Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) launched on Switch not long ago. Being the bullet-hell addict I am, I absolutely had to give it a try. Turns out, the game’s a hell of a lot of bang for your buck. To give you a rough idea of what it’s like, SMAA is basically the lovechild of Enter the Gungeon and Super Meat Boy, and playing it feels like being in a space-age Thunderdome, minus the awkward ableism and Tina Turner.
I enjoyed my time with the game so much I decided to reach out to its developer, Cybernate. Here’s what Chris Suffern, the one-man band behind the game, had to say about his 2D “dance with death.”
“SMAA is a fast, brutal, arcade platformer. You play a robot who has to fight off an alien attack across 12 randomized levels,” he explains. “It’s got a huge amount of unlockable weapons and abilities.” As far as bullet-hells go, SMAA has a surprisingly fresh and intense rhythm to it. You control a tiny sprite, who wields disproportionately large firearms to fend off an onslaught of projectile-blasting, trigger-happy foes that bounce around in what can only be described as a series of geometrically diverse cage-matches.
SMAA draws its inspiration from a number of places, most notably, sci-fi. “Science fiction is such a rich playground for creativity,” says Chris. “It gives you license to go nuts with weapons and abilities without a need to ground anything in reality. That’s a license I like to hold.”
But it’s not just sci-fi in video games that he draws his inspiration from, though those do play a major part. “Not a direct influence, but I will take the opportunity to mention my love for Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Chris says. “They were an integral part of my childhood, and I attribute to them my love of sci-fi–Rick and Morty more recently, for strengthening it.”
As for direct influences, I drew most inspiration from other video games,” he elaborates. “Notably Super Crate Box, Unreal Tournament, Hotline Miami, and Team Fortress Classic.”
Though such games played a major part in the ideas, Chris says that “the art was mostly out of my hands. Even though I’m the sole developer of SMAA, I contracted out the art to the pixel wizard Fabian Jastremski. I gave some art direction to him, but honestly, the game’s killer look and art come down to his creativity. He would take my suggestions and run with them.”
That doesn’t mean that games like Team Fortress Classic do show their influence through the coding, however. Chris made sure to program aspects of their DNA into SMAA, “[such as] Super Crate Box for its single-screen arcade platforming action and for forcing the player to constantly change to a random weapon.”
“Unreal Tournament was a huge inspiration for its diverse creative weapons,” he continues. “Having a large range of diverse creative weapons was really important to me and a big focus of my design process.”
“Hotline Miami was an inspiration to make sure I had a killer soundtrack,” adds Chris. “Additionally, I loved the persistent gore in Hotline and was determined to have that in my game.”
“Team Fortress Classic was another inspiration. I loved having grenades as a secondary weapon in combat. I also loved the multiuse weapons that gave you movement abilities like conc [concussion grenade] and rocket jumping. Also, I was really disappointed that Team Fortress 2 removed grenades, so my game had to have them.”
SMAA, in most ways, is designed for those who like a challenge and grinding for unlockables, and it takes some breaking into. “Firstly, give the game a little bit of time. I locked away most of the content to ease the player into the game,” explains Chris. “Without this, it would be like drinking from a fire hose of craziness. The game evolves over time, so initial impressions can be misleading. The real game starts when all content is unlocked.”
“Secondly, all weapons and abilities in the game are designed to be roughly equal to its peers. Something that might seem initially overpowered will come with some serious downsides,” says Chris. “Conversely, something that seems underpowered, or bad, will have hidden upsides or take more skill and thought to use effectively. Embrace the randomness and aim to learn the ins and outs of each weapon and ability.”
“Thirdly, use everything at your disposal. If you are not using your primary weapon, sidearm, defense move, grenades, special ability and perk, you are going to die,” he continues. “The game’s difficulty is tuned around you using your full arsenal and abilities. When you die, think about what you had equipped that you could have used to avoid damage. Did you forget you had the hover jump, force bubble, ceiling mine, and telepod equipped? Probably? The game is difficult, but it is designed to be fair, and deaths will be avoidable.”
Other than the rewarding challenge the game presents, its wide arsenal of weaponry is by far its most compelling proponent (say hello to my little friend, right?). Even Chris has his favorite pea-shooter: “[Mine’s] probably the Chakram sidearm. It’s just satisfying to use. When combined with abilities like the pulse belt and force bubble, you can have a lot of fun with it.” That’s not the only thing you can look forward to having fun with from Cybernate, though.
“SMAA was a multi-year project for one person. Right now, I’m keen to make some smaller games, and the only place small games are acceptable is mobile,” Chris admits. “So, right now, I’m playing around with making some games for the mobile market.”
“I just recently released my first on iOS called Slapstick Fighter. Check it out, but above all else keep gaming and be kind to and support the developers of games you love.” Be sure to give Slapstick Fighter a try on mobile and follow Cybernate. Here’s to hoping Chris kicks off another project for consoles soon. SMAA is beyond killer on Switch, to say the least, so get it. Check out the trailer. I personally can’t wait to see other indies he whips up.