On paper, Super Epic shouldn’t work as well it does. A sprite-based indie Metroidvania set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland seemingly lands on the Switch’s eShop every week. One that seeks to satirize the current state of the games industry sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. But despite all odds, Super Epic not only stands out from the crowd, but it proves itself to be a blend of classic Metroidvania world design and a few interesting, innovative twists that liberate the game from some of the pitfalls that the average indie in its genre falls into.
The premise of the game is pretty familiar, with a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by an evil corporation and a hero (or a pair of heroes in this case) who’s motivated to bring them down. The twist here is that the corporation, Regnantcorp, according to the company’s fourth-wall-breaking website is “the leading entertainment software developer in the world.” In other words, the company produces popular mobile games with the sole intent of addicting players and draining their wallets.
This is the main pillar of the industry that Super Epic’s lighthearted but heavy-handed story makes fun of. Outside of the obvious visual gags of these developers all being literal greedy pigs, there are jokes that go a step further, invoking watered-down versions of South Park’s absurdist satire in some of the character design and writing.
Highlights of the thinly veiled mockery include the Chief Monetization Vampire, who is exactly what he sounds like, complete with a Symphony of the Night reference in his boss fight and the Slave Team Builder, who is the boss for the lounge area, complete with employees bouncing around on exercise balls, using monkey bars and giant killer arcade machines which is all a clear crack about the growing trend of lavishly overfurnished employee lounges used as an excuse to keep employees at work in Silicon Valley.
For what it is and tries to be, the game’s writing and satirical elements are good enough to warrant a smile and a chuckle on occasion, but overall, most of the jokes feel like a Saturday Night Live sketch that goes for the low hanging fruit and ends up going on for a bit longer than necessary. That being said, the entire game has been translated from another language, so some of the more nuanced humor may have been lost in translation.
The writing and story overall isn’t invasive or bad, but for a game whose premise and story permeates the world and character design, it could be a bit stronger.
One of the more impressive elements of these moments where the premise and story impact the actual gameplay, however, are the QR codes that are scattered throughout the game. Unlike a traditional Metroidvania, you don’t need a special item or ability to pass certain blocked off areas, but you do need a special code that you can only get from scanning the QR code.
Upon scanning the QR code, you’ll have to play one of Regnantcorp’s mobile games. None of the games themselves are anything terribly interesting or innovative, they’re essentially re-skins of popular mobile games like Crossy Road and Flappy Bird. None of them are terribly challenging or time-consuming and they’re all the perfect dosage of each game and are fun in their own respect. They provide a welcome and creative diversion from the game that is equally rewarding and snappy and is easily one of the best and most creative elements that Super Epic has to offer.
The only major flaw with this mechanic is that because Regnantcorp ripped off developers in the game world and because the games are playable on their website, every the game is a beat-for-beat reskin of another mobile game, so a game that includes rip-offs of famous mobile games to poke fun at them feels a bit questionable. The developers could have put a bit more time and thought into the actual gameplay of the games, rather than feeding into exactly what they make fun of.
Other than the QR codes, there are a few other one-off, side-quest-like means of opening up new areas of the maps for hidden items achieved through talking to specific employees or hitting an opponent into a certain place using one of the game’s other stand-out elements; it’s combat system.
Where many Metroidvanias focus on unlocking different combat options and using them as a necessity for traversing the world, Super Epic gives the player the only three attacks they’ll need right off the bat that can be greatly expanded upon with optional upgrades that can be purchased from some of the NPC merchants that can be found throughout RegnantCorp’s headquarters.
Everything about the combat system feels satisfying. It feels like elements from some of the best beat-em-ups were taken and just dropped into the game. The three basic attacks that the player has from the beginning of the game are a normal combo attack, an attack that launches foes upwards and one that launches downwards. This open-ended combo system gives an opportunity for players to get combos the likes of which would make even Dante from Devil May Cry blush.
Almost immediately after the tutorial area of the game, the player is given two gages that unlock abilities that further enhance the combat, with added attacks and techniques that utilize either stamina, which is generally consumed by techniques that involve movement, and rage, which is generally consumed by moves that involve special techniques.
Some techniques are as simple as a dive kick or a dash that involve two button presses, but being a game with any sort of combo system for attacks, a special attack involving a quarter circle turn forward and an attack button are inevitable.
Overall the combat system and various meters are really well-balanced, except for one flaw that becomes increasingly glaring as the progress bar gets closer to 100%. Eventually, the player will unlock powers like wall jumps and super jumps that become necessary to progress beyond a certain point. The main problem with this is that they both use the stamina bar, so a poorly timed wall jump or misplaced super jump will result in waits for the bar to replenish that, while not too long, have a way of cutting the pace of what is otherwise a relatively well-paced game.
This pace even steps up to the plate in one of the biggest pitfalls that even the greatest metroidvanias fall into; backtracking. There is very little necessary backtracking in the game. The game absolutely rewards going back and searching for extra secrets and gems, the currency used to buy the combat abilities, but almost none of it is necessary.
In a lot of games in this genre, even if there is a fast-travel option, the fast travel is limited and occasionally puts the player in a rough spot. Super Epic’s fast-travel system doesn’t put a player in a position where there’s no challenge in returning to the old areas, it has a way of cutting a lot of the fat that’s emblematic of the backtracking slog.
While this is a hallmark of the genre and purists might defend it with the argument that games like Super Metroid didn’t have a fast travel system and is just about perfect or that Symphony of the Night provided a fast travel system and had backtracking but still feels well-paced, fail to see the point that in the same way that Pokemon Sword and Shield aren’t the perfect Pokemon games, but cut a lot of the unnecessary, grindy parts of the franchise, Super Epic trims the backtracking down to a digestible amount.
Where the game breaks traditions in combat and backtracking, it carries the torch of beautiful pixel art and spritework in metroidvanias proudly. The game boasts some of the prettiest and most well-animated sprites I’ve seen in a long time.
At least for the most part. My aforementioned gripe with a few of the movement mechanics that the player unlocks along the way are barely animated, if at all, so knowing things like when the player can perform a wall jump can occasionally feel like luck rather than skill, which can be frustrating when abilities like the wall jump are effectively locked to a timer.
Other than this annoyance that tends to lead to just waiting for your stamina bar to replenish, the enemies are all animated with extreme care to detail. Almost every enemy in the game has small flourishes in their animations that indicate things like weak spots and when they can and can’t be damaged, which adds a light element of souls-like attack pattern memorization.
The only thing the animation really left me wanting was a parry or a block system that rewarded successful reads and punishes of the enemies’ attack patterns, which would’ve elevated the combat to an even higher level.
The game’s similarities to souls-likes ends there. That hallmark punishing difficulty is nowhere to be found in Super Epic. I have no problem with that, as it went hand-in-hand with the game’s beat-em-up elements, rather than muddling the point of the genre: exploration.
The feeling of progressing in Metroidvanias is one of the most satisfying feelings in any game ever to me. When I stumble upon a new hub area or unique new room, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and excited in the best possible way when I see all my options presented to me. What isn’t a great feeling is when I have low health and choose the a room full of enemies instead of a save room by mistake.
Luckily, all the save points in Super Epic are bathrooms in Regnantcorp’s colossal headquarters, and like in any office building designed by same people, whenever there’s a bathroom, there’s a sign near the door to the next room that provides a bit of breathing room for the player if their health is low. That’s the only truly innovative thing that Super Epic has to offer in terms of its exploration and world design. Aside from that, the game feels relatively by the numbers.
At times, the game even feels a bit empty. There are parts of the map that look huge when looking at the map in the pause menu, but upon actually visiting, turn out to be almost one-to-one copies of other rooms in the area, are largely open air with nothing populating them but enemies, or both.
This feeling of having seemingly unnecessary rooms with a good amount of enemies contributes to the overall feel of a beat-em-up rather than a full-on Metroidvania.
Despite all of its flaws, Super Epic is undeniably a blast to play. Its fusion and simplification of some of the best parts of beat-em-up and souls-like elements, inventive and interesting one-off asides and traversal options and beautiful sprites and animation elevate an otherwise by the numbers game to a higher platform than many of its kind that can occasionally be held back by unwelcome design choices that feel archaic and unnecessary.