Polynauts Review: 'Super Amazing Wagon Adventure'
You know, these days I'd much rather spend money on downloadable fare from PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE or Steam than drop £40 on a triple-A title that's solid, yet uninspired. Recently however I've found even the top releases on those digital platforms somewhat lacking in heart; the last one being the charming release from Double Fine Productions, Stacking. This realisation led me to dig deep within the indie marketplace of Xbox LIVE in the hopes of finding something different and hopefully, something new.
This search led me to discover the debut title from developer Sparsevector named 'Super Amazing Wagon Adventure'; a "historically accurate" game that takes you east to west, across the great wagon trails of the 1800's and as I sit and collect my thoughts about 'SAWA' I begin to remember some of the amazing things which I experienced over a period of several days. Unicorns, bandits, badgers, asteroids, satellites, giant spiders, bears, rabid squirrels and buffalo.
Buffalo. Buffalo, everywhere.
Those might just sound like a list of my favourite things, and for the most part they are, but in 'SAWA' they represent but a few of the many different ways in which your pilgrimage can come to a sudden, gruesome end. It also keeps you wanting to see what comes next, and how its going to try and kill your party.
It might be clear by now that this isn't the Oregon Trail which you grew up with in the 80's. It truly is something different entirely. The visceral carnage on display certainly doesn't correlate with games from the 80's thematically, and there's a chance it likely wouldn't have passed censorship in that decade without major cuts or changes. In its current form it would probably have rated 'R'. In this day and age however we're all a little more tolerant of such things, and even though you slaughter your way across the expanse of the wagon trail its portrayed in a fashion designed to keep you entertained as all great games should.
Visually the game falls somewhere between the Atari 2600 and a ZX Spectrum +2, with the audio clearly appealing to those with 8-bit sensibilities. To cap it all off, theres even a CRT filter option which you can see in the video below that emulates the screen banding effect from the old television sets of the 80s. It takes come getting used to if you've never experienced one in person I'd imagine, but for an old hand like myself it just adds to the pile of good things the game does right. In fact, the soundtrack is a another area in which the game evokes feelings of joy, almost in a toned-down Anamanaguchi kind of way but no less awesome. I've asked when the soundtrack might become available for download, and Sparsevector is hoping to do this at some point around the time of the PC release. Fingers crossed.
Heading west across rolling plains of green your chosen wagon the goal is to avoid enemy projectile and rush attacks in order to progress to the next section. Sounds easy, right? It's really not. The difficulty curve is such that you'll find yourself recognising the patterns of certain scenarios whenever they occur, the problem however is that they're all randomly selected so you'll never really know what's coming next. It might even be space.
You also get the usual batch of weapons available to you in the 1800's such as shotguns, machine guns, lasers, missiles, airstrikes, arrows, attack falcons etc. and so on. Whether or not these fall into the "100% historically accurate" category we'll never know but it certainly adds to the fun factor as you'll find yourself laughing outrageously. As you collect the pelts from your vanquished foes you're able to trade them for health and supplies throughout the game when you come across randomly placed traders upon your journey west, supplies which come in very handy given the difficulty curve you're faced with in later scenarios.
After an estimated time of twenty minutes I found myself completing this game exactly zero times. That's right, zero, which might demonstrate how much the game is determined to stop you....and yet I keep coming back for more. I will probably continue to do so until I finally play through at least one full round, do you reckon you can get there before me?
What can I say about this game to summarise my feelings? Exhausting? Exhausting is a word that works, except in this case its the type of exhausting you enjoy after an exhilarating event. You'll not forget playing this game anytime soon, and whilst it's not the deepest of games on the Xbox 360 there are a variety of gameplay modes, unlockables and random events to keep you coming back for more. Sparsevector has also announced there will be extra content coming this August when the title launches on PC; an update which will also be free of charge for existing and future Xbox 360 owners.
At 240 Microsoft Points this game would be a bargain, but for the 80 Microsoft points Sparsevector is charging for it, you've really no excuse to avoid it. Simply an outstanding first effort, and it will be exciting to see where they go from here.
It does a fine job of entertaining you for long sittings but it does take a big investment of time to unlock new wagons, gameplay modes and most of all, finish the game.
- Platform: Xbox 360, PC
- Availability: Now (Xbox 360), Now (inc. demo) (PC)
- Price: 80 Microsoft Points (Xbox), £1.99 (PC)
If you're looking to know more about Sparsevector and their debut title, you can check out our Polynauts interview with the titular developer right here.
Credits: Images courtesy of Sparsevector. Video by 'aaronthesplazer', via YouTube