SUPEREPIC: THE ENTERTAINMENT WAR / DEVELOPER: UNDERCODERS / PUBLISHER: NUMSKULL GAMES / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
In a not too distant future, an evil and despicable megadeveloper called Regnantcorp has taken over the gaming industry, specialising in microtransaction-filled free-to-play games with hidden algorithms that are altering the behaviour of players, stifling their communication skills and brainwashing the population into spending all of their money. Tamtam, a raccoon, and Ola, a llama, give Regnantcorps' games a wide berth, instead choosing to play long-forgotten retro titles. After receiving a message from a band of rebels via an old modem-powered console, Tamtam and Ola join the renegades in their mission to infiltrate Regnantcorps' office, take down the boss and save the gaming world.
The office building is a perfect setting for this 2D Metroidvania, where each floor can be revisited after acquiring various upgrades that give access to previously locked areas. Each department in the building is modelled on a real-world retro game, so the entire building is filled with references and Easter eggs for those familiar with their gaming history. The enemies you come across are satirical representations of real-world issues within the industry - corporate pigs and other predatory animals, and bosses like Senior Monetisation Vampire, Hidden Agenda Manager and Private Data Analyst. Tamtam's weapons can be upgraded along the way, and there are plenty of stat-boosting equippable items and extra attack moves to be found.
One particular thing really makes SuperEpic stand out from the Metroidvania crowd. Your real-life phone will come into play as you scan on-screen QR codes that open up - you guessed it - a variety of browser-based free to play games, all with actual in-game rewards! Reaching a certain score on the game's take on Flappy Bird rewards you with a passcode to deactivate a laser barrier, for example, and cash earned on the never-ending screen-tapper PigCoin Miner (which perfectly nails the futile addictiveness of free to play games by constantly getting more and more involved as you travel further into Regnantcorps' offices) can easily be transferred into the game to boost your funds.
SuperEpic manages to bring a lot of humour to its attack on the money-hungry side of the gaming industry, and the actual gameplay is as solid as you're likely to find in an indie Metroidvania. On top of being well-designed, looking and sounding great and having a story that successfully (and often hilariously) satirises the darker side of the industry, forcing you to play the types of games that SuperEpic is making fun of – and somehow managing to make it fun – is nothing less than a stroke of genius. Absolutely a late contender for best game of the year!