When is a sandbox game not a sandbox game? When it’s a first-person Metroidvania set in an actual sandbox! (If that doesn’t make any sense, don’t worry, keep reading and all will become clear.) Taking place in a kid’s sandbox, Supraland players take on the role of the prince of the Reds – small red plasticine-like figures – who’s trying to fix the village’s water supply. This leads you inevitably on an adventure through the fantastical lands that the ‘creator’ made in only a few hours (he’s the huge kid who occasionally freaks you out when you catch him staring through a window at you).
To achieve your goal, you’ll have to explore Supraland’s vast, interconnected world-map and collect various tools called ‘McGuffins’ (McGuffin, n. an object which serves merely as a trigger for the plot) to help you navigate the world, solve the various puzzles, and defeat Supraland’s cartoonish foes.
These McGuffins come in a variety of enjoyable flavours. The Red McGuffin, for example, fires balls of energy and energy beams. Handy in a pinch as a weapon, it’s also integral to puzzle solving. Another lets you use metal surfaces to get around, while a third lets you create energy barriers. Then there’s a ton of upgrades to discover (or craft) for health, strength, jumping, weapon damage and more. Oh, you can also conjure purple bricks out of thin air - very handy if you need to reach a high place, or to even drop on the head of one of those pesky little skeletons that infest the world. While there is some combat in this game (with the aid of your trusty wooden sword and Mighty McGuffin), the focus is really on exploration and puzzle-solving, and it is in both of these that Supraland really shines.
The world is a sheer delight to explore, and a real sense of whimsy and humour permeates the entire game. Unlike a lot of other games, you’ll find yourself really engaging with the world’s design. This is in no small part due to the fact that there are no maps, arrows or markers pointing you towards your current objective. Rather, characters will point you in a direction, and it’s up to you to navigate by landmark (such as the humongous chair and giant crystals you can see from anywhere on the map). The entire game has been designed with this in mind, so locations are unique, varied, and memorable.
Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that I’m not overly fond of most puzzle games. Sure, if the puzzle logically integrates with the world and implementing it is easy once you’ve figured it out, then I do enjoy them (for example, Myst, Riven, Obduction and Portal). On the other hand, if the puzzle is simply dropped into the game with no real reason except to act as a random and abstract barrier or (worse) is hard to implement once you’ve figured out how it works (I’m thinking particularly of Myst IV here), then I’ve little patience with it.
Happily, Supraland’s puzzles fit into the former category, and are satisfying and fun to figure out and implement. In part, this is because Supraland is much more than simply ‘solving puzzles’ or going from point A to point B in a straight line. Rather, experimentation and imaginative use of your tools (the ‘I wonder if this will work’ mentality) is both encouraged and rewarded. There’s a certain satisfaction in trying to ‘break’ a game by finding that ledge which looks just out of reach or is too narrow to walk along, and discovering a secret area, or solving a puzzle in a way that isn’t the obvious or ‘correct’ manner, but which still works.
An example of this was when I failed to realise that the yellowy-cub things were sponges, and instead used a metal ball-bearing to solve the puzzle – it sounds a bit weird, but if you play the game it will make sense.
Exploration reveals a large array of hilarious pop-culture references, including obscure and not-so-obscure references to Harry Potter, He-Man, and Donald Trump (it’s the hairdo that gives it away as much as the dialogue). On that note, alongside some puns, there is a paraphrasing of one of Trump’s more infamous utterances, which, while funny, does mean the game is more appropriate for mid-late teens and older.
Adding to the charm is Supraland’s unique visual style. While other games have tried the ‘small character’ conceit, none of them sells the feeling quite like Supraland. The oversized items populating the world (like huge hammers and giant pencils) combined with a clever use of depth-of-focus, gives you the feeling that your character really is tiny (if you think of the scenes from Marvel’s Ant-Man films where Scott Lang is the size of an ant, you’ll get the idea).
Supraland also has a particularly high level of polish, both visually and game-play-wise. What makes this truly remarkable is that nearly everything you see is the result of just one man: David Münnich. Except for the 3D models (which were made by Alexey Boyko for a previous soccer-style game called Supraball) and the catchy final song ‘Warum warum’, which was performed by Con Fetti Pesto (David Münnich and Alexx Grimm), everything from sound, level design, story, concept, menus, and puzzles, was done by David Münnich.
This clearly was a labour of love, and it’s paid off: within a few short weeks of release, Supraland has sold over 50,000 copies, and received an overwhelmingly positive Steam review rating of 96%. It’s easy to see why. Imaginative, polished and funny, Supraland is a masterclass in game-design and surely destined to become a classic. ■