Supernauts (Free) is a curious mix of a game: it’s a blend of the well-worn town-building simulation genre and the kind of world-building sandbox crafting gameplay popularized by Minecraft ($6.99) et al. The thing is, the way that Supernauts tries to blend together these two genres it has to take away a lot of what makes them both tick individually.
See, the core game loop of Supernauts is caught in a catch-22. Building materials aren’t collected by exploring the world, but instead by generating them from machines, and using lower-grade materials to create higher-grade ones, with the requisite wait timers that can be skipped with the hard currency. There’s the ability to earn coins, the soft currency, by rescuing villagers, as you are a superhero that occasionally goes on missions to rescue people who now live in your city in outer space. As well, coins can be earned by trading in building materials to people in the game who will pay for them.
So sure, it’s possible to get the materials to build cool structures, but the worlds are pretty small unless the progression is played through to expand the worlds, of which four different ones become available. So, the game becomes about obtaining coins, and the easiest way to do so is to exchange valuable building materials, which will often make it had to build anything of substance. So, you have to kind of just stop progressing in order to build anything really cool. It’s not a very good flow at all. And the worlds, while eventually more expansive, are hardly infinite, so there’s definite limits over time to just what can be built.
As a town-builder, it’s an okay experience. There’s some novelty to being able to actually explore the world you’re building in 3D, and to actually build the buildings that your people can inhabit, and to have an impact on it. It just feels too small, and I personally like town-builders that give me a sense of scope and scale, like I’m working toward building something huge. Supernauts fails in that regard.
And as a world-building and crafting game, it just feels hampered by both the town-building portion and the free-to-play structure that it’s serving. There’s just too much in the way of being creative.
That’s not to say that a crafting and world-building game that’s free-to-play can’t be done well, because it can – The Blockheads (Free) is a great game, after all. But the way that it’s implemented here, people are hampered from enjoying the game. And the game loop of generating material and then exchanging most of it gets dull pretty quickly.
I suppose Supernauts is an interesting experiment. It’s far from the worst free-to-play offender, with premium currency that can be obtained through watching video ads as well as through buying it. The social aspects, of visiting others’ worlds and even being able to interact with them in small ways is fun to play with. And there’s times where I’m building something out of the blocks I do have, when my supernaut is sitting off the edge of a high tower, that I think that “hey, this ain’t so bad." But most of the time, I find myself frustrated by the way that creativity is so hampered. There are ways around it, often just by plowing through the game until a big enough canvas to create things is finally earned.
So while I’m not a fan of this particular mixture, perhaps there’s a way to make a town-building game that incorporates creative sandbox elements. But Supernauts just doesn’t have the right formula.