I love platformers. Folks who’ve read my prior writeups here know that. Indies in particular have fascinating riffs on the well established genre conventions, pushing boundaries in both mechanics and presentation. Your Hat in Times, New Super Lucky’s Tales, Knight’s Trys, Gun Devils, what have you, they’re all wonderful. Most aren’t quite as strong as the above but still manage to be plenty enjoyable.
Naturally when I found out about a neat-looking indie platformer that combined a bunch of riffs on established concepts with its own (Chameleon?) twist I thought “hey, this’ll be a fun writeup!” We have a policy to complete all games we cover here at Pixel Die, because finishing something should be the bare minimum expectation if you’re going to critique a work. In the case of platformers I typically 100% them as well because I have a incurable condition called Nintieskiditis that can only be treated via hopping around and collecting widgets.
Thing is, I did not 100% Super Sami Roll. In fact I barely finished it. SSR was a nightmare to get through, a game I started out of curiosity and finished out of spite. By late into world 3 I started skipping collectables. Halfway through world 4 the only thing I wanted to see roll was the credits. I eventually did it and have the achievements to prove it, but by god did it come at a cost to my sanity and blood pressure. I know this game’s keys unlock some kind of thing, and I could go back to snag the ones in world 4 just to see whatever that is, but I would need to have a charitable cause lined up and folks shoveling donations their way to warrant subjecting myself to any more of this game’s bullshit. Let me elaborate.
At first SSR makes a decent visual impression. You’ve got a cute anime-style opening, some solid energetic music, and plenty of color to draw the eye. Once you load in it’s levels look and behave a little bit like 3D Sonic the Hedgehog with a splash of Super Monkey Ball, which means your brain will start making nostalgic connections that this game doesn’t deserve despite wearing its influences on both of its sleeves. You’ll push forward on the stick, hit a legally distinct red spring pad, maybe zip off a boost panel, and eventually make your way to the goal. Which is an owl. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately feel like a cat that’s had every single bit of its fur rubbed as wrong as possible.
See, Sami rolls everywhere. Walking or running is not an option. He jumps, and he’s got a few other moves like a tongue grapple (straight lines only, which is a shame) and a wall jump, but most of the time you’re gonna be rolling. What you’ll quickly realize is that Sami’s momentum doesn’t quite behave like you’d think, or want, or hope. Sami is incapable of stopping on a dime even if you yank the stick in the opposite direction. This means that he turns like a hovercraft and sticks landings like a block of ice on a tiled kitchen floor. If this was actually a speed focused game beyond having some levels with tight timers, or if its precision sections were just focused on delicate rolling, all of this could be excused as a slightly misguided mashup of preexisting games. But it isn’t that. It’s a platformer, and an incredibly demanding one, where you’re perpetually on ice. Oh and in case you were wondering, that gets twice as bad in world 3 when they introduce the actual ice.
Movement never gets better. It never feels natural. Sami is, simply put, a bastard to control. And if the screenshots I’ve included thus far haven’t made it clear, SSR‘s levels don’t feel like they were even designed for this character’s slippery shoed shenanigans. Once you get to the latter half of world 2 the game takes off the kid gloves and replaces them with plaster-loaded cinderblocks before beating you half to death. The latter half of the game is as inconsistent as it is frustrating. Each is a coinflip; I either died a couple times and cruised to the end with minimal-no trouble after I saw what hazards were in store, or they felt like 1% clear rate levels cherrypicked from a nonexistent Super Sami Roll Maker.
To their credit the levels do have decent variety but their quality varies significantly more. Some are quite clever in how they introduce and utilize new enemies and hazards, only to immediately force you to navigate said new threats on a grease-coated balance beam then never deal with them again. Almost every level featuring a locked camera only allows you to see approximately 6 inches in front of your face, turning them into exercises of pure trial and error as you smash into each obstacle for the first time with no warning. The no-floor-only-rounded-balloons level late into world 3 was the first one I finally chose to skip as it wasn’t required for progression, because if I launched myself into the stratosphere due to being one millimeter off-center one more time I was going to suffer an aneurysm.
It gets worse, and fundamentally so. Every floor button in this game is a secret deathtrap. Their edges are sloped, meaning Sami’s round ass has to slowly roll to get on top of it. This cannot be done quickly, no, otherwise you’ll ramp off on contact without actually pressing the button. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous ledges in the mid-late game that are similarly beveled and are thus rendered un-lickable, leading to many a fall to one’s death. I refuse to believe these were untested so the only descriptor I’m left with is sadistic.
Bizarrely, I’d feel much kinder (if a bit dismissive) towards this game if it were marketed as “hard on purpose” like Knight’s Try or I Wanna Be the Guy. The store page boasts “progressive difficulty” and I don’t like to call devs liars, so I guess I’ll concede that 0 to 100 in under 2 seconds is objectively a kind of “progress”. I suspect that the admirably small team working on this got so accustomed to their game’s quirks that they overcorrected on level changes when things felt a bit easy for them, forgetting that Sami sweats soap at all times. Is it an accidental kaizo? I don’t know. I just don’t know. What I do know is that it’s miserable.
You want to know the best thing this game offers? It’s not the extra unlockable adventure with a far better non-Sami character who can actually move well (though that’s decent), and it’s certainly not the main game. It’s Marble Mode. The tiny, very missable unlock you can buy from the accessory store for pennies. This is a little diversion where you play as a fragile marble racing other equally vulnerable orbs through various floating mazes. It’s the closest the game gets to Super Monkey Ball or Marble It Up, and you know what? It’s good! The controls are reduced to movement and the courses are intended for multiple marbles at once, so most sections aren’t a narrow nightmare to navigate. It’s even got multiplayer support so you can bonk each other around in real time! This mode, fleshed out and released on its own, would have gotten a recommendation from me. I’m not even kidding.
Super Sami Roll sure won’t, though. I had a horrible time with this from head to tail, and originally wasn’t going to cover it at all because railing against a micro-team indie project hurts me to my core. I always want to root for this kind of effort but SSR has so few original ideas of its own, and the ones it has are frequently its worst qualities. It’s at its best when it’s playing like a Sonic fangame, encouraging fast turns, boost pads, launching off ramps, etc. But there are only a handful of those levels. The rest are a collection of worse Mario Sunshine and Odyssey riffs on literal rails, made significantly worse because your character hates you and wants to die at all times.
Super Sami Roll is just a gauntlet. A rusty one that’ll give you tetanus. For some of you that’s exactly what you want and I’m not here to kinkshame; I effectively ask for video games to spit in my mouth and call me a bitch on a regular basis. But this one was one of the most excruciating experiences I’ve had all year, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anybody. My hope is that this studio’s next effort leverages their clear strengths towards something a bit more refined, or at the very least a bit more open about its intentions.
A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.