A masterclass in platform fighting that I intend to drop out of.
Platform fighters often feel like an underrepresented niche considering how popular Smash Bros is. You’d expect more than the likes of Playstation All Stars from major publishers, but no. Instead we’ve seen several indies attempt their own riffs on the formula to varying degrees of success. Most of them go the distillation route and reduce mechanical complexity in favor of simpler systems and a varied cast. Few games dare to add complexity to Smash‘s core in an attempt to grow the genre. Enter the mad Swedes of Ludosity with their newly-minted early access graduate Slap City.
As soon as you boot it up it’s apparent that SC is built differently from its fellows. From its colorful visuals, to its lighthearted soundtrack complete with a vocaloid title theme, to the developers’ trademark sharp wit, this game is a completely different animal in terms of presentation. I can’t say that their style has made the most graceful transition from card games and Zelda-likes to the third dimension, but it works well enough and communicates everything clearly during play.
Moreso than the look it’s the mechanisms where SC stands tall. The Smash framework remains intact with some alterations in controls and movement. Wall jumps are a universal ability, heavy attacks (think smashes) are on a designated button, no moving shields around mid-block, that kind of thing. But by far its greatest innovation is the Clutch button, which does so many things that I’m going to just put them in a list:
- reversing momentum from left to right while charging moves
- enabling/disabling alternate effects of moves
- short hops while using ledge
- light shield with greater pushback
- better moonwalking, and yes moonwalking is ALSO a thing in SC
There are probably use cases for this thing that I’ve never encountered and would never even think to try. It’s bananas, a feast for the technically inclined, a button that allows for so many cool features while simultaneously making the execution significantly easier than its platform fighter predecessors. Saving yourself from an untimely demise through a combination of specials and momentum trickery feels fantastic, and landing kills with it then having the game itself proclaim “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH” is uniquely satisfying.
A fighting game is only as good as its roster and Ludosity has imported some of their finest. As of 1.0 the game has 9 characters and they’re incredibly varied. Princess Remedy zones out enemies while setting up trap kills with her floating bomb, Business Casual Man (my BOY) racks up cash by landing hits then cashes in for huge swings, and fan favorite Ultra Fishbunjin 3000 answers the eternal question: what if a big character could actually move? Every character feels carefully and intentionally designed; I could see any of them easily being someone’s favorite.
There’s a respectable amount of single player content for a fighting game, though nothing revolutionary. Besides the obligatory arcade mode there’s also a short story for each of the original 8 characters. It’s essentially the same sequence of levels tweaked to fit their movesets, with collectables littered throughout that’ll unlock all sorts of goodies. Had it not been for Ludosity’s great writing and sense of humor I’d have gotten tired of it after one or two runs, but that goofiness helped keep things fresh as I hunted for costumes.
So obviously I like the game. That said there is one proviso: I can’t play Slap City with a lot of people anymore. I’m good enough to stomp newbies into the dirt, even with unfamiliar characters (by which I mean anyone who isn’t Business Casual Man), but not good enough to take on the actual dedicated community. The game only functions casually in multiplayer free-for-all and/or on chaotic stages, which is fine, but the expectation needs to be set. This here’s a fighting-game-ass-fighting-game, and I just don’t quite enjoy it enough to take it seriously and get to that next level of play. As such I’ve more or less run out of game to play. But to be very clear this is a me problem, not one with the game itself, which I think is excellently made and exactly as the devs intended.
Slap City lacks the licensed appeal of Smash, the streamlining of Rivals of Aether, or the sheer spectacle of Roof Rage. Instead what it offers is dizzying depth, so much so that it’s slightly intimidating at first. This is very much the Melee of indie platform fighters; put in time and you’ll be rewarded, but there will always be more to learn and room to improve. If you’re looking for a lifestyle game you’ve found it, and it’s deserving of that level of dedication, but with that depth comes a certain amount of unapproachability. It isn’t the kind of game I intend to fully commit to, but it may be for you, and it’s more than worth trying it to find out.
Reviewed on Steam.