Developer: Wonder Potion
Release Date: November 9, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: 2D Action
Indie games often struggle to find their audience, whether due to balance issues or unsatisfying gameplay loops, which can hinder their marketability and player engagement. Sanabi, developed by Wonder Potion, doesn’t face these problems. Instead of catering exclusively to one type of gamer, the game expands its narrative to immerse players in its dystopian world.
Narrative Depth and Character Development
At first glance, Sanabi might appear to be a speedrunner’s dream platformer, but it places a significant emphasis on its story. Players take on the role of a veteran General who simply wishes to live a peaceful life with his daughter. Unfortunately, his past resurfaces, pulling him back into action. What makes this character unique is that he is already a formidable soldier, making many of the enemies he encounters seem no match for him, as evident in the opening sequence. In fact, I would argue that the environments are more unforgiving than the enemies, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.
The primary antagonist is the eponymous Sanabi, who essentially controls the mega-city and is the source of all your troubles. While it remains unclear who or what Sanabi is, the story tends to focus more on the past and the events leading up to this mission. The lead character grapples with anger and grief, though he doesn’t explicitly talk about it; his reactions and snappy replies expertly convey the depth of his loss. As the story unfolds, a girl named Mari joins the cause, making the General’s life more complicated but contributing her hacking skills to justify her inclusion. The story even takes the time to explain why she wants to be part of this mission.
Visual Brilliance and Design Complexity
Notably, the story scenes in Sanabi are lengthier than what you’d expect from a typical 2D-action platformer. Usually, such games prioritize gameplay to maintain the player’s attention and avoid text-heavy interruptions, but Sanabi takes a different approach. It focuses on character development, which is commendable but affects the pacing. Nevertheless, players have the option to skip these scenes, though I wouldn’t recommend it, as they add depth to the narrative.
As mentioned earlier, you play as a skilled character with a chain-hook prosthetic arm as your main tool. This arm can attach to various surfaces, allowing you to swing across stages and dive head-first into enemies to disassemble them. Each stage introduces new ways to utilize the tool and unlocks upgrades. I appreciated the gradual approach to mastering these mechanics rather than overwhelming players with all abilities from the start.
Sanabi defies the conventions of the 2D-action platformer genre by prioritizing an engrossing narrative alongside its acrobatic gameplay
However, the late-game tutorials felt a bit off-putting. They separated platforming and combat tutorials, which seemed redundant when I encountered them. This was on top of the already lengthy dialogue scenes that kept players away from gameplay for around 10 to 15 minutes. Despite this, new abilities are enhanced by level gimmicks, gradually introducing more skill-oriented platforming.
Playing on the Normal difficulty setting, I found the challenge manageable. The developers provide all the tools necessary to navigate the game smoothly. While there is a health bar to monitor, it replenishes over time, and there’s little pressure when facing enemies thanks to a decent checkpoint system. Most of the deaths occur from falling into pits, triggering laser alarms, or landing on spikes.
In later missions, your platforming skills are put to the test, resulting in a sense of speed and freedom rarely found in other games. The controls are comfortable, and the game doesn’t hold you back, allowing you to latch onto the environment, dodge bullets, and grab enemies. The gameplay remains enjoyable no matter how long you play.
Sanabi is not just a game; it’s a finely-tuned experience that rewards patience and offers a unique blend of story-driven content and skill-oriented platforming, making it an excellent addition to the world of indie gaming.
Sanabi is a speedrunner-friendly game, with speedrunning options unlocking after clearing the game. The developers have thoughtfully designed jumps to align with potential shortcuts, and there are forgiving systems in place to keep you on track. It will be interesting to see what the speedrunning community does with the game.
The time spent in early access has clearly helped refine the game’s systems. Aiming and shooting the chain hook feel natural, and the ability to briefly slow down time for strategic planning or target switching adds to the fun. These refinements in movement create a captivating environment for navigation and exploration.
The pixel graphics are stunning, with simple and minimalist character designs set against detailed, dystopian backdrops. This design choice ensures that the characters stand out amid the chaos, keeping your character in sight. Later stages introduce intriguing level design features like switches and drones, which add complexity but surprisingly enhance the gameplay experience.
Sanabi defies the conventions of the 2D-action platformer genre by prioritizing an engrossing narrative alongside its acrobatic gameplay. While the story scenes may slow the pace, they contribute to character development and add depth to the gameplay. Sanabi is a finely-tuned experience that puts an emphasis on speed and offers a unique blend of story-driven content and skill-oriented platforming, making it an excellent addition to the world of indie gaming.
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