I saw the slightest of previews of Sanabi in a "games available" feed, and set my eyes to it even as I was reviewing another game. I was late on the release, but asked for it when I saw that Wonder Potion and Neowiz Games had created something that gave me the nostalgic feel of a Bionic Commando and Mega Man X, with a slight dash of Celeste. I saw a character swinging on ledges, taking down enemies while avoiding bullets and attacks, and big time bosses. I thought Sanabi was going to be a trip to a place where games were just straight forward. Run, Jump, stop the bad guys, and defeat the evil whatever.
But Sanabi is so much more than that. Sanabi grabbed me by the shirt. Sanabi tugged at my fatherly heart strings. Sanabi broke me. I am here to tell you that Sanabi, for the first time in my video game history, made me cry actual tears. Because of the emotional impact of this game, I am going to try to keep this review spoiler free. Because I want you to play it.
Now before we get into all that, let's get you into the game. Sanabi starts you out as a character who you later find out is a retired war veteran. He has seen his share of terror, stopped it in its tracks, and has vowed to do no more. So much so, that he has completely settled down and has focused on being the greatest father ever to his little girl. This little girl thinks the world of him, and knows enough about his background, so she sends him on little missions.
As I listen to the cutesy music, and read every bit of text interaction between the two, I am taken through a tutorial, that tells me how to jump and use the prosthetic arm, but in the most adorable way possible. This is not the same game I saw in the previews. And I am immediately hooked and intrigued. What could possibly happen that makes this man want to leave his daughter and destroy everything in sight? Oh right. THAT! THAT TOTALLY HAPPENED! Why the hell would they do THAT at the beginning?
So when THAT happens, we are now out of retirement. The only clue we have is someone called "Sanabi". I say "we", because now, I too want everything destroyed. The things you learned in the tutorial are doubled up. The game wants you to work on your speed. The game wants you to work on your platforming. And it also wants you to see the capabilities of the the arm. Then the game tells you that in order to find Sanabi, you must go to Mago City, and find a hacker/civilian named Mari. She is going to help you find Sanabi, and that's all you want. So you venture out. To avenge. To kill Sanabi! But again, not before a few tutorials. The game wants you to win, but you're going to work for it.
With the left stick, you get to aim where you want to go, as well as moving the character. With a click of the right trigger, that arm shoots out, connects you to a platform and allows you to swing in the direction you want to go. You can switch these controls to anything you want, so if a better controller scheme exists, the world is your oyster. In addition to that, you can swing up and over, down and under, and to platforms. If a wall can be stuck to, the arm will stick to it. There are walls that cannot be, and you'll know that because the arm automatically retracts. You can also climb up most horizontal walls. You can push the left trigger and double your momentum to swing further and faster. You'll use this thing to push platforms, by the way of cables, train cars, and even hook on to other hooks to transfer you through sections. The arm is your only weapon too. Once you point it at an enemy, you can zip right to them, and take them out with a melee attack. Then you bounce off them as they explode into mangled parts, and keep-a-swinging.
Some enemies cannot be taken out by these means, so sometimes you'll have to be strategic, whether that means going behind them and taking them out, dodging them first and then attacking, or knocking them into a stage hazard. I cannot express how good the controls feel. Once you get the hang of it, and get the later enhancements, you'll feel it. The controls in this game are very very tight. So tight in fact, that most of the mistakes I made were because I didn't think the game's controls were going to be so good. I missed a lot of jumps or fell into the abyss because I was pushing too many buttons. I was doing too much, and getting smacked around.
Luckily, the game gives you four hit points, and depending on your difficulty level, they automatically recharge. There's also a cool mechanic that gives you invincibility after you get hit. Unfortunately, you do have to trigger this. Conveniently, it's the same button that gives a boost to your swing. There are health pickups too, and give you full health every single time. You also have unlimited lives, so even if you die, you'll start from the last check point. Checkpoints are littered throughout each level. I must warn you that these checkpoints have to be touched and triggered. There were a couple of times that I went through a large stretch of doing some great platforming, only to get taken out by a missed jump. Starting over from the last check point you touched hurts, but it's your fault. Be better.
More on the stage hazards. There are red sections spread out within the areas that you cannot touch. If you do, a loud and out-of-nowhere laser zaps you. It's like a bug zapper, and has a lot of knock back and slow down. You can easily find yourself trapped in these areas if you're not careful. If you fall into one, call it quits. At one point in the game, there's a boss chasing you through the playing field. And every time it comes through the floor, wall, or ceiling, it leaves behind an untouchable field that can kill you. There's also an EXTREMELY stressful section where this robot - who is tasked with protecting the factory you're trying to shut down - is chasing you in the background with a laser. This laser obliterates you, no matter how many hit points you have, if you don't find shelter. You can throw it off by hiding behind something, but only for a short time. There are ways to navigate through the level and through the red sections, and those are pointed out in the game.
Mago City is a vertical city, so if you get Celeste vibes from this, it's totally fine. There are points in stages where you just go through, take out enemies, and keep moving. Some points don't let you progress unless you take out everyone on screen first. These levels are platforming clinics. You'll walk away with a sigh of relief and a feeling of achievement, as if you couldn't believe you made that jump, dodged that bullet, took out that turret, and made it through the door that locks automatically if you're not fast enough. The traversal mechanics in this game are very, very good, and I was constantly shocked that this pixel art game felt so damn good. There are also no secrets. No secret power ups. No shortcuts. No secret rooms. Keep going. It's a straight forward goal.
The boss fights are no joke either. Your only weapon, again, is the arm, and there are no hints or tutorials. You have to figure out on your own what the weaknesses are. There are some bosses that give you the flashing beacon of what to latch on too, but some bosses are just puzzles, or survival. One boss actually uses your arm against you, while another boss can only be hurt by the bombs that get released after it destroys the platforms your on. In mid air. While dodging bullets, and the boss itself. The crazy thing about these bosses, is that if you lose, you don't start from a checkpoint, you start over. Even if you think it's the last hit, nope, start over. Luckily, you can skip phase changes, but still. The game wants you to win, but you're going to work for it.
The dystopian vibes aren't overbearing. The synth-futuristic music is enough to get the adrenaline pumping. Each time you get hit, it's loud and obvious, and makes you reset. All the dialogue is in text, but it still coveys the seriousness, the humor, and the likability of each character. Mari is absolutely hilarious at times, and the dynamic between her and your character is just no nonsense at times. I read every word. I paid attention to every single piece of dialogue. As the characters were figuring out things about the city, about the organization, and about Sanabi itself, I too, was right there with them. Coming to my own conclusions. Presenting my own hypothesis like this was my college final. And then it happened. The plot of the entire story revealed itself. And I BROKE DOWN!
There is a false ending, but that's as much as I can say. And the games achievement system lets you know that it's false. While there isn't a file system, you can exit the game at anytime, and re-enter it at the last checkpoint. So once you hit that false ending, you can go right back to that point from the title screen. By the end of this game's true ending, I was a blubbering mess. Not even embarrassed that this game completely took me one way, then ripped the doors off my conclusion. I thought I knew, but the truth came out. And the way this $15 game made me completely break is a feat. The story was AMAZING to me. The game was that good to me. There's a speed run mode that unlocks after you beat the game, but it will remain untouched until I collect myself. What a game. What an amazing game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming!View Profile