Super Motherload was supposed to be my “tester” experience -- the first game that I booted up on my PlayStation 4 to get a feel for the system. I planned to take a few minutes to acquaint myself with the controller and then return to the home screen to browse the other titles I purchased.
Five hours later, I sat there drooling as I descended further into Mars, my stomach hungry but my mind without a care. My task was simple: drill for precious minerals and process them at the surface base.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
Super Motherload (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: XGen Studios
Publisher: XGen Studios
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (PS4) / November 26 (PS3) / 2014 (PC)
Your adventure in Super Motherload begins as Employee 1001 -- a miner working for the Solarus Corporation on Mars. Solarus is hungry for precious minerals, and it's your job retrieve them. Aided by Mister Fix-it (your AI partner), you descend deep into the planet's crust to find minerals to exchange for cash to upgrade your rig. Refueling, repairing, and buying upgrades are the main staples required to continue the descent into the unknown.
The further you dig, the more you begin to learn about the secrets of Mars and the strange occurrences happening throughout the various Solarus bases. Excerpts of video logs and sound bytes come through occasionally throughout the dig, and as a result you’re sometimes left with a fetch quest. The interruptions are interesting but brief however, allowing more time to do what you do best: dig.
Digging and refueling is a very simple gameplay mechanic, but despite the repetition the game is somewhat complex. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the deeper the dig, the more complicated the soil gets. For example, after hitting the third base (about a quarter through the game) I started to notice less open space and more metal plates blocking my path, forcing me to find a way around (or through) them to reach valuable gems.
The game ramps up its presentation as well, with more and more complicated systems. At first, the Motherload starts off with a smattering of minerals such as “bronzium” and “goldium” which are fairly easy to obtain. Soon enough, the treasures become more valuable deeper into the descent, from rubies all the way to “unobtanium.” Eventually, upgrades can be bought to automatically “smelt” minerals together which make interesting combinations like “katana gold.” Smelting adds a bit more variety to the mining gameplay, allowing for the crafting of bombs and forcing players to think more carefully about the order in which they collect minerals.
Gameplay isn't restricted to just "digging" though, as there are a number of different bombs that are made to blast through different types of elements, as well as some interestingly shaped bomb explosions to help navigate through barriers. For example, a “T” bomb will help blast the area directly above and one space to the left and right, creating said "T" shape. Some valuable minerals are trapped within rock or metal barriers that players must explode properly, without destroying the loot. I really enjoyed these short challenges but longed for a bit more complexity and variety as the same puzzles showed up over and over again.
Despite the repetition in bomb puzzles, maps are randomly generated upon each new game making it so you’ll never play the same map twice. Characters also have a different set of upgrade levels and abilities, making gameplay a bit different depending on which character you choose. For example, the unlockable character Laika is a ghost dog who doesn’t take any hull damage, and another extra character, Demitri, has unlimited electron bombs.
I also noticed that stations have different abilities and items for sale upon each new game -- in one game I purchased an ability to turn magma into money but in another game I found the same station selling an ability that makes “ironium” turn into fuel. Some of the upgrades can feel like downgrades at first -- like increasing the rotor speed is potentially dangerous as you can quickly damage your digger. However, once you get to the endgame these speed upgrades come in handy.
About three quarters into the game though, I found a lack of plot movement and an increased difficulty in navigating around blockades. Even after purchasing all possible upgrades for my character it still took quite some time to get to the end and I was not prepared for what I had to do next. After spending hours digging through Mars, the endgame delved into new mechanisms that took me by surprise. However frustrating, I found it rewarding to complete it in the end.
I heartily enjoyed Super Motherload -- so much so in fact, that I’m already whizzing past on my second playthrough and I plan to unlock and upgrade the rest of the characters. The act of collecting minerals and selling them has never been so exciting, and I can’t quite place my finger on why. Perhaps it’s the ’80s vibe and the stellar OST that is reminiscent of Hotline Miami, or the feeling of zen when I dig. Regardless, I can’t seem to stop playing.
I did run into a few small but notable snags that are worth mentioning. The first problem I encountered was the touchpad -- bombs can be dropped by swiping or clicking the touchpad in a manner of ways. Me being the clumsy person that I am, I often dropped or misplaced my fingers on the controller making it so that I accidentally used up bombs at least a few times during each session. There isn’t a way to turn off touchpad functionality, so I learned to be extremely cautious with how I picked up and put down my controller.
Local co-op is available, but to be honest I found it to be more stressful than playing alone. Players share a fuel tank, which means that fuel gets wasted a lot more easily so it’s a bit harder to progress. Everyone also shares a single screen -- all players have to be in the same area for the game to function. If you leave your controller sitting for more than a few seconds, the game automatically removes your character from play. I can see how co-op could be fun with the right group of people, but I personally prefer the single-player experience.
And what a fantastic experience it is, despite its flaws. Super Motherload is simple enough so that anyone can pick it up and play, but complex enough for mining veterans to keep coming back to fully upgrade characters or even risk playing in hardcore mode. The sci-fi ’80s vibe is delightful and the perfect setting for this ridiculously addicting game. I find myself coming back to it at the end of every day, ready for a new adventure underground.