As Digital Gaming has expanded it has allowed more indie developers the platform needed to showcase their games. The growth has also re-popularised genres that were thought to have succumbed to the gaming wasteland. Super Comboman is a platformer beat em’up that originally started life as a KickStarter campaign, but after successful backing, it was released sometime after on Steam. Now Interabang Entertainment along with Flashman Games have produced an updated, more complete package, that is heading to Xbox One.
You play as Struggles, who lives with his younger brother Biscuit. We aren’t sure what happened to their parents, but Struggles is finding things hard financially. He sets off with his talking fanny pack (have to put it out there, this site is British, so when a prompt saying “flap your fanny” appears on the menu screen, we are all very confused), this to emulate his favourite Comic Book character Super Comboman, while physically attacking all of his co-workers, grabbing the pay check, to cover the direct debit for his mortgage.
Each level is laid out like a task, with a basic objective to achieve in order to earn your reward. The combat system itself can feel a little convoluted when you begin, but once you start to maintain the rhythm of the combo streak, it starts to feel more natural. In your arsenal of fists, you have a Stun attack, Heavy attack and Light attack. Your main offense is the Light attack; unlike the other two, this attack is not attached to a stamina bar, granting you unlimited strikes at your enemies. Heavy attacks are useful when you’re cornered by a crowd of goons, whilst the Stun attack will knock enemies off their feet, allowing you to gain the front foot and take advantage. You have to use all three methodically, allowing you to keep your combo meter going up. Be warned though, using the Heavy and Stun attacks too frequently will cause Struggles to develop some sort of vertigo, that will momentarily stop him in his tracks, allowing the enemy the opportunity to attack.
Progressing through, coins are the commodity as you smash anything you see to obtain them. These coins can used in the Combo Store, where you can purchase new moves, and add perks. Perks activate when you have achieved a certain combo streak. With numerous perks to choose from, you can swap and change perks, in accordance with the task at hand. Level design is very linear, only finding yourself away from the beaten track in order to obtain collectibles. Within the main menu there is a sticker book, where you can look through all the stickers you’ve obtained, but their only real use is to lengthen the gameplay.
My general frustration with Super Comboman lies with balance. When starting each level you are granted three lives. If you die three times throughout the level, then it’s game over– which is fine, I understand Super Comboman is presented as a nostalgic take on that genre– but when you have scraped through a level for 15 to 20 minutes only to encounter a new enemy at the climax, and the game over splash screen appears, it leaves you feeling deflated, knowing you have to start all over again. There is a training section within the menus that allows you to fight an endless onslaught of different enemy types, but it costs money to use that service, it would have been much easier to present the new enemy at the start of the level, allowing you to learn how to defeat them without having to wait until the climax, where you may ultimately fail, leaving you annoyed and, honestly, ready to quit.
I feel some of that frustration could have been eased had they taken the approach of most classic Platform beat em’ups; by either carrying over the lives from level to level, or just having an option to instead play the game checkpoint based, to accommodate for more inexperienced players.
Super Comboman is a colourful artistic game. It deviates from your generic platformer, using a ‘sticker art’ style, which allows for equally bright back and foregrounds, without confusing the eye. Its animation is simple but effective, especially during fast-paced sections of the game where there isn’t any slowdown on the frame rate or screen tearing. Cutscenes act as the story progression, which describes Struggles adventure through a series of dialogue boxes, with no audio narration to be found. Thinking back to playing those old beat em’ up platformers, the thing that stands out is their iconic soundtracks– Super Comboman fails to re-create that feeling, with the audio a little bland and uninteresting.