Super Sami Roll

Super Sami Roll is a 3D platformer that’s clearly inspired by the classics of the Nintendo 64 era. In a lot of ways, it’s a true tribute to the days when platformers moved out of the flat space and into the three-dimensional sphere. The game, which features a rolling ball gameplay mechanic not unlike Glover or Katamari Damacy, is a breath of a fresh air in a land that’s somewhat devoid of 3D games like this.

It’s also somewhat of a frustrating ordeal. But then it’s still pretty cool… kind of. Well, some of the time.

Damn it.

If I seem conflicted here, that’s because I am. I really wanted to love Super Sami Roll. And to be quite honest, I actually did love it — very briefly, but I definitely had a strong adulation for this title. But then it hurt me. Folks, here’s the tale of the time I played Super Sami Roll on Nintendo Switch.

Oh, but before we delve into the mental and emotional anguish, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Prologue: Professors Mario, Donkey Kong, and Conker

Banjo-Kazooie - Nintendo 64

There’s no denying that 1996 was a landmark year for video games. Whether you love it or hate it, Super Mario 64 was a revolutionary title that left its mark on Nintendo and the video game industry as a whole. Not only would the game go on to inspire generations of developers, but it innovated a genre, and its effects can be seen in everything from home-grown Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda to third-party powerhouses like Grand Theft Auto.

Though I was a year or so late to the party, I was still able to jump on the Super Mario 64 train. I took that proverbial train all the way to the next station, where I got off and then took another not-at-all-real train: Donkey Kong 64. There were plenty of other imaginary trains I hopped on, from Banjo-Kazooie to Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and in between those there were Ocarina of Time, Yoshi’s Story, and Turok 2 trains.

Conker's Bad Fur Day - Nintendo 64

Now that I’ve run this stupid train figure of speech into the mud, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the N64 — in particular because of the 3D platformers and other action-adventure games I played on there — was integral in my growth as a video-game fan. I loved playing 3D platformers, and I genuinely miss the heyday of the genre — though, admittedly, I love the crazy, innovative, nostalgic 2D stuff we see today, too.

Those 3D platformers, from Mario to Banjo, were like video game education 101 to me, and their mascot protagonists were my instructors. They taught me what video games could be, and a lot of the time what they should be, flaws and awful camera quirks be damned. Beneath their minor issues, and even beyond their larger missteps, these games were pure fun, and they were all about challenging you while still being fair and mechanically sound. Speaking of which, keep those words — mechanically sound — in mind for later.

Super Sami Roll: A Promising Start

Since the days of the Nintendo 64, I’ve played a few 3D platformers, though the genre isn’t a big as it was in the ’90s. That’s okay, though, because every time a new 3D platformer comes along, whether it’s a new Mario game or some neat-looking indie, it gives me an opportunity to take a trip back in time and relive the magic of the genre. For a few hours, Super Sami Roll allowed me to do exactly that, and it did so in an absolutely wonderful way.

To really understand what I mean, it’s important that we differentiate between what 3D platformers were from 1996 to about 2000 and what they are now. Yes, they can still be challenging, but they have more in common with the action-adventure genre. Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 — these games were set in a 3D plain, yes, but they had the tricky jumps and cruel obstacles that caused your palms to sweat nervously, much like their 2D predecessors.

Super Sami Roll Nintendo Switch

I love Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World — truthfully, those are some of my favorite video games — but those titles are a little more about exploration and giving you awe-inspiring set pieces to run through than, say, Super Mario 64, which was primarily about challenging you with very specific obstacle course-like challenges.

That’s where Super Sami Roll was able to hook me from the get-go: This game is a throwback to the obtacle-heavy nature of old school 3D platformers. Those first few levels were tough, and they caused a lot of panic and anxiety deep within me, but they also dangled a carrot in front of me that was very much attainable.

For every fall off a ledge or failed attempt at a challenge, I knew that if I tried again, I’d eventually get it. And I did. Damn it, I did.

Until about the halfway point.

Far From Mechanically Sound

When it comes to platformers — 2D and 3D — underwater levels can sometimes be hit or miss. Even some of the greatest games of all time have suffered from awful underwater stages. Super Sami Roll doesn’t have underwater stages, but do you know what happens to water when you lower the temperature just enough? It freezes, and it turns into ice! Ice that, typically, is very slick and slippery.

Well, ice and snow levels in platformers can be a pain, too. They’re usually not as bad as their underwater counterparts, but they can be taxing nonetheless. The ice levels in Super Sami Roll marked a turning point in my relationship with the game. None of the levels in the ice world, not a single one of them, was any fun.

Super Sami Roll 3D Platformer

The rolling mechanics, which started off as novel and legit fun, just didn’t mesh well with the slippery ice physics. In fact, these stages were beyond frustrating, and it got to the point where I was just playing to get to the next part in the hopes that the dreaded experience would end rather than playing for fun.

Sadly, Super Sami Roll lost all of its appeal and its fun factor at that point. I contemplated quitting the game many times, but I pressed on, and I ultimately persevered and conquered the ice world. It couldn’t possibly get any worse, right?

Playing Hot and Cold

The next world in Super Sami Roll had a volcano theme. No more ice! Yes! Finally! The first couple lava levels were good enough — tough and a little unbalanced, but good enough. Then, though, the rising and lowering lava tide began to get in the way. Now, not only was I responsible for guiding a curled up dinosaur ball through catwalk-like beams and narrow curves, but I also had to deal with insta-death brought on by fiery hell.

Super Sami Roll Boss Stage

At first, I thought the snow stages were problematic solely because of the slippery ice physics. But alas, the lava stages, with their precise platforming requirements and timing-based lava tide, exposed a fatal flaw in Super Sami Roll: The game’s controls are not as tight as they should be.

Sure, the game worked well enough in the beginning, but the more it required pinpoint accuracy and 100-percent precision, the more I realized just how unbalanced the physics — and the titular Sami — truly were. Accurate controls are a must in both 2D and 3D platformers. Without them, these games will fail to give you the tools to succeed. There’s a huge difference between tough-but-fair and unfair-due-to-busted-controls.

Never Looking Back

I got to the third-to-last stage and was faced with easily the worst level in any video game I’ve played all year, and that’s when I knew it was time…

I had to stop playing Super Sami Roll.

And I did. I stopped.

I spent probably two hours just trying to beat that stage, wrestling with the poor controls and frustrating physics, until I couldn’t continue. At that point, I realized that I could maybe beat the game, but I just didn’t want to anymore. The fun had been sucked out, and it pains me to say that Super Sami Roll is, overall, just not a very good game. It started out good, got pretty bad, got a little better, and then morphed into one of the most devastating ordeals I’ve ever played.

Super Sami Roll Switch

I knew I would probably waste countless hours trying to beat Super Sami Roll, so I did what I had to do to maintain some semblance of sanity: I deleted the game off my Nintendo Switch. And you know what? When I did that, I felt like I could breathe again. I was free from this toxic relationship… with a freakin’ video game.*

*Remember: Whether it’s because of a disconnect to a video game that you’re just not feeling, or due to a game’s lacking design, it’s okay to add something you’re not into to a DNF (did not finish) pile. You should play the games you enjoy and genuinely want to play rather than wasting your time on something you’re not digging.

Epilogue: Moving On

I don’t know that I’ll ever return to Super Sami Roll. Perhaps I’d revisit the game if the developers release a patch that substantially balances it much like the Blue Fire team did earlier this year. I mean, that game went from being a frustrating experience to one of my favorite games of the past couple years.

Alternatively, if I really want my 3D platformer fix, there are plenty of other options out there. Heck, I’m playing Super Mario Odyssey for the first time right now and really enjoying it. And honestly, if I want a rolling ball action game, I can always revisit Rock of Ages 3 as that was hugely entertaining.

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