While plenty of genres age out of popularity or veer into sudden pop relevancy, it feels like the tried and true sidescrolling platformer will always have a consistent place in the world of gaming. They may only break out into mainstream popularity every few years with indie gems like Celeste or promising near-future releases like Metroid Dread, but they’re always around. With such a persistent yet unwavering genre, there needs to be some kind of innovation or stylistic hook in your platformer if you really want it to stand out from the crowd. Super Magbot definitely leans in hard with its attempt at genre innovation – a 2D puzzle platformer bonanza where blue and red magnets fuel your movement. It’s fresh ground for the genre – and ground well worth exploring in this fresh indie adventure.
Not every layer of the experience is as original as the magnetized concept of the gameplay, though. The story that serves to set up your polarized platformer adventure, for example, is pretty basic. There are special MacGuffins scattered across the galaxy that a giant mega evil wants to take for itself, and you need to set out to recover the special thingies before the big bad guy does the big bad thing. Dialogue in the brief story scenes you see as you first enter each world and exit it upon completion is similarly basic, with a hint of playfully simplistic vocabulary that gives the adventure a fun-for-all-ages sort of vibe. It’s not great, but it’s also easy to ignore as you dig into the real meat of the game – the platforming puzzles.
Playing as Magbot, you can run left and right as you please, but you aren’t equipped with a jump button. Instead, you can fire blue and red magnet beams from your arm. Scattered across each level are very deliberately placed blue and red platforms, and you’ll need to aim your coloured beams at them in order to propel yourself off them or magnetically pull yourself toward them.
It can take some time to wrap your head around, especially once you need to very quickly propel and pull matching platforms in a short period of time. Your coloured beams only hold 2 charges, as well – only refilling once your feet touch a surface. This prevents you from spamming your beams like a mad man, instead requiring controlled and precise timing at all moments.
The magnetized movement starts out simple enough, but as you progress through the 30 or so levels in each region, the action ramps up in plenty of different ways. Coloured barriers begin appearing that you need to use the opposite colour to smash through, and environmental hazards like rotating blades will start filling the levels. Soon enough, you’ll encounter 3 or more coloured platforms in a row to navigate across with no time to pause and think – you’ll need magnetic muscle memory, and it’ll take time to develop that. I appreciated the steady progression of difficulty in Super Magbot, but it’s the kind of mind-bending experience that can overheat you every now and then.
Much like the hardest puzzles in Portal, I sometimes had to stop and straight-up reset my brain so I could wrap my head around the proper color combos I was facing for a certain stage. Thankfully, the game understands how to best deliver this try, die, try again gameloop – respawns when you die are instant, levels load just as instantly, and you can easily replay a level upon completion if you feel the need to shoot for a better time.
It isn’t a 2D platformer without pixelated graphics and chiptune music, and boy does Super Magbot have that in spades. I wouldn’t say either are particularly inventive or groundbreaking – again, those descriptors fit best with the revolutionary gameplay. Still, the aesthetic of the game is sharp and refined. Each environment has a unique style with easily readable visuals that never muddy the ease at which you need to spot your magnetized platforms. The music fits each realm perfectly too, and while it’s pretty standard pixel-game music, I never got tired of hearing it no matter how many times I accidentally matched a blue beam with a blue platform and fell to my death.