Blast Aliens!! Defend Humanity!! Listen to Dubstep?!
Super Mutant Alien Assault is billed as spiritual successor to Super Crate Box, in which players control a small droid on a mission to defend the last remnants of humanity frozen in cryo-sleep as they flee an alien attack force. The game looks good; the 16-bit aesthetic is colorful and well designed. The animation for the player-controlled droid, enemies and weapon effects are fluid and give good visual cues, which is vital in a game that can get pretty hectic. The sound design is equally polished, but may be a bit divisive among the audience. The divisive aspect of the sound design in the game will be the soundtrack which is heavily dubstep-influenced, which players will either love or hate. The sound effects in Super Mutant Alien Assault, on the other hand, are great and devoid of any controversial stylistic choices.
For those uninitiated in the Super Crate Box style of game, it consists of 2D single-screen stages on which a player must fight various enemies and complete tasks to advance to the next stage. To facilitate more efficient fighting, players get weapons and power-ups. In Super Mutant Alien Assault weapons are gained by activating vending machines while other abilities and power-ups come from breaking crates. The makeup of the stages, the stage modes, the enemy types, vending machines types and locations, and crates are all randomly generated. That’s right; Super Mutant Alien Assault is a Rogue-like.
Like most Rouge-likes, Super Mutant Alien Assault succeeds or fails based on how well it plays moment-to-moment. The randomization of game elements provides a ton of replay value, but only if players actually have enough fun with the core gameplay will they want to keep going. So it is a pretty good thing that Super Mutant Alien Assault plays really well. The controls are responsive and feel really good, there are a lot of fun weapons and abilities, and enemies provide varied and formidable challenges as well as being well-differentiated from one another. The game’s modes also provide a good mix of challenges, and the addition of a mechanic which makes enemies grow stronger over time if left undefeated works well across the game.
It should be noted that Super Mutant Alien Assault is not completely randomized. The game is structured into three sections consisting of three randomized stages followed by a boss fight. Defeating the final boss unlocks the next level of difficulty, among other things. The nature of the boss fought and the stage on which the fighting happens is still randomized and new bosses unlock over time along with new enemies, weapon types, and abilities.
The way equipment is unlocked in Super Mutant Alien Assault reveals one of the game’s weaker points. The curve of unlocking gear starts off a bit too slow. Players start out with nothing at all and only after playing several stages, often dying several times throughout the process, do vital defensive abilities unlock making the early game much more difficult than the rest. After five or so stages the process becomes more linear but some players will be turned off, feeling like the game is incomplete or unfair until they finish the process of gearing up.
Super Mutant Alien Assault also includes two player co-op and an endless mode. The addition of a multiplayer mode that is not a competitive deathmatch is a refreshing inclusion in a market flooded with sprite-on-sprite violence. The endless mode which challenges players to survive the standard game’s cycle of randomized stages and boss fights with a more robust starting loadout but reduced health is also a nice touch.
Some other nice touches include a voiced intro cinematic, and the way many stages are slightly tilted, forcing players to account for the way items like live grenades will roll or bounce. Or the way the game’s enemies are aliens that mutate over time, making the title not just a random sequence of words. Or the way some weapons dwarf the player character, turning them into a running, jumping, dashing gun, or the po-go stick weapon, which basically turns the game into the SNES Duck Tales until it runs out of ammo. Super Mutant Alien Assault definitely has personality.
Super Mutant Alien Assault is a game that is fun to play, looks and sounds good (if you’re into dubstep) and is constantly growing and changing as it is played, but just a bit rough on players very early on. A pretty good package for $9.99 on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One.