Sea. Sometimes however, I’m pleasantly surprised, as I was with Lumo. Super Mutant Alien Assault sounds like a 65 pence XBLIG which nobody notices. A title like that brings to mind the kind of game which would pass so low under the radar, Lockheed Martin would be snaffling away the technology for a new generation of stealth aircraft. It sounds crap. But it isn’t.
After selecting a cute little robot and going into the first of many single-screen levels, immediately you notice the fluidity of the control scheme; the weight and momentum of movement is superb. It’s simple, bare bones platforming and shooting, and it just works. The visuals are a fantastic combination of crisp, clear graphics and well animated sprites. The first time I picked up the Sniper Rifle, vastly oversized in the hands of my little metal avatar, I smiled at how cute it looked. Pulling the trigger and seeing how the recoil knocked him back a step, the two antennae on his head wobbling, instantly screamed attention to detail, care and polish. This is a game the developer clearly wants to be proud of, and he should be, as he nails the look, gameplay and control scheme perfectly.
Progression entails spawning into a pseudo-randomly generated room containing various platforms and contraptions. You walk to a vending machine and collect a randomly dispensed firearm, from pistols to rocket launchers or anything in between, and then shoot the heck out of every alien on the screen. More aliens come in via vents and doors, and you have a limited amount of ammunition while you wait for the vendor to replenish, giving you your next weapon. You never know what you’re going to get, so if you’re a dab hand with the AK but terrible with a grenade launcher, It’s time to adapt buddy! There are also vendors for grenades and other explosives, as well as a variety of various objectives thrown into the mix. One of these, for example, sees you running between overheating machines which you have to activate to cool down, whilst still blasting every approaching alien into slimy puddles of goo. Another will find you running to a fuel vendor, collecting a pod of fuel and hauling it to the machine responsible for warping you to your next level.
Every time you die – and you will die, repeatedly, while unlocking various new abilities and characters for future runs – you have to restart back at the beginning of the galaxy you were playing in. There are three galaxies, with four levels in each, and killing the boss on the final screen of one sees you unlock the next one to use as a starting point for future runs. Achievements for completing the game only unlock when doing it all as one long run though, so pucker up and prepare for the repeated, cold kiss of death if you hope to unlock all the achievements! If you conquer all three, you get to do it again on a harder difficulty, then again after that. Then there’s always endless mode to unlock, keeping you coming back for more.
The attention to visual detail is fantastic. Every shell casing, every splattered alien and every body part stays on the screen for the duration of the level. It’s great jumping through the gibs trying to reach an overheating machine while watching your shotgun shells pile up behind you. The animations are fantastic too, having been animated frame by frame in a classic 16 bit style rather than using polygonal meshes or over-layered sprites. It just looks so damn good in motion. The only downside? The horrific dubstep soundtrack! Every time you clear a screen: “Deeeeugh dubuWUHBWUBWUB”. It may be a matter of personal taste, but something electronic and chip-tune-y may have been better here.
Overall? The individual pieces of the game may not seem very original, but I challenge you to find a game of this type which does it better. Replayability is the key here, and it’s always fun to leap back in for another run, which is encouraged with quick restart times and random objectives. A really great arcade style game, which should be on everyone’s shopping list this summer.
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