by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Earth has been doomed, and the final inhabitants flee the alien force that has destroyed their homeland. In a last ditch effort, the humans set themselves into cryostasis as they hurtle through space. But the alien attackers have followed and caught up with their spacecraft. Since the humans are all in a comatose state, it is therefore up to the ship's security droids to protect the spacecraft and the valuable cargo within from the hordes of alien creatures that have penetrated the vessel.
Playing as the robotic defenders in Super Mutant Alien Assault, gameplay is rather simple as you run, jump and shoot around the single screen levels. It can certainly get quite chaotic within the confines of the retro single screen platformer that harks back to classics such as Super Mario Bros or Bubble Bobble. I say single screen, but like classics such as those mentioned, the level design changes after each stage has been completed. Aliens in various forms enter the fray and our little hero (or heroes in co-op play) must deal with them in any way they can. Primary weapons can be collected from a weapons dispenser and grenades can be retrieved from a similar vending machine bearing a grenade symbol. These two weapons will be your mainstays in defending against the onslaught.
Each of the levels has you taking on the alien creatures with the simple controls - on both keyboard and controller - but many of the levels also have a secondary goal. One level type has you preventing an explosion by deactivating the overheating explosive devices, whilst another level type has you collecting a fuel canister from a vending machine and then delivering it to the required area of the ship. Different dispensers will also appear from time to time, including a much needed health dispenser. This variation, despite being a little limited, keeps the game from becoming a simple run and shoot platformer.
Unfortunately, in most levels there is also some sort of radioactive device which periodically oozes out radiation. If the enemies are not taken care of quickly enough, the radiation causes them to begin to mutate into more dangerous foes. Firstly, they gain a protective coating, before mutating further into a larger steroid abusing creature. The creatures are quite varied and require different strategies to combat. Annoying fly-like creatures float in mid-air, whilst monkey-like creatures spring towards our hero. But worst of all are the level bosses – behemoths that require multiple hits in order to destroy. It pays to have plenty of health handy before coming face to face with these guys.
As you progress through the levels, new weapons, grenade types, special defense moves and perks and abilities become unlocked and will randomly appear either in the crates and dispensers. Both myself and my co-op partner found that we had favorites of each and other players will no doubt find that there is a weapon, grenade or defensive move that suits their playing style. Unfortunately, as the dispenser drops are random, you never know what is going to come out. And in co-op mode, the dispenser drops have a time limit, so you often need to wait before you can access a weapon. As each of the dispensed weapons only has a limited amount of ammunition, you will need to continually go back to pick up a new weapon. Luckily, certain upgrades will allow our droids to begin with certain (lower level) weapons and abilities in their loadout. At the beginning of the game, our robotic hero starts out with empty slots in his loadout, and so having these filled certainly gives an added boost straight off the bat.
Sights and sounds
Visually, Super Mutant Alien Assault has a wonderfully retro feel, with its blocky, pixelated graphics that are reminiscent of the classics of old. The visuals are clear, and the icons that represent each of the power-ups easy to identify. The various alien creatures each have a colorful appearance that sets them apart from each other. The game also has some wonderful audio – with some great music that can only be described as a bass-heavy electronica that keeps the mood upbeat. The sound effects are fairly simple, although I was dreading hearing the sound of broken glass, as it signifies losing health – something that needs to be avoided as much as possible.
One more turn-itis
Unfortunately at this stage, there are only two game modes - story and endless - and they pretty much play out the same. But Super Mutant Alien Assault has an addictive quality that has leaves you wanting to play just one more game in order to reach the next stage or gain the next upgrade. I did find that playing with a friend is somewhat easier, especially since friends can revive fallen comrades. And although the visuals have a dated feel, they do not reduce the amount of fun that can be had as you attempt to keep out the invading horde from destroying mankind forever.
Great music, simple gameplay