In this day and age it’s not often that we see many fast paced arcade shooters, let alone ones which are ridiculously addictive, impeccably polished, is from an Australian developer AND made by one person! Well, that’s exactly what Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) is, and it’s one of the best arcade shooters/platformers I’ve played in recent years. As its thumping dub step soundtrack, fast paced gameplay, tight controls, distinct pixel art and over the top gore all combines to create one of my favourite indie experiences of this generation.
The story, although not the main focus, sets the scene for this challenging and polished arcade shooter, as Earth is destroyed in a swift attack from aliens three spaceship fleets manage to escape, each heading to a different galaxy searching for a new home. However the ships are being tracked and sure enough are attacked by these menacing aliens and it’s up to you, a small security droid to save the last humans. Which is all shown and narrated in the opening sequence as if from an 80s action film and its fantastic.
The visuals and pixel art of SMAA stand out immediately and catch your eye as every element from the enemies, to the weapons and backdrops of the spaceships you fight in all have unique and vibrant colour schemes which feel right at home in an arcade shooter.
It’s obvious a lot of time and thought has gone into making each component stand out visually, including the level boundaries, vending machines, weapon crates and enemies too. The designs and art for each of the enemies are quite demonic, incredibly unique and are a joy to look at while blowing them to bits throughout each stage. But it’s the visual effects, such as explosions from bombs and missiles or the guts and blood exploding out of enemies which really take the cake, and make SMAA a visual pleasure. All the while running incredibly smoothly on console with no visual bugs popping up in my time playing and thankfully no frame rate issues either.
Along with these impressive and well thought out visuals and art is the thumping dub step sound track which features a bunch of terrific electronic artists and fits in with the fast paced twitch reaction gameplay. SMAA also features fantastic audio design, as each gun; and explosion sounds are just as polished as the rest of the game. Featuring excellent sound cues for various gameplay elements such as when a gun has finished reloading, a vending machine is accessible or when new aliens are about to enter the fray, it shows plenty of thought has not only gone into the visual cues, but audio ones too.
SMAA really comes all together with its brilliant fast paced and challenging gameplay. It will have you coming back again and again aiming to master what at first appears to be a quite simple and straightforward experience, but is in fact an incredibly deep and hard to master game.
The game itself may seem somewhat short on content when you first start it up, with only three different galaxies, and only four levels, or ‘ships’ within each of those in the main campaign. However, each stage is randomised, with various level layouts, different types of objectives, varied amounts and types of enemies, and weapons at your disposal, which means each time you play; you’ll generally have a different experience. And you won’t be completing these galaxies one your first go, I can guarantee that, as it will take you a few tries on normal, let alone on the harder heroic or epic difficulty settings, which you can only unlock via completing the whole campaign in one go on the previous difficulty, no easy feat. And don’t even get me started on those bosses at the end of each galaxy; they can make a grown man cry with ease.Although there are only three main types of objectives within a ship or level, the game is filled with tons of unlockable weapons, deadly explosives, fun and unique abilities and a ridiculous amount of diverse alien enemies, all with different movement patterns and abilities of their own which keep you moving and on your toes. The real challenge and skill comes in when attempting to dodge and avoid the various types of aliens to complete objectives, while waiting for the perfect weapon to drop for the situation, or improvising with whatever you have at hand.
As you continue to play and complete more levels you’ll unlock more abilities, weapons and enemies regardless of whether you’re completing galaxies or not. It’s a good way to continue to mix up the gameplay while you are learning and leads into the second mode in SMAA, which is an endless version. Here you have less health but start with weapons and abilities you’ve unlocked from the main campaign, and you guessed it, it’s endless. High scores are king and with global leader boards, it’s easy to be hooked for hours trying to top your friends and get the number one position.
Oh, and did I mention there is two player LOCAL co-op? You can play the main campaign and endless modes with a friend, which runs just as smooth on console as when you’re playing by yourself. However, I felt co-op was where it emphasised one of the largest threats to your life in SMAA, and that’s yourself! As your own explosions, grenades etc, will hurt you as well as your alien enemies. And this is exemplified in co-op with two people shooting RPGs and throwing grenades in these small spaceships!
All the individual elements of SMAA work together in perfect cohesion towards creating one singular wholesome experience, which is incredible feat not many games achieve. And although the gameplay itself seems quite simple, it’s the extra modules, evolving enemies and small multi-tier levels which bring the challenge, and continue to add new elements to an incredibly polished game with tight controls and fun mechanics. If you love your indie arcade games, then you simply can’t pass Super Mutant Alien Assault, especially at how reasonably the price is too.
The PS4 version was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.