Indies are known for their retro art, either out of love or actual necessity, and Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (80 MSP) looks as if it’s been biten by a radioactive and blockily-rendered Atari spider, a style that shaves detail but gains so much more in personal identity, if such things at odds are possible. It recalls The Oregon Trail from my / your youth (I still remember signing up on the ridiculously-long waiting list at my school), though this trail is paved with the never-ending blood of rabid squirrels and obscene amounts of historically-inaccurate weaponry.
A shooter for the most part, trading off between side-scroller and twin-stick, SAWA follows in the wagon wheel-marks of a trio of settlers heading west, their pilgrimage documented through WarioWare-like mini-games (with no less absurdity or variety) that switch up their play style in roughly twenty second increments.
There are shops (prices paid in animal pelts) and forked paths that give off a hint of depth and collection, but mostly you’ll be picking up the scattered weapon upgrades and gunning down everything that twitches, from bears and giant bats to zombies and your own inner demons. The added ability to rename the adventurers is a small but substantial personalization choice (‘Hurley’ never could make it past those damn snakes) on an otherwise random journey.
Though the game’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; the random event. A huge part of the fun in SAWA comes from the whims of any given adventure. One screen you’re sharing a romantic interlude, the next you’re hunting with a buffalo-killing (& retrieving) falcon. Sounds pretty awesome, I know, and it is. You’re riding high at full health for all party members, blasting away with your newfangled laser cannon… until you roll into a snowstorm with wolves or swim in a river full of piranha.
This!… Is!… Manifest Destiny!
What makes these scenes different and all the more distressing are the enemies (like wolves and piranha) that don’t simply fly / run / swim past your wagon, but pursue it with a vendetta, leaving you little room to maneuver and avoid still-oncoming threats. Your enthusiasm (and patience) is quickly sapped whenever the game decides it wants you dead. Which is often. You’ll find you don’t have any say in the matter. Like Birth Order, success is largely left to chance.
Despite that misstep, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is zany, bite-sized fun. It’s unapologetically silly, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t laughing while charbroiling the wildlife or reading the death-knell text, even beyond the overdone difficulty. The Survival and Shuffle modes, the bevy of unlockable wagons (gained by playing through special scenes or modes, more than just superficial upgrades), and your continually-evolving forays to the West give you plenty enough reason to replay. Even if you never live to tell about it, the trip is more than worth the price of admission.
EDIT 8/28: An update for SAWA has been released, putting it on par with the PC version’s increased content, namely a new unlockable wagon (‘The Glitch’), a new battle for Survival Mode (‘Fighting Fish’), and a handful of additional scenes, enemies, and random encounters (amounts to about 10% more content). Given it’s free if you’ve bought the game, you really can’t go wrong here.