Super Mutant Alien Assault is a simple little game. It promises randomised levels, a near bottomless pit of weapons, explosives, sidearms, abilities and defensive moves, random combinations of enemies and objectives… and dub-step.
After spending several hours with this game, I’ve discovered that most of these promises ended up broken in one way or another. Sadly, every minute played after the first ten was purely for the sake of this review and not in any way for simple enjoyment.
Its concept is uncomplicated. You play as a little droid on one of three space stations. Your job is to rid the stations of alien invaders by jumping, dodging, shooting and exploding your way through a series of “randomised” single-screen levels. There lies its first broken promise. These levels — spruiked as “beautifully random” — are just a series of predetermined, repetitive affairs with an occasional change in objective location. In the image below, you’ll see a level which always seemed to appear as Stage 2-2. In fact, in three consecutive games this level appeared at the exact same point in the game with all the objective items in the exact same places.
Further to this, the levels were just too damn small. One of the main skills required to succeed at Super Mutant Alien Assault is to be able to successfully dodge enemies when your weapon won’t do the trick. The problem here is that these tiny levels often leave you no room to move, meaning you’ll be cornered and forced you to take damage. That, in turn, brings you closer to yet another infuriatingly frustrating death. Oh yes — you’ll die over and over again. This game is super difficult, but not in the way that Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy will have you coming back for more as you hone your skills. Super Mutant Alien Assault just feels unfair, all the time.
Its second promise was only broken by way of a technicality. Its near bottomless pit of weapons is accurate, in a way. The pit referred to is certainly filled with a large number of different weapon types including assault rifles, duel-wielded SMG’s, lightsabers, knives, rocket launchers, grenade launchers and many more. If more than just three of those were actually fun to use, SMAA could have almost been worth playing. There were occasions where I would find myself picking up a weapon and desperately trying to expel its ammo just so I could revert back to the under-powered yet reliable pistol.
The same applies to grenades and explosives. Like primary weapons, the developer has overloaded with quantity and ignored the concept of quality. Remotely-detonated bombs were always a pleasure to use because they could be used effectively. Literally all other types of bombs were just an annoyance with unpredictable trajectories, more bounce than needed for the confined spaces of these single screen levels and annoyingly long fuse timers. Using explosives would more often than not result in you blowing yourself up rather than your enemies.
Adding even more unnecessary content to an already overcrowded game is the inclusion of special abilities and defensive moves. Some examples of these were a self explanatory quick dash, a plasma blast that produces floor to ceiling walls which push enemies away from you and causing them damage, a double jump and a bubble shield. These hardly felt necessary and beyond using them a few times to experiment as each one unlocked, shooting aliens was always more effective (when I wasn’t stuck with a shit weapon).
To keep things interesting, the game features a few different objectives which are apparently randomised. “Hyperdrive” demands that you pick up a fuel canister from one side of the screen and deliver it to a receptacle a few times before you can proceed. “Thruster” is essentially the same concept but the object you are carrying can be thrown and will be destroyed if it comes into contact with an enemy. The idea is to complete the objective as quickly as possible as each level has a radioactive pulse which gradually mutates the enemies into stronger foes. Admittedly this mechanic is clever and helps to inject a feeling of urgency to complete the level quickly. But it still doesn’t save the game by a long shot.
What does score a few points for this title is the responsiveness of its controls. A game such as this needs a control scheme that doesn’t lag so you can react quickly and be confident that your little droid will do exactly what you want it to do, when you want it done. Further to this, the visual style — reminiscent of the old 16 bit consoles of the early 90’s — has also struck a nostalgic chord with this 30-something-year-old gaming veteran. The simplistic pixelated sprites are akin to those of Golden Axe and the original Shadow of The Beast. Again, responsive controls and visual appeal can’t save it from a less than flattering score.
Super Mutant Alien Assault has some good ideas in it, but the balance of quality vs quantity was shifted way too far towards the latter, resulting in a potentially excellent platformer that’s been ruined with unnecessary filler.
Give this one a miss unless you’re a huge fan of getting really angry at video games.
Super Mutant Alien Assault was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher.
Review: Super Mutant Alien Assault