Content of the article: "Supraland is a game that is described as a mix between Portal, Zelda, and Metroid – and it’s not wrong."
As described on its Steam page, Supraland is touted as a mix between Portal, Zelda and Metroid. And while it sounds a tad bit overzealous, it would be unfair to not acknowledge that this description is actually pretty accurate. So let's frame this review with that description in mind.
— Supraland is like Portal —
I'm not a great puzzle person. I was never able to finish The Talos Principle, Obduction, or The Witness because at some point all of those games just melted my brain. Having said that, I did finish Portal and its sequel, and the puzzles in this game are very evocative of Portal. Never mind that Supraland also gives you an innocuous cube as a major utility object for most of the game: You can push buttons with it, use it as an extra step for added height, or lodge it in the path of moving objects to stop them, among othera few other clever uses. Never mind that Supraland also gives you a gun to help you manipulate and move around your environment as needed. What makes the game feel the most like Valve's puzzle franchise is with the way that its puzzles start small and then gradually add one mechanic on top of another, sometimes further expanding on previously established game play mechanics, as it ramps up your need to think laterally. And the other thing that's great about this is that new ideas are added on a constant frequency, so that the puzzles are rarely ever boring since you have new "toys" to play with.
As I earlier said, I'm not the best at puzzle games, but I do think the puzzles in Supraland are dreadfully clever. And its difficulty curve strikes a nice balance between feeling challenging while keeping things fresh to keep you on your toes. So, Portal? Check.
— Supraland is like Metroid —
Throughout the game, you'll encounter a lot of things that seem to serve some purpose, but offer no way to be accessed. As you get further into the game and explore the right places, and solve the right puzzles, you're bound to uncover a lot of equipment that will give you the ability to access some of these gated parts from previous levels. Some of these connections will be obvious, the others will require you to get creative, and in a lot of cases these pieces of gear will give you more mobility to explore even harder to reach areas. It's like going over the game iteratively, peeling and uncovering it layer by layer by as much as your progress affords you to. And the main takeaway from all of this is that it isn't difficult to see that Supraland is a game that encourages you to go over it with a fine-toothed comb.
You might think that slightly curious looking part of the game world over there is likely either unreachable. Maybe it's just part of the production design? Maybe it's behind an invisible wall? Well, it probably isn't. And there's probably something hidden there. And combined with a good amount of aforementioned puzzle solving, this level of exploration and discovery offered by the game is a large part of what lets you unlock its various nooks and crannies. It encourages you to explore, and as you gain more abilities, you should. So, Metroid? Check.
— Supraland is like Zelda —
A controversial part of Supraland's game play however, stems from the tendency of some of its puzzles and secrets being hidden behind obtuse solutions. Personally, I feel like I was really slow on the uptake regarding some crucial game play mechanics, such as how you can shoot your gun's primary fire through various environmental elements to change its effect. Like, shooting it through the force beam turns it purple which you can use to open purple light switches, shooting it through yellow force fields achieves a similar effect. Also later on in the game shooting it through electricity gives it a charge and turns it blue and shooting it through fire gives it fire and turns it orange. And this only dawned on me when I got to the volcano part of the game, which was surely more than halfway into it already. One may argue that it's the fault of the game that some of it's mechanics are not explained thoroughly. But on the other hand, isn't an important aspect of lateral thinking the ability to "think outside the box" and find uses for objects that were not as was initially intended? Well, for better or worse, Supraland has this in spades. The game gives you all the tools and freedom to assess and rethink your surroundings, your abilities, your equipment, even rethink the obstacles and puzzles you need to overcome. So, Zelda? It's perhaps the most tenuous comparison among the three games that Supraland compares itself with, but I'd say yes. Especially with all the shiny coins to collect everywhere? Check.
— What Supraland fails at —
I understand that for the rest of the game loop to make sense, and for exploration to feel rewarding, combat has to play a significant role in the game, because most of the rewards in the game are combat-related. But the big problem here is that the combat aspect and the puzzle aspect of the game feel like they're constantly at odds with each other. In almost every corner of every area of the game world, there's usually a hint of puzzle solving or exploration involved. Yet in most of these areas, there will also be grave markers, and later on, volcanic craters, that will spawn enemies every 5-10 minutes. A lot of times I'll find myself in a new area, soaking up all the new scenery, mostly looking for clues, trying to sus out which items are related and the like. Then all of a sudden an enemy alert will sound off and it can wreck havoc with your line of thinking.
The combat mechanics are not great to begin with, and possibly only fun once you've found most of the secrets, bought most of the upgrades, and are overpowered. But the way the combat just messes with the whole flow of the exploration and puzzle solving can be frustrating and annoying. Even the boss fights, all two of them, not counting the other boss fight that's more a puzzle than a fight, are lackluster. Ultimately, with the way the game is designed, the fighting aspect of it feels like a necessary evil.
And while we're talking about the less than ideal aspects of the game, I'll probably throw a word in about the narrative part of it as well. It's not a significant part of the game, and is obviously there just to serve as a vehicle for the game play, but it's not great. In terms of humor and tone, you might initially think it's like Toy Story with the way that the game sets itself up. Yet later on, you start to realize as some other things unfold that maybe the game is more Shrek than Toy Story. But then there are even grown-up references later on, and then the story resolves along the lines of a daytime soap opera. So all I'm saying is that, if anyone is expecting for the game to have some deeper meaning or message, it might not have one. It's a very mixed bag, narratively.
— Conclusion —
Ultimately though, the game is around 40% exploration, 40% puzzle solving, and around 20% combat, so even considering Supraland's shortcomings, the game has a ton of upside. I've enjoyed it so much that even past the end of its campaign, I'm still roaming around the game world and checking out each area for more chests, more upgrades, more ways to access other places that are still locked out, trying to figure out what some of the unused items are for, and ultimately be powerful enough in combat to find out more secrets hidden behind more powerful enemies, and take a shot at the game's DLC as well.
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