Super Mutant Alien Assault is a clear throwback to the 90s console era (one of the few places where the word ‘super’ is appropriate) in almost every way. There’s some fantastic pixel art spaceships and alien designs and the structure is quite simple, you take on three sets of rooms, each with a fairly simple objective, then you fight bosses and you win. Or you die horribly. Each time you go around you unlock a bunch of stuff like new enemies, new weapons, and new powerups. Thankfully the developers have also learnt a lot from the last two decades of gaming and while functionally it might seem like a purely retro shooter, the weapon and alien designs are quite inventive and the controls are so perfect and fast that it really rewards skill rather than luck.
In Super Mutant Alien Assault you jump around in a single room on each level trying to complete objectives and kill enemies. Scattered around each randomised level are stations like new gun stations, health stations, grenade stations, then a few other ones designed to mess with you. Once irradiates nearby enemies periodically, making them stronger. One deposits balls that must be carried to a receptacle, but when you are carrying them you can’t shoot, and if the ball gets hit it explodes. One overheats constantly and must be manually vented until the level is over. All of these are designed to stop your from camping and keeps the tempo up throughout. Additionally each weapon you get has an extremely limited pool of ammo, so you’re constantly having to pick up new (random) guns. One is a grenade launcher that bounces around the tiny levels so much you’re almost more likely to kill yourself, one is a powerful sniper rifle that rewards some awesome trickshots. One is a pogo stick. No, really, you just kind of jump on their heads and kill them.
The game is addictive in very short bursts and with three difficulty levels plus an endless mode there’s definitely a fair amount of replayability. We would have like to have a score and some friends’ leaderboards to compete against, but for a little timekiller while you’re waiting for something, it definitely has a place. A more significant problem is the influence of RNG. Of course in plenty of games, particularly roguelikes, this is a factor, but it can feel cruel when you’re on a good run but then you don’t find a health station at all, or you just get given the worse guns over and over. Sometimes things will go your way and the game is almost too easy. On our first success at normal mode it was probably more down to the fact we got loads of pogo sticks and C4 rather than any real skill on our part.
Still this is a budget game and for what it is, it’s really fun. Sadly there’s no online co-op which would have made this hugely better, but for a single player experience it’s more than fun enough, especially if you have any nostalgia for this kind of art and shooting.