The age of the traditional mascot driven 3D platformer has seen a mini resurgence in recent years and I am here for it. Kicked off with the likes of Yooka-Laylee a few years ago, a steady trickle of mascots have been pouring out. Super Sami Roll is the latest to join the pantheon. The quick tagline from me is its Super Monkey Ball crossed with Sonic and Marble Madness. With tongues.
Sami is a lizard who can curl into a ball and roll across various levels towards his owl friend. Traversing across a retro NES map to each location, you are dropped into a variety of different themes and styles and every 15 levels or so have an old school boss to conquer. The levels are designed to take into account Sami’s main gameplay mechanics. Firstly, he can roll like a ball and handles like one. He can’t really jump up much and so you’ll be rolling up and down ramps and gaining momentum to use a bounce jump – a two buttoned move that gives you both height and distance to cross gaps. This is where all the Super Monkey Ball elements come in – the levels are designed similarly but with enemies to push you off the platforms.
The second mechanic is Sami’s tongue. With his super licky projectile he can grab swings and fling himself around. Like a parallel bar gymnast he can only swing around it and then jump off and the directional change can only happen after you let get. This means getting round corners can be a little tricky at first but it soon becomes second nature. More curious is that you can lick the edges of platforms and get a little wall run bump upwards. This can be handy to save yourself from falling,
All of these things work well except I found the bounce jump to be a little inconsistent. Later in the game it asks you to use it a lot in tight spaces which means you’ll be bouncing off into the abyss because Sami doesn’t have the tightest turning circle in gaming. Thankfully, you can turn on checkpoints mid level and I recommend it. Super Sami Roll looks cute but you need some serious skill to get all the way through the many levels. At least enemies don’t kill you, they stun you instead. This sounds strange until you realise every level is timed. Collecting coins adds more time to the clock and so you’ll be lining up your jumps and swings to collect all the coins you can as time limits are tight.
One of the best things about Super Sami Roll are the unlockables – namely marble mode! Hidden away in the shop you can buy an entirely separate 1-4 player marble madness racing game. It plays just like Marble It Up – 4 marbles (AI included) racing around random tracks made up of obstacles to clear. It often feels like you are playing in a pinball machine crossed with Marble Madness as bells, bounce pads and paddles attack you from all angles. This mini game alone is superb and worth a few quid on its own. The other superb thing about the game is its soundtrack. It is full on jaunty early PS2/ late Gamecube era high quality MIDI greatness. There are so many themes to match the variety of environments and they memorable and hummable. I’d happily listen to it outside the game too. The other thing that I appreciated was that you can have a semi automatic camera option or a full controllable camera. I found myself switching between the two depending on the puzzles and platforming I needed to traverse. Sometimes it was easier to move it to a top down perspective to ensure I’d lined myself up correctly on narrow platforms and the manual camera lets you do that.
Super Sami Roll has easily been one of the most pleasant surprises in gaming that I’ve played in 2021. Inventive, colourful, bright, challenging and full of charm. It has a certain something that so many clone mascot platformers are lacking and it is happy to hand your arse to you when things go wrong. If it can smooth out the bounce jump, then this will be one of my favourite platformers of 2021. Need some fun and happiness in your gaming world? Super Sami Roll is just for you.
Review copy provided by developer.
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