SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is a Metroidvania-style game developed by Undercoders and published by Numskull Games. Undercoders are best known for their 2016 release, Conga Masters, and before that, they found some success in the mobile market.
SuperEpic’s main pull is its narrative steeped in Games Industry satire. To be more precise, a satire that focuses mainly on the greed of modern AAA developers, be it through microtransactions, mistreatment of workers, or plagiarising smaller studios’ work. These are things that crop up all too often in the modern gaming climate.
A Story of Little Subtlety
SuperEpic has you controlling the scarf-wearing Racoon Tan Tan, who rides atop his pet Llama. A game developer known as RegnantCorp is slowly killing off retro games by pushing out microtransaction-riddled mobile games, and it’s your job to stop them. If you’re looking for any deep, nuanced criticism of the Games Industry, you’re not going to find it here. It’s not something like This War of Mine, a game that beautifully captures the horrors of war and condemns the people responsible. It’s more along the lines of something like South Park or Grand Theft Auto V, things that criticize actions or ideas with over-the-the top characters and dialogue. This is by no means a bad thing; in fact, SuperEpic is dedicated to its overall narrative, and each area comically replicates a current issue in the AAA market.
My two favorite areas were probably the Employee Lounge and the Server Room. The employee lounge is the second area you visit and is a cushy, fake plant and gym equipment-filled workspace. I liked how this area served to mock how big corporations will create a false sense of comfort, by installing various leisure facilities in your workplace. Sure this isn’t always bad, but it’s often used as a tactic to keep employees reliant on their workplace, and therefore spend more time there. This doesn’t just apply to the Games Industry either, just take one look at any large company like Google or Facebook, and you’ll see a similar structure in all their major branches. I also loved the Server Room. This portion of the game has you chasing a programmer who is plagiarising ideas from smaller developers, and implementing them into his own work. I feel like this is a lesser-known problem concerning the AAA market, as it’s often hard to identify. Despite this, most people in the know wouldn’t refute the suggestion that AAA developers often “borrow” design elements from smaller, more ambitious teams.
Pigs All Over the Shop
I can’t say I’m blown away by SuperEpic’s art style. Like many of its fellow Metroidvanias, it harkens back to the days of 32 bit. The background of each area is relatively simplistic, with each having a pretty set, monotonous color to work with. There’s still enough going on in the background for it not to seem lazy – props like lights and plant life, for example. Simple isn’t always bad either; each area having its own background color to work with obviously helps them stand out. The visuals really shine in the context of the narrative. Each floor of the building follows its own theme, reflected largely in its enemy design. There are things like drones that drop delivery crates on your head, and pigs wearing suites that would happily throw their spare change at you. This feeds into the (probably) true, but not very subtle “corporate greed bad”, but more importantly served to keep me interested each time I ascended to a new floor.
I found SuperEpic’s music pretty obnoxious in the first area. It has this guitar solo, an “epic” action track that loops very frequently. Does this fit in with the ridiculous concept and fast-paced platforming gameplay? Sure, but it still just sounds ugly and personally rubs me the wrong way. Luckily the OST becomes a little more intricate later on. The tracks are distinguishable enough and it tones down the “dude-bro” guitar solo from earlier. The server stage has a slow, electronic rhythm which I liked, and the resident spooky zone was pleasant enough too. I have trouble recalling the others to mind honestly. Still, it fits in well enough, even if the individual tracks don’t tie together as well as other aspects of the narrative.
The sound effects are inoffensive. There’s a satisfying “thwack!” as you combo a giant alligator chef with a big knife. There isn’t much in the way of enemy noises, and the game mainly sells the environment with its aforementioned features and tactile sounds whenever you give or receive damage.
Fire Coming Out of the Llama’s Head
SuperEpic mostly sticks to the typical beats of Metroidvania gameplay design, with some pretty thought-provoking twists mixed in. You utilize 3 melee weapons in the game. One which can launch enemies into the air, one which breaks enemies’ guards and one which performs a three-hit combo. You also have abilities which take up stamina like the dash, and fury attacks which consume the fury bar. Each weapon and ability can be upgraded, allowing you to do more damage, dash for longer or throw your projectiles faster. I do think the combo system needs some work. It’s more than you normally get out of a Metroidvania combat system, but I mostly found myself chaining two standard combos together with a dash attack you learn early on. This rendered my uppercut and guard break attack pretty much useless towards the end of the game, as I was doing much more damage with my combo-dash-combo tactic, and it stunlocked enemies to boot. I still had fun doing this. Combat is responsive and the way your foes animatedly shudder as you smack them and they explode into a pile of coins kept me content with my style of play.
As to be expected when you’re inside a building full of capitalist pigs (literally), there’s plenty of money to be made. Collecting dollar-dollar feels rewarding too. Upgrades get progressively more expensive and more importantly, there’s always something useful to spend your moolah on. There’s a real sense of progression to SuperEpic that’s fuelled by a noticeable spike in your attack power and capabilities whenever you go on a spending spree. It’s not wise to hoard your money either, because if you die, you either have to lose half your money to respawn or load your last save. Savepoints aren’t exactly few and far between, but there’s a methodical nature to SuperEpic’s exploration and combat that resulted in me not saving for pretty big chunks of time. Luckily there’s plenty of optional nooks and crannies to explore when you need a bit of extra cash.
Pay to Win
Sadly, these hidden safes full of dough can be a little troublesome to locate once you’ve passed by them. There’s a lift in each zone which allows you to fast travel between areas, although some are large enough that even then travel can be a little irritating. That’s nothing to any Metroidvania player though, backtracking is the name of the game after all. The larger problem lies in the map, which, is all one color, doesn’t have a key, and can be a little irksome to navigate at times. I found this to be the most woeful aspect of my time with SuperEpic, as I wasn’t allowed to place my own markers on the map and the white coloration makes it difficult to establish zone boundaries at times. I’m not saying I want the game to hold my hand and tell me where everything is, but I expect more from the map screen in a modern-day Metroidvania. I at least want to leave my own markers, so I don’t have to painfully search every room whenever I unlock a new ability.
Despite the robust map screen, I still explored the RegnantCorp building as much as I could, because SuperEpic has some really fun minigames. There are points in the game where you can scan a QR code using your phone, and then you have to play a mini-game to unlock a laser gate blocking your way. Completing these nets you extra money, but aren’t necessary to progress in the game. What I love most about these mini-games is that they are based on other, popular free to play titles on mobile. Games like Crossy Road, Candy Crush and Temple Run to name a few are all mimicked. Clearly, Undercoders know how to play to their strengths, and their roots in mobile development make the joke mini-games surprisingly well designed. I found myself unironically enjoying some of them, which perfectly captures the black hole that is free-to-play mobile gaming. Wait, maybe this game is deep after all?
RegnantCorp Wants You Back For More
On a final note, I would have liked to have seen the level design allow for some more complex platforming challenges. There isn’t much thinking to do in that regard, most levels just have you jumping over simple gaps and taking care of RegnantCorp employees on the way. Should Undercoders make a similar title in the future, I’d love to see them apply the responsive feel of their action to some more complex areas to jump, glide and dash around.
SuperEpic manages to bring enough of its own identity to an industry highly saturated with games of its genre. Sadly, I’m not so sure that the narrative themes that the game beats you over the head with, are enough to draw in a cynical audience. SuperEpic offers up a roguelike mode which adds to its replayability, with procedurally generated rooms and upgrades. I personally didn’t enjoy the mode, because most of SuperEpic’s appeal comes from its unique aspects, which aren’t as prevalent.
Would I recommend SuperEpic? Wait until you’re in the mood for a Metroidvania, and just maybe you’ll like it.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided by the publisher, Numskull Games.
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