As part of running the Tavern (and because it’s my hobby too) I try to keep up to date on as much information about new titles as possible. Invariably titles slip through the cracks, but sometimes that just makes the sudden discovery of a new gem all the more exciting. Supraland is one such title; until it launched into Gamepass recently I’d never heard of it. Yet, here I am with it sitting in my top five releases of the year, such is its brilliance.
Supraland is at once packed full of charm, energy, wit, cleverness, and a huge dose of inspiration from some of the best titles of all time. There’s some Portal in its first person, physics-based puzzling; Metroid in the, well, MetroidVania approach to dishing out new powers and revisiting areas equipped with them. Finally, and perhaps most impressively, there’s a good chunk of Breath of the Wild in here too in the almost constant way that each new area yields so much more than initially meets the eye, and encourages exploration and experimentation.
Played from a first person perspective, we’re treated to the briefest opening set-up before being let loose in the world. There’s very little guidance or tutorialising up front. Instead it’s naturally presented to us as we explore. The first task is to open a door leading to next area, but it’s not as simple as that may sound. The opening area is decently large, and while we can head straight for the door there’s a good chance that it’ll take you just as long as it did me to even get there, let alone open it.
You see, almost constantly there are hints and suggestions of things to do and find, not from tool tips, but from the environment around us. Starting off in our village square, even the 50 foot walk to the gates yields a plethora of things to see, each one forcing us to make a mental note for later; The store that has upgrades for sale that far exceed our current maximum amount of coins we can carry (and its upfront suggestion that finding 6 barrels in the local area and bringing them back here will offer more goodies to buy). A door that is locked, yet clearly holds a treasure chest behind it. An NPC who suggests mixing water and something green in the vat next to them will give us something nice.
These are just three examples in the opening area of the opening area. There are far more than I could begin to mention here, and once we pass those gates it only magnifies a hundred fold. It genuinely feels as though any possible section of the world that a player could get to has been gifted something to hold – and even some that they probably shouldn’t be able to get to. The MetroidVania-esque nature of the game means that there are a large number of things that won’t be accessible until later on, but that didn’t stop me trying, dammit.
Partly this was due to the fact that the solutions in Supraland often straddle the line between strict and freeform. Sure, there may be an ideal way to solve a puzzle but if you’ve got a better idea then give it a crack – it might just work. See that coin up on the ridge? Well, technically you’ll need to come back later with a new item but if you can manipulate the physics and get the timing just right then sure, have at it.
That’s not to say its easy, mind. There were several items and areas I thought I could get to that I had to give up on, some of which I came back to while others remain unconquered. When it comes to actual progression based puzzles the difficulty can be ratcheted up a little too, forcing us to explore the area again and see if there’s a side mission or item we’ve missed. One saw me stuck with how to open a door on the floor above with no obvious way to get the key up there; I must’ve searched that room for about 20 minutes before taking a break. Coming back I noticed a little cubby hole I’d completely missed which allowed me to get an extra item I otherwise couldn’t into the room – and the dominos began to fall from there as my options suddenly opened up. Supraland is great at giving you the tools needed and trusting that you’ll get to the solution on your own. The only real hints offered by the loading screens are, when stuck, to look for NPC’s to talk to, and to keep an eye out for cables and where they go to. There are no objective markers or quest logs, and yet I always felt like I was moving forward even when stuck.
It honestly never failed to amaze me in the amount of hidden areas and extra side missions I found simply by exploring. That same room as mentioned above had several little, otherwise innocuous tells that hid whole new areas, each with their own puzzles and hidden areas. The amount of upgrades I found by completing these never seemed to end, and I genuinely wonder how I would have fared had I not stumbled across them.
Compared to the exploration and puzzles then, the combat is by far the weakest aspect of Supraland. There’s very little tactile feel to it, with enemies able to wipe out even an upgraded health bar before I even realised I was being attacked. Whether melee or projectile based, it always felt a chore to get involved in a fight against the respawning foes, and while the check pointing is great it simply served to get in the way of more discovery.
We play as one of the Red stickmen who have a seemingly broken truce with the Blues across the way after they appear to have cut off the water supply to the Red’s village. There’s no voice acting, but each character has comic-style pop up speech bubbles that either clue us in to a secret nearby or just serve to add some comical flavour to the world. I approve of keeping the story simple and not letting it get it the way of the excellent gameplay.
And what would a new indie title be without references to gaming and pop culture at large. Supraland is packed full of cheeky, funny, sly and blatant nods to a wide variety of games and shows. I won’t spoil them here, but from the very familiar sound picking up a coin makes, to the satisfactory shout upon concluding combat, and the abundance of characters found all around the world that may put a Pip in your step, there’s a lot to Mine and discover.
At times Supraland can feel a little overwhelming; those of you who like to fully explore and clear everything before moving on will have a field day here, yet there’s always the worry that there was something over that hill that we might have missed out on. By virtue of being an open world though there are often jump pads or warp pipes that will take us back to areas to try out new abilities or items. There’s no map which can make finding a specific area a little tricky at times, especially as some of the shortcuts are hard to unlock meaning a lot of ambling around hoping we went in the right direction, but while the world is expansive it is spit up into fairly small sections that are for the most part easily distinguishable.
It’s been a long time since a game just hooked me in, genuinely making me lose track of time. Supraland is so packed with things to see and find that I’m still thinking about earlier areas that I know are hiding more secrets now I have more abilities, and I will get back to them to find out.
Supraland has come out of nowhere and absolutely blown me away. Taking inspiration from some of the best games ever, it manages to somehow blend them all together into a cohesive whole, constantly surprising and delighting us in equal measure. Combat is a bit weak, and the solutions can at time be a bit too obtuse, but these are small blemishes on what is otherwise an incredibly fun adventure that is funny, rewarding and something that’ll keep us coming back for sometime yet. That it also launched on Gamepass means that it’ll hopefully gain the love and success it clearly deserves.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.