Sandbox games are so common nowadays that we don’t bat an eyelid at the idea anymore. Open, explorable worlds are de rigeur and there seems to be an unending supply of such titles in the pipeline. Supraland takes the concept totally literally, however, as its world is an actual sandbox in a child’s garden, and its cast of stick people are toys placed within.
Originally released on PC in 2018, Supraland has become a cult title and now it finally makes the trip to consoles. Having played the original release, it was nice to see how many refinements and quality of life improvements have been added for this definitive version (the PC one having been updated along the way). The end result is a joyous, silly, and surprisingly brain-teasing puzzle adventure that is far more sophisticated than its cartoon aesthetic might suggest.
You play as a nameless red stickman, but quickly discover that you are the son of the King of the reds, and must set out on a quest to discover why your village’s water supply is running out. Along the way, you’ll need to pick up new powers, take on fiendish puzzles and foil the plans of the opposing blues. This isn’t a terribly inventive story, but the setting and family friendly aesthetic makes it feel fresh.
At first, the game looks like it’ll be a one-trick pony, as you must find coins to purchase basic abilities like double jump but this silly satire of the monetization of gaming swiftly blossoms into a unique fusion of Metroid, Zelda, and Portal. These are lofty influences indeed, and it may well surprise you to read that Supraland more than matches them, combining their various approaches to produce an adventure that will have you smiling throughout – apart from when you’re tearing your hair out over a puzzle, that is.
While the character models are deliberately basic, Supraland is a beautiful game. The vistas and skybox are in sharp contrast with the childlike stick people, and everything has a vibrancy that just adds to the sense of joy and wonder. Despite sounding like a limited setting, the sandbox has a wide variety of areas that take in the traditional gaming zones of lava, ice, desert etc. When you add in the ridiculously catchy German language theme tune, Warum Warum, you have a game that is clearly designed to be fun.
Navigating the world of Supraland requires you to make full use of the unlockable abilities you’ll find along the way. At first this involves predictable skills like a double jump and a ranged weapon, but soon you’ll be zipping along with a triple jump, Portal-like cube and a grappling gun. Each one is a mechanic that a lesser game could build itself around, but here the end result is some fiendish combination puzzles where you will have to use everything in your arsenal to progress. The lengthy period spent as a PC exclusive has allowed these puzzles to be fine tuned and appropriate hints to be added, as the developers have really listened to the players.
Many of these puzzles are difficult to sum up or describe, but as an example, you may need to find a way to change the colour of a key card to open up specific doors, then immediately have to use your multi-purpose gun to shoot a Supraball through a series of hoops, and then rush across some platforms whilst being attacked by hordes of skeletons. The use of colour for puzzles is brilliantly conceived – sadly a lack of colourblind options could become an issue late in the game for those affected – and really makes you think about what you have to hand or lying around the immediate area. The final boss in particular is a real headscratcher that forces you to use everything that you have learned (although it does have an unnecessarily scatological tone).
As you might expected from a title that is so clearly immersed in video game culture, there are a huge number of Easter Eggs and references to find, although some of these are a little long in the tooth. A Breaking Bad character model and accompanying meth lab betrays the fact that this isn’t a 2020 game but, then again, who wants to think about 2020 anyway? Scattered around the world you’ll find fallen adventurers with accessories from geeky properties ranging from He-Man to Fallout. There is even a whole section that revolves around locating and using a pickaxe for a stickman in Minecraft Steve cosplay. Much of this humour is of the ‘do you recognise this?’ variety, but it never feels too intrusive and just adds to the overall silliness of things.
As well as exploring the game once more on PC, I played the game on my little Nintendo Switch Lite. While nowhere near as high in resolution or frame rate as on PC, it is still an impressive version and feels like it belongs on Nintendo’s machine.