In 2019, a new genre emerged: auto-battlers, or, auto-chess. Popularized by a Dota 2 mod, the auto-battler presented a battle system where the only input you have is in the planning stage. From there, the characters you have will fight things out, with their success built on your planning and management skills.
I previously haven’t played an auto battler. This was mainly because most of the big ones had their identities tied into MOBAs, and I don’t want to go down the MOBA road because that’s the path of fools. However, the idea of playing an auto-battler always fascinated me because I think playing something with a lot of depth but little investment on your own part is interesting.
So, I finally stepped into auto battlers with Super Auto Pets. a new indie auto-battler by Team Wood Games. You maintain a team of animals going against other teams of animals in simple, cutesy combat.
You start out the game with a small selection of tier 1 animal friends. As the game goes on, higher tiers of animals are added to the pool. Unless you have a specific animal, you only have 10 gold to spend each turn. Animals and items cost 3 gold while a reroll costs 1. You don’t actually carry over money between rounds, which encourages you to make the most out of the planning phase.
One of the biggest draws of Super Auto Pets to me is that I find it super easy to parse. I tried looking up footage of the more well-known auto battler games like Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics, and to be honest, I’m still a bit confused.
In those games, all the units can be separated into different groups with their own traits to take account for. However, in this game, the animals are all strictly individual with unique functions that are quick to figure out with simple mouse-over tooltips, so you don’t have to worry about grouping up for passive bonuses or whatever. Stats are also super simplified to just “attack” and “health,” with items simply increasing those stats or something else easy to understand.
The simplified mechanics and the simple presentation of the game reminds me of Paper Mario in that besides presentation, those games could be considered simple versions of your standard turn-based RPG. And so, I sincerely say that Super Auto Pets is the Paper Mario of the auto-battler genre.
When planning is finished, your animals head off to battle. You fight with a roster of up to 5 animals. Unless you or your opponent have the few animals that can strike randomly as an ability, combat will have animals at the front of the rosters clash against each other, with the next animals in line moving up when the one ahead is defeated. This goes on until only one team is standing… or none. You can get tied rounds, which can actually be pretty advantageous if you have an animal that buffs itself or others over time. I’ve said this before, but I like playstyles where you slowly grind enemies to death over time because it’s always satisfying when it’s pulled off, so it’s a win for me.
Besides buying animals and items, figuring out how to position animals is an important aspect of the planning phase. Some animal abilities depend on their own or another’s position, and depending on the strategy you’re going for, you’ll eventually run into debating whether or not you want to get rid of a decent animal to put in a critter that synergizes with the others. Making this a tougher choice are the “support” animals, who are incredibly weak on their own but have extremely useful abilities. In which case, would you want to get rid of an animal that can stand on its own in favor of something like the tiger, which doubles the ability of whoever’s on front of it? Can you adequately protect this support so that it can actually make the full use of its ability?
While it’s simple to understand, you can tell by now that Super Auto Pets has a bunch of depth that you have to latch onto if you actually want to get far.
For instance, much of the tier 1 animals won’t matter much in the late-game… on their own. Their abilities are clearly geared toward setting up the later rounds. Selling a duck buffs all current animals in the shop, so you may want to wait a bit on getting rid of a duck you have on your roster until you have something good. Preferably, you’d wait until you have a shrimp in your party to sell, since it will also buff the health of a random teammate when someone’s sold – in general, the shrimp winds up being a good companion for getting rid of people, and could have staying power in the mid-game as you pivot your team compositions around. Hell, the tier 1 buys (especially the otter, who randomly buffs on buys) can even be a tempting get in the late game to activate a dragon (who buffs the whole team when a tier 1 is bought).
It’s also easy to level up the tier 1 animals – leveling up, of course, improves most animal abilities, so why not upgrade them? However, you may want to put a hold on doing so, because upgrading an animal immediately adds a critter from the upcoming tier to the shop. So maybe you’d want to keep an animal on ice for a bit for a chance to get something powerful later. Or maybe go for it anyway and hope that the lesser animal is still good for what you’re trying to go for.
Further depth comes in when you figure out the hidden rules of the game. You can give animals what is totally just a sleeping pill to knock them out in the preparation screen, and you’ll come to the realization that any buffs that aren’t specified as “lasts until the end of battle” will be permanent. Instead of selling “buff upon defeat” units, you can just knock them out to permanently buff people, essentially acting as a cheaper food item while freeing up your roster. You add a new unit into a roster with a dog, see the dog buff itself and realize, “oh, anyone I buy permanently buffs it.” Suddenly, you’re on a buying-selling spree to get the most out of it; the otter is suddenly more important, its summon essentially acting as two buffs, and having the shrimp is a good dog companion if you’re going all in on buying and selling.
In the main Arena mode, you’re matched against someone that’s around the same turn as you through an asynchronous multiplayer match. The person you fight will be random (though rematches against someone shouldn’t be surprising), so what you go up against will be unpredictable. As you’re playing against someone on the same standing, you may have a fair fight on your hands. Or, maybe your opponent took the time to buff one animal so that it’ll steamroll through your entire team. Maybe they managed level ups properly and lucked into a pretty good animal that you don’t even have access to. It can be frustrating to get matched up against a player like this, but as they’re on roughly the same field, it also acts as a showcase of the height of power you can reach with careful planning.
I have not played Versus Mode yet, on account of the fact that it unfortunately hasn’t been available a single time I’ve played. However, given that it promises directly playing against a single player the whole time, I can see how things change. While playing in Arena mode offers the fear of the unknown in that you’ll never know what an opponent will have until you get in, an opponent in Versus could actively plan against you and you have the new fear of what you opponent could respond with. Your winning basic summon strategy could get countered if your opponent manages to draw a hippo or rhino… or it might not. There’s a new mind game here that could lead to drastic strategy pivots on both sides of a fight. It’d sure be nice to actually play it and experience pain directly, but that’s what I see Versus mode turning into.
Personally though, Arena mode will probably stay my preferred mode. Super Auto Pets is an extremely low energy game to play since most of the work you do is at the beginning of rounds, which is further helped by how much it simplifies the auto battler gameplay. Versus mode reportedly has a timer, which while sensible in the mode, would make planning a bit more stressful for me.
While free-to-play, the game does have paid DLC that offers you a new pack of animals. Thankfully, it’s not like some pay-to-win stuff because people with that pack can only play against otherswith the pack. I bought it, not just to have more stuff to play around with, but because I think the game as it is is already too good to just be free.
The DLC pack introduces animals that put a greater emphasis on buying food (like the ladybug that gets a temporary buff anytime you buy something) as well as animals that grow stronger if you don’t spend all your money on a turn. It also introduces the bat and the microbe, who inflicts the unique “weak” status effect that makes those infected take more damage. All these new animals bring new strategies and things to plan around, and thank goodness you can only play the DLC with other people that own it.
Super Auto Pets is a game that I really like and it has honestly snuck up to my top 3 indie games I played this year alongside OMORI and Cruelty Squad. If you want to play something that’s low energy but not strictly easy, I really recommend checking this game out!