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Indie Game of the Week 269: SuperEpic: The Entertainment War

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It's been... probably over a month since my last explormer? So that means we're well overdue another map-filler on IGotW, and here's SuperEpic: The Entertainment War to come along to help fill that important gap in our schedule like a figurative exit I missed three rooms ago. Oddly enough, SuperEpic's name is only the second-most obnoxious thing about it, but we'll get to that in due time. I'll also be reviewing the Switch version here for all you disclaimer fans.

SuperEpic is a satirical stab at unscrupulous developers, mostly of the mobile market, that prioritizes sleazy gambling and microtransaction mechanics in their game design, presenting a world where one such developer has become so megalithic that they've converted the world into a dystopian capitalist nightmare in their pursuit of tiny cash injections and rampant plagiarism. Each of the game's bosses, based in a different area of this company's HQ (the game's sole location), represents a different department of the development cycle: game design, marketing, testing, online server maintenance, analytics, legal, and general management to name a few, all a cartoonishly evil exaggeration of the type of executive you'd see presenting at E3 (so, basically, the Devolver Digital Showcase). For instance, the guy handling the parasitical microtransaction features is a literal vampire that quotes modified Castlevania lines at you. It's all a mildly amusing story framework, though the plagiarism accusations probably cut a little close to home for a game so deliberately styled on notable explormers past.

If you like furries, this game has you covered. If you like furry dystopian fiction then, well, I think it's just this and Sine Mora isn't it?
If you like furries, this game has you covered. If you like furry dystopian fiction then, well, I think it's just this and Sine Mora isn't it?

However, below this facile surface the game does have some serious chops. The pixel art is well-made and animates well, as seen with the game's few dozen repeating enemy types, and despite being an enormous corporate office each zone has its own particular atmosphere and personality. The VGM is overall decent, with a few standouts here and there. The combat engine is where the game shines, presenting a lighter version of what Dust: An Elysian Tail offered with a heavily combo-focused system that prioritizes juggles and keeping a chain going with regular hits for as long as possible, following enemies knocked into the air with further chains and using a smash move to either break their initial guard or finish off a combo in style. Enemies bounced around will briefly stun others they bump into, allowing you to then include multiple foes in the same combo for expediency's sake (and to prevent those same enemies from knocking you out of the combo). The game is a mite on the combat-heavy side, especially later on when every room seems stuffed with enemies, and has almost nothing in the way of platforming or puzzles. The closest thing to the latter would be finding keys and traversal upgrades to make further progress across its enormous map.

Speaking of which, the game's mapping system does the job well with a helpful assortment of icons to indicate where restrooms (the game's save points), elevators (warps), the three vendor types (items/weapons, weapon upgrades, and combat abilities, respectively), and other points of interest. The player can also generate their own markers wherever they happen to be standing, though annoyingly you can't seem to add or delete those that are some distance away. I've left more than a few markers in places I no longer need to return to, simply because I missed the opportunity to erase them while I was still there. As well as indicating exits between areas, rooms that still have more to check out - say, if they're larger than 1x1 - will show a series of fading lines around the parts you've already been to as indications that there is more to find in those directions, which is an elegant way of displaying segments you've yet to explore in larger chambers. I can respect a good explormer map when done well, and SuperEpic makes the grade in that department.

I'm not sure what's going on with the pause menus, but it's kinda stylish. By the by, you have three weapons: one for knocking enemies in the air (like this golf club), one for combos, and one for smashes. You can prioritize any one or all three, with enough cash anyway.
I'm not sure what's going on with the pause menus, but it's kinda stylish. By the by, you have three weapons: one for knocking enemies in the air (like this golf club), one for combos, and one for smashes. You can prioritize any one or all three, with enough cash anyway.

The game isn't strictly an RPG since there's no levelling up, but you do procure new equipment and stat upgrades by buying them at the vendor. Equipment carries its own stats, which includes damage output as well as speed and range. The protagonist's weapons tend to range from everyday items like stop signs, branches, umbrellas, or shovels, but occasionally includes swords and other props found around the development office. The protagonist also has two slots for armor - both for him and his steed, a goofy-looking llama - as well as two accessory slots, which can provide simple stat boosts as well as bonuses like more cash from enemies or a higher chance of a critical hit. In addition to cash and upgrades there's a wide miscellany of items you might find, including necessary keys, datapoints that add undiscovered restrooms to the map (and USB keys that add more data that can be mined from these datapoints, like the locations of vendors and elevators), and items used in side-quests. There's also a collectible mini-quest, of sorts, where you can permanently destroy cameras (found in many rooms) and you'll eventually discover a massive surveillance area with every camera's feed: once all cameras have been disabled, it seems like something good might happen. The game gives you plenty to be getting on with, eventually dropping its semi-linear progression and letting you run roughshod across its enormous map depending on the traversal abilities you've found. The game's difficulty is on the easier side overall - healing items are common, as are the restrooms, and if you're keeping up with new equipment purchases most enemies and bosses won't do much harm - so you can occasionally get away with sequence-breaking and looking into an area you maybe shouldn't be in yet.

So... that obnoxious trait I talked about. SuperEpic hides a lot of items behind barriers that need passcodes to disable: passcodes that can be found by scanning a nearby QR code and playing through a mini-game of sorts on your mobile device or other QR-scanning gizmo. Naturally, this is an immersion-breaking irritation and one completely inaccessible to those who lack such a device; the developers didn't see fit to include an option where these mini-games are integrated into the core game itself to avoid this additional step. Even if you do have a smartphone or tablet, it might not be handy and you might not want to be juggling multiple devices at once to play a game regardless; the forced inclusion of this feature is beyond annoying to deal with, especially in a genre like explormers where 100% completion is so often the desired goal. it's due to this reason this game will not exactly be receiving a glowing review at the end, though I'll admit it's within the "your mileage may vary" gray zone of detrimental qualities. Other issues include the preponderance of enemies towards the end - there's very few types and they all have the same stats, so the game's only solution to making late-game areas harder is to throw so many into one room that they'll keep stun-locking you around as you try to clear it or run past - and the usual localization whoopsies that are so often the case with Indies from foreign-language countries (I believe the developers, Undercoders, hail from Spain). I'm mostly mad about the QR code stuff though; the rest of these gripes are small potatoes.

OK, just need to scan this with the Switch's built-in QR Code scanner, and... wait, where is it?
OK, just need to scan this with the Switch's built-in QR Code scanner, and... wait, where is it?

For all my grousing, there's plenty to like about SuperEpic. The combo-heavy combat is fluid and is enough to support the focus of the gameplay, and as I said before its pixel art and animation is some high-grade business that finds multiple creative outlets for its animal-people; it almost feels like an episode of BoJack Horseman with the number of suit-wearing anthros. It's certainly going to give you value for money too: the map is huge, comprised of eight major areas, gets a little more open towards the end if you choose to go backtracking, and while it doesn't really do secrets there's much to discover. And hey, if you have your smartphone around you can partake in some silly knock-offs of famous mobile games like Flappy Bird and Pac-Man 256 for the passwords you need for some extra goodies. if the name is a little cringe-y for you, be forewarned that the game itself isn't any less meme-y, but it's mostly inoffensive goofs about lootboxes and whatever the hell Square Enix is planning to invest all its Tomb Raider blood money into. On the other hand, it's repetitive, a bit frustrating in the late-game once you're surrounded by enemies getting batted around like a tennis ball, and the fast-travel points are too few and far between for how much real estate the game contains. Also that QR code thing. Man, did that rub me the wrong way.

Rating: 3 out of 5. (Though it's probably closer to a 4 if you have something to deal with the QR codes.)

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