The first fast-paced precision platformer that hooked me was N+ on the Xbox Live Arcade. My roommates and I had a great time passing the controller back and forth to try to get through its tiny, deadly levels. Since then I’ve played a few other games in this genre, including Super Meat Boy and Celeste. Most of these games end up being way too twitchy for me, requiring the player to pull off insanely fast and intricate jumps to get through platforming obstacles.
Super Magbot fits right into that lineage but also pulls off a trick I’ve never come across before. It’s a platforming game without a jump button. Instead, it asks you to navigate through small but complicated levels by pushing and pulling yourself between magnetic platforms. It’s a neat trick that’s got just magnetic enough to keep pulling through.
Okay, I’ll try to lay off the magnet puns. I don’t want them to make the experience negative for you.
Save the Universe (Maybe)
This is absolutely one of those games where the story just does not matter to me. There’s some sort of meteor flying through the galaxy and destroying worlds. You play a robot who has to go around collecting chunks of something or other in order to save the universe or something.
Each of the four planets you visit is introduced with a little cutscene where you meet a denizen of the planet. They are always dealing with some sort of issue that isn’t related to the big ole meteor. You venture through a boatload of disconnected levels until some sort of boss level that fixes the issue you saw at the opening. Your robot offers to take them with him in his spaceship, but they always choose to stay behind.
I was actually kind of interested in that little planetary vignette the first time, but then the little critters I helped stayed behind and the planet got destroyed. After that, it was hard to really care what was happening.
All Magents All the Time
Thankfully, the gameplay in Super Magbot is interesting enough to make up for a lackluster story. Most levels are single-screen affairs, where you can see and plan for every obstacle you’ll face from the beginning. Looking at what pits, traps, and other deadly dangers I need to push and pull myself past become essential for me. Without planning out what I was going to do, I died. Constantly.
The basic controls have you moving with the left stick and aiming your magnet with the right stick. From there, you use the right shoulder button to shoot out a positive, red charge and the left ones to shoot the opposite. Matching a charge to an obstacle pushes you away from it, while an opposite charge will pull you toward the obstacle. This is easy to comprehend but never ended up feeling smooth for me. My brain always knew which colors I needed to use to launch myself in the air off of one platform and then pull myself forward to another, but my dumb fingers were constantly confused.
Things only get more complex as you work through the game. Different obstacles you can interact with end up interacting with you in different ways. There are platforms that spring against you when you activate them. Floating bubbles let you hang inside of them for a few seconds before using your magnets to launch back out. All these elements are introduced at a pretty reasonable pace, but I still had trouble with hitting the wrong buttons way too often.
Thankfully, this game has a few accessibility options that can make things a bit easier. There’s nothing on the level of Celeste here, but the ability to hang in the air while you figure out which color charge to use was a lifeline when I was about to give up on the game.
I really love that Super Magbot pushed for trying something different in the precision platformer space. Jumping has been such a basic mechanic of games throughout my life that playing one without that ability really feels interesting and unique. On top of that, the general presentation all feels really well polished, with great tunes and lovely pixel art.
Ultimately, my only hangup with Super Magbot is that its new-to-me mechanic never ended up feeling natural in the time I spent with it. I’m really glad it had those accessibility options because I think I would have bounced off of it really early without them.