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Supraland
Game Reviews

Supraland

A charming and wonderful sandbox collectathon with tons of puzzles that will keep you smiling for hours.

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I’ve lost count how many games I’ve played over the years. Plenty were stinkers and plenty were incredible. I’ve played games that were the bad kind of bad, the bad kind of good, the good kind of bad and the coveted good kind of good. Sometimes I found myself enjoying games that I knew I shouldn’t and loathing games I knew I should. This can be a lot to keep up with, but that’s what happens when you love a hobby the way I do.

The common theme of all the games that I thoroughly enjoy, whether bad or good, is how much fun I’m having with it overall. It could be a terrible mess but as long as I’m enjoying it and I’m smiling all the way through, it a great time regardless of its flaws. If I’m painfully dragging my feet to the next objective, I know that I’m not having a good time.

Luckily, Supraland is all kinds of positive and all kinds of amazing; the good kind of good that will having you enjoying every inch of its colorful and thoughtful sandbox world that is, for once, an actual sandbox. I’m also a sucker for game design bold enough to blend the literal with the metaphorical, and Supraland takes place in a sandbox – literally. Think “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, only interactive and ready for you to explore. Here is a game that puts you right into the midst of a child’s sandbox filled with puzzles made from giant pickaxes and pipes.

Starting in a town full of Red people, you’re tasked with making your way to the Blue faction to speak with their leaders. Along the way you’ll be solving thoughtful puzzles, uncovering hidden treasures, and collecting a ton of upgrades. The opening town is indicative of what to expect in this oversized world of miniatures, demonstrating the wild creativity and variety in design from the very get-go. The opening town feels effective in showcasing the many quirks baked right into the game, which only grow and expand once you start exploring outside.

One of my favorite things about Supraland is how big the game actually is. I consistently found myself taken aback by just how big this digital sandbox was each time I stepped into a new section. I’d complete a handful of little puzzles in one section just to have a new door open up, confident that things would be wrapping up soon. But, lo and behold, I was proven wrong time and time again. Much to my delight, new puzzles with an entirely new set of characters and new interactions at my disposal emerged.

It’s rather impressive how much game is packed into the experience, but as someone who likes to go back to complete and collect everything I possibly can, I often found myself being pushed forward quicker than I would have liked. It’s always possible to return to certain places later on, but that sense of momentum to keep moving forward almost discourages completion. Even still, too much game is never a bad thing, especially when you’re enjoying the experience as much as I did.

It’s hard to really explain or describe how well the puzzles are designed. The easiest comparison would be Valve’s Portal, though Supraland still manages to feel wholly different and unique as the game expertly tutorializing the mechanics and it’s rare you’ll see puzzles that feel similar. Like Portal, you’re given a Force Cube early on that acts not unlike a summonable Companion Cube, and can be used to reach higher spots, weigh down switches and contraptions, and generally do the things you’d expect a magic cube to do. Eventually, you’ll even get a gun and more upgrades that allow you to do even more.

Double and triple jumps, Running Shoes, Cubes…by the end you’ll feel like you’ve amassed an entire treasure box of gaming goodness that actually makes you feel stronger, something even RPGs struggle with.

What Supraland has over Portal is its accessibility. Much of Portal’s gameplay was tricky to solve and required serious brainpower. Supraland isn’t exactly a cakewalk (pun intended!), but it’s not nearly as demanding and the puzzles always result in something important that manages to keep stringing you along. This level of involvement extends to the smallest details, like that tricky treasure chest you’ve been reaching for a few times. Tucked inside could be a stack of coins to spend in a local shop or to upgrade your health or attack levels. Every new challenge results in something worth your time.

The game’s imaginative graphical direction is brought to life thanks to a well-used Unreal engine. Everything has a strong tilt-shift look, with textures that are bright and colorful. It also performs extremely well, though I did experience a few frame drops here and there when the screen was cluttered with objects. But the game generally runs silky smooth even on moderately powered PC hardware thanks to its simplistic design.

The weakest point of Supraland is definitely its combat, which usually devolves into little more than button-mashing. But even here I’m reaching as combat doesn’t play that big a role in the overall picture. It’s important to protect your digital self, but the main draw and the main focus is exploring this digital sandbox, solving puzzles and finding treasure along the way. So if that means having to bludgeon your way through a crowd every now and then, so be it. It’s a hero’s duty and someone’s gotta do it.

Whenever I see games like this, I initially start to recognize all the familiar “hey, remember this!” parts that rely more on nostalgia bombs than innovation. The worst offenders can be groan-inducing, but Supraland never strays too far into manipulative nostalgia bait. There are some familiar sound effects (like the eerily similar Mario coin sounds) and some extremely blatant references from Zelda and Breaking Bad (!). But even these moments come from a place of endearment and love, as if the developers relished the opportunity to create a Mario or Banjo-style collectathon, but on their own terms. On this point they’ve been wildly successful.

And if the idea of playing in a collectable sandbox sounds appealing, Supraland is easily one of the easiest recommendations I can give. It’s completely accessible, charming, and enjoyable the entire way through. Call it a sandbox, call it a Metroidvania, call it whatever you want… in the end this is Supraland, and for me that’s enough. Heck, give it some respect; it’s got Supra in the title.

About the Author: James McKeever