Review: Super Comboman

Super Comboman came to life thanks to Kickstarter. Its 2012 campaign barely reached its funding goal, but after a year and a half-long wait, the game is ready to be enjoyed by all. Adult Swim Games has published some fantastic games with Super House of Dead Ninjas really being the game that put them on the map as a friend to indie gaming. Super Comboman is the latest game they’ve helped give exposure to with their well-respected brand, and it’s a good fit for them. You’ve got a bright color scheme, an animated series-esque art style, charming dialogue, and a good brawler-platformer gameplay style. All of these elements combine to form a very fun game that feels like it wanted to be better than it is.

The Kickstarter pitch of it as Smash Bros. meets Marvel vs. Capcom as a platformer is absolutely ridiculous for what is essentially a 2D side-scrolling brawler. It reminds me of when Homer was trying to pass off candies as sprinkles to get something for nothing — a Jolly Rancher is not a sprinkle, and this doesn’t have the depth of a competitive gaming experience. While there are combo chains, blocks using a bubble, and parrying, they don’t really offer up much depth to things. The end result of the latter two is just landing a combo with either your limited initial offense or your more expansive in-game store-bought moves. That will get you things like spinning lariats, a piledriver, and a hadouken to add some laughs and give you a bit of range in the case of the fireball.¬† Smash Bros. and the Vs. series have been played competitively for years — and the mere idea of this being comparable to either of those two is almost insulting. It has nothing but surface-level similarities to them since they all involve attacking and blocking. Beyond that, their overall approaches to game design are completely different.

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The core gameplay here revolves around beating up baddies with both light and heavy attacks. Doing so will either take them out or bounce them into buttons to open up a new part of the level, and then doing that over and over again. While the environmental interaction is a fine idea, the execution of it is a bit flawed. You can’t really predict how an enemy will react to an uppercut that should send them flying into things perfectly. Sometimes, they’ll go where you want in one go or it might take a few tries. Now, doing something three times may not seem like a big deal but that adds up over the course of the game. You could easily pad the game out by an hour or more just doing this — and that’s not counting having to redo things if you get a game over and have to restart the whole level without any checkpoints. You’ll also need to replay some things simply due to glitches — I had to restart once due to the characters not appearing on-screen beyond being transparent squares, and another time when Comboman got stuck mid-combo. I laughed heartily at that, but it’s clear the game still needs some work. Luckily, there’s been steady work with glitches since before the game’s release, so these issues should be completely smoothed over in due time.

However, Super Comboman does offer up a healthy challenge — so while the gameplay may lack depth in some ways, it doesn’t skimp on fun. Timing is a fairly important part of the gameplay, as it’s the key behind the parry mechanic that will save your life a lot. Even early on, you get hordes of enemies swarming you. This means that mastering just when to press the d-pad towards them is crucial to survival. Blocking with LB works really well too, but it’s definitely easier to do on the 360 pad than it is on the Xbox One controller. Unlike most brawlers, the AI here actually has some working brain cells! They’ll block and parry at times, and that adds to the challenge in some very good ways. It’s like playing an FPS with intelligent enemies — you get so used to facing glorified tackling dummies that it’s actually a little jarring, and then you get used to things after raising your game after a few levels.

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Super Comboman‘s dialogue is well-written and fairly entertaining and visually it actually seems like a cartoon you’d see on Cartoon Network. The art style fits something you’d see on TV as well. The whole premise is that the characters are all in a sticker world, so they have white outlines to them. It’s kind of like Paper Mario in that sense, but more like Sticker Star than the prior games. Move animation is silky-smooth, and the thick lines in the world make everything pop — again, much like a cartoon. There’s a ton of color on-screen at all times, and the core game is impressive to look at.

Super Comboman‘s interface, however, is very mobile-esque with gigantic icons on the overworld and large text boxes. Its menus are easy to read thanks to this, but they’re tough to navigate due to clunky menus. The shop should be a simple left to right setup, but instead, it’s got a slot machine look to it that requires a lot of needless up and down movements to navigate. The audio is solid, but unspectacular. Musically, it’s got a good variety of songs that are both cheery and rock-inspired, but none of it sticks with you. For a game so full of life visually, there isn’t much to the audio beyond some grunts and groans from enemies. Voice work isn’t here, and while that’s fine for a Kickstarted project, it would be nice for future installments to have it since it really sticks out given how much like an animated series everything else is.

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Closing Comments:

Super Comboman is a fairly well-made brawler that reached for the stars and fell a bit short. While it nails the light and heavy attack combo system, there isn’t much depth to it. New moves tend to just change things on a surface level, even if busting out Zangief’s spinning clothesline or a hadouken is amusing. That kind of reference is cute, and something that Capcom itself has thrown into non-SF games for 20 years now. As a beat-em-up, it doesn’t measure up to anything Capcom’s made, even if it does score some style points for its impressive sticker-inspired visuals. The gameplay varies between being completely predictable and unpredictable in the wrong way, so it’s never quite as satisfying as you want it to be. Punching tons of dudes into elecrified buttons should be a riot — but it’s not here. It’s just a thing you do to hopefully finish the stage quickly and move on. Super Comboman is a beautiful game to look at and a solid outing overall, but it doesn’t quite deliver on everything its Kickstarter hyped up and isn’t a must-buy for anyone but brawler fans as a result.
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 Platform: PC