Sometimes, a game comes along that simply catches your eye and doesn’t let go. Super UFO Fighter is certainly that, with a bright feel, a sharp pixel-art aesthetic and an approach to game structure that learns from titans of the genre. Past the coat of paint, though? There really isn’t much to find.
In Super UFO Fighter, you control a spaceship in a crane game. Since these are widely known as “UFO Catchers” in Japan, it’s a pun we’ve seen a lot. Fundamentally, though, this takes the tractor beam and physics-heavy object system of HAL Laboratory’s Part Time UFO and puts it into a head-to-head battle arena format. Your job is to root through the gachapon capsules, breaking them open until you find the trophy item and getting that special prize to your chute. In the meantime, you can collect common items to raise your opponent’s wall and make it harder for them to reach the chute. You can also strike your foe with an attack from above.
And… that’s it! We’ve described the whole game. We didn’t find anything in the options that fundamentally changed our strategy. There are more “arena” options, but we found them largely indistinguishable from one another. The three characters — Acute, Adamsia and Lulu — are endearing! But their largely-cosmetic combat differences don’t change any gameplay decisions. It’s a real shame, because this game has the sort of trappings that could really dress up a compelling simple core. Much like Money Puzzle Exchanger, Super UFO Fighter has a bright aesthetic. Its characters are one-note, but instantly endearing. The menus and options feel like they were forged by a student of the Super Smash Bros. franchise, using placement and color to guide and provide hierarchy instead of providing a simple list.
We guess it’s good that what’s here tends to work? We were able to test the online functionality, and it worked well. This is the point in the review that we’d typically provide some sort of disclaimer that launch-window servers could be crowded and make conditions worse, but… honestly, we don’t expect that to be a problem. There’s also a single-player mode, held together with character conversations. Unfortunately, to make a mode like this work, the campaign has to have some interesting challenges or progression, something that games like Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 manage with a similar structural approach.
Super UFO Fighter could have been a great, fun sandbox in the vein of Stick Fight, Duck Game, or BombSquad. Using a tractor beam and weird objects to accomplish varied tasks? Yeah, great! But as it is, the game lacks the creativity to try anything other than its one trophy grab idea. (Actually, there’s a hot potato mode too, but it’s very easy to break and not worth discussing.) Committing to one game type can work too, right? But that one mode has to be full of nuance and competitive depth. And this game simply doesn’t have that either.
It sure does look cool, though.
Super UFO Fighter was developed by VV-LABO and published by Phoenixx. It releases July 14, 2022 on Nintendo Switch and PC.