Fair warning, readers: this review is going to be an odd one to put in words. It’s like a small, excitable child retelling a story, or someone coming round from anaesthesia trying to explain how that feels. I mean, I’ll try but boy, this game made me work for it.
That’s not an exaggeration, either. Super Cane Magic ZERO is, at its core, an attempt at a fun, bright little slapstick of a game. It’s very bright and colourful and full of pop culture-esque irreverent comedy. It’s also so disjointed and slapdash it’s hard to tell what it wants to be.
The premise of the game alone is just pure Grade A silliness from the off. The cake wizard dies, you see, and his dog AAAH! becomes magical. The dog’s name is AAAH!, by the way. Because of this, every time he barks, something magical happens in the world. The lazer volcano has frozen over, for example. Due to this just highly profound level of insanity, it is up to YOU (and up to three more friends) to stop this catastrophe-causing canine from making more inadvertent hijinks.
See, this is what I have to put up with. Even writing that summary gave me a headache. The wackiness is there right from the get go. Quite literally, in a delightfully hilarious manner, the title screen eschews the usual pressing of a start button in favour of a more jaunty “press something” prompt instead. Laugh? I nearly started.
Okay, I am being unduly fair and cynical but then… it’s what I do. It’s just that there’s something wholly unfunny about a game that’s trying too hard to be funny.
It carries the self-referencial nature of South Park and its latest two games, but it doesn’t have that satirical spark behind it. Instead we have a weird mashup of dungeon crawler and top-down rpg-lite brawler that’s just so annoying for the sake of being “wacky”.
Even the standard trope of character introduction is turned up to eleven on the zany-o-meter before you even do anything. Awakening in a crater of purple goo, your chosen avatar (who looks like a badly drawn Cyanide and Happiness figure) has to pick a name after being hailed by the police. One of them, before I miss out the crucial point here, is a talking eyeball in uniform. His name is Charleye…
Done away with is the standard name format of picking consonants and vowels to form a name, instead being replaced with a few bites of other names and the five basic vowels to lengthen them. For example, my player character shall go forth in the world as the mighty warrior Stanbertlee, because any more would just be overkill.
So, after awakening in the remnants of a purple goo crater and subsequently arrested, Stanbertlee and the remaining prisoners are released from jail. How, you may be wondering? Some daring escape, or timely rescue? Nope. The internet is down so the president has a tantrum and lets everyone go.
Acting as a tutorial level, the prison lays down a lot of the core gameplay mechanics. Weapons and shields are equipped to the top shoulder buttons, with attacking playing out like Sekiro/Soulsborne games. Equipment is stat-based, as are weapons, and can be swapped out in a pretty easy menu system.
Much like the earlier mentioned Stick of Truth, exploration is of the similar nature. With an almost top-down view, like the older Zelda’s, combat also happens in real time. Life bars and incremental damage numbers, as well as elemental/status effects, make up for the bulk of gameplay. Imagine Castle Crashers or Streets of Rage, with a mild RPG aesthetic, and you have the measure of the game. Utilising a twin-stick mechanic, for both aiming for throws and attacking, it works for the former but not so much on the latter. As its combat is similar to Turtles in Time, your standard attack is on the horizontal axis. For the most part, it’s pretty functional. It makes aiming melee attacks redundant if the enemy is mildly above or below you, making it easier to just move alongside the intended target instead. Which would be hunky dory, if it weren’t for the fact that enemies can slap you on whatever axis they choose. It’s not a game breaker, it’s just a mild inconvenience. However, throwing things at enemies makes up for that shortcoming if you’re the defensive type who wants to hoof things and leg it.
Puzzles play out a lot like the PSone classic, Alundra (with in itself was hailed as the PlayStation’s answer to Zelda), in which pressure plates and destructible barriers/pylons were a big feature. Objects can be picked up and thrown, dropped or eaten (we’ll come back to that). It starts off pretty easily, with nondescript pressure plates needing heavy objects on them. As you progress, it becomes more intricate, matching certain colours/shapes to corresponding blocks. Of course, with the power of co-op multiplayer, it makes these a lot easier to work out if there’s more of you. A problem shared and all that.
Health items don’t do the Half-Life thing of working as you walk over them. Instead you have to pick up said foodstuff, and hold X to scoff down whatever it is. The genius/drawback of having such a wacky game setting is that almost everything you pick up can be eaten. Eating a new meat for the first time will increase your maximum health, as well as restore it. Other items such as fruits, cakes, fruitcakes and allsorts in between can cause stat buffs as well as restoring health.
However, so can rocks, sharp things and other lumpy objects can also be ingested. As you might expect, they will damage you from the inside out. You might be wondering why you’d eat a rock. Because you can, I guess?
Given that you can choose from your template characters at the start, each with different strenthes and weaknesses, it means you can either tactically let each other gain more health… or keep it for yourself. You can really tell the game is geared up for multiplayer, though. I often found myself having to run from groups of enemies rather than fight, as being crowded by any more than two gets a bit overwhelming.
It’s really got that Castle Crashers emphasis going for it, with the lite RPG mechanics as well. Once you’ve cleared the land of WOTF’s prison complex, and ventured to the town of Poptarts and beyond, you start to unlock more skills as you go along. Defeating bosses unlocks “beliefs”, which in turn open up more skills. As well as standard stat boosting, you can also gain abilities like chucking things further, being able to walk on water and lava for short periods and so on. It’s an element that’s been used in the far superior Crossing Souls and the like: almost Metroidvania-esque abilities for reaching hitherto unknown areas.
Whilst it sounds like all of those are nitpicks, it’s not actually a terrible game. It’s just not an excellent one, either.
It’s not without charm. It’s just that it’s ramped up the insane, “oh my gosh look at me I’m so random” behaviour to eleven, which wears thin after a while. Not to mention the insanely grating music. Whilst we all love a bit of retro chiptune, having it louder than most of what’s going on really starts to grate after a while. Not that I’m a massive audiophile or anything, I grew up with 8/16/32bit consoles and their audio limitations. It’s just having the same droning loops can really make me want to murder the next person unfortunate enough to knock on my door.
SCMZ is clearly geared up for the team-played experience, but it does have couch co-op, which is always handy. Like Borderlands, it does scale the enemy levels and loot for more players, so the advantage is in with playing with friends. Not that single player is terrible, but given my example of overwhelming combat, it alleviates that drama if you’ve got help.
So, if you’ve skipped this far down for a recommendation or not, I’d say yes. But it’s a tentative yes. At its heart, it is great fun. Get some friends on board, and you can double (or triple, or quadruple) the good times.
If you like your zany shenanigans, then this will be right up your street. Even the jaded cynic that is me did laugh at it a couple times. It’s just that sometimes it tries too hard, like someone explaining the joke after they’ve told it to you.
If you’re after something a bit lighter on the action RPG pallet, you can’t really go amiss with Super Cane Magic ZERO. If Crossing Souls was the Goonies of this genre, then SCMZ is the Monty Python: some jokes hit, some miss, some are too daft and some fall completely flat. But you can tell that everyone involved has had a good time making this, and that is conveyed in the end product.
Viva la Stanbertlee, wherever his adventure takes him.
Super Cane Magic ZERO is out now on Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC (Windows/Steam)
Developer: Studio Evil
Publisher: Studio Evil
In order to complete this review, we received a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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