- Street Date:
- November 15th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- November 19th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- XGen Studios
PS4 version reviewed. Versions for the PS3 and the PC have been announced.
There is a nearby red planet whose innards contain the precious resources needed to propel the glorious Solarus Corporation further into space. Previous mining operations have ground to an ominous halt, and is up to the player (and up to three local friends) to restart the mining endeavor while investigating the mysteries buried beneath the surface. This set-up is the tagline for 'Super Motherload,' a surprise indie stand-out from the small crowd of PS4 launch titles. XGen Studios' 'Super Motherload' excelled at generating buzz prior to the new console's launch. With the game now players' hands, it is time to see how the charm and intrigue holds up.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Peel back the sci-fi trappings, art style, other important distinctions, and 'Super Motherload' at its core is built on the gameplay mechanics of the old 'Motherload' flash game. The player controls a tiny, one grid square mining vehicle, that thanks to its 'copter rotor is a joy to control. With the gameplay and art style is all 2D in nature, the game can easily appear like a high resolution version of a Super Nintendo era game.
Those core mechanics, which have the player drilling deeper and deeper to collect resources while watching fuel and hull status, make for an addictive cycle of play. There is an almost instant motivation to the upgrade your fuel capacity, hull strength, and cargo carrying abilities, and that only accounts for about half the upgrades needed.
The game's one long level is procedurally generated whenever starting a new game, and at first the digging and mining seems completely random, but strategies for conserving fuel and reaching deeper areas develop. Upgrading the smelter enables the creation of valuable compounds, which are created when mining the correct successive minerals of the simple formulas. Suddenly, the random digging becomes very directed.
Here also though is where the game's major problem lies. Repeatedly journeying to the surface or one of the other bases is both addictive and repetitive. Multiple other aspects of the game serve to alleviate this repetition, but it remains nonetheless. The game relies heavily on the player seeking and discovering things like the diverting and fun bomb puzzles, while offering some restrained story elements. The "one more trip" aspect of the gameplay, while fun can quickly lead to burn-out, especially during the latter parts of the game.
Speaking of the story, it really doesn't live up to its promise. The further you delve, the more likely it is that a quick communication will pepper gameplay, and there are even a few quests that require hunting around for semi unique items. At first, it's exciting to begin unraveling the story, but aside from some pleasant theatrics, nothing much develops until the endgame, when the story's motherload is brought to bear in a very sudden manner.
The earlier threat of burnout from the constant refueling and backtracking reaches critical mass in the endgame. The final section of the game demands so much backtracking that upgrades that are otherwise unnecessary become extremely important, giving the game a JRPG-like endgame where everything is ramped up in a jarring fashion.
And all of this occurs in the game's normal mode, which forgives deaths, returning players via autosave to the most recent base. (This autosave likewise allows players to quit and later resume progress.) While running out of fuel prevents further drilling, it still allows the player to move around and go back for more fuel. In the optional hardcore mode, death is permanent, meaning that players must then resort to one of the other four initial characters, whose unupgraded stats will then require a lot of grinding in order to be worth continuing with. Without that extra forgiveness of an empty fuel tank, death is quite likely, and beating the hardcore mode would require some serious dedication.
The local drop-in, drop-out multiplayer is really a crazy co-op exercise, which is both fun and frustrating as you must all stay in the same screen space or else players will be dropped out. They can then drop in, but are teleported adjacent to the leading (the person moving fastest? it seems to vary) player upon logging back in. It's still fun to try out with people, but I can't imagine beating the game this way.
Playing the game in bursts is really fun, and the charming art style and story are equal parts nice and unobtrusive. The demands of the endgame really contrast with the pick-up-and-play fun of the early game.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Within the confines of a strictly 2D game, 'Super Motherload' looks good enough to make me wish for more SNES style games that exhibit such a crisp, drawn art style. The story communiqués could use more variety, as once you see which character is speaking you can already ascertain what the message will be due to their one note characterizations. If there is one major visual failing, it's due to the limitations of the procedurally created level. The dirt background of excavated areas is visually uninteresting compared with the vehicle and building designs, and when the screen is full of dirt texture, the game takes a visual step back.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Boot up the game and a quick LPCM burst floods the surrounds, but such a workout is limited to the main menu. In-game sound consists mostly of the OST, just as any RTS or Tetris-like puzzler ought to. Most of Eric Cheng's tracks are quite good, and possibly worthy of seeking out. Unfortunately, the time between tracks can extend to long periods, producing excessive disquiet. Other sound effects suit the game well, as does most of the voice acting.
The game has multiple endings and unlockable characters, but the prospect of the endgame is not a promising one for me. More likely, the pick-up-and-play nature will make it fun to revisit in short bursts from time to time. The first time I played 'Super Motherload' prior to the PS4 launch, it was under hardcore mode, which necessitates carefully watching the fuel gauge. Having made it throug hthe normal mode, trying this daunting challenge out has more appeal than the alternate endings. The occasional attempt at multiplayer with friends seems better suited for a quick party experience as opposed to an attempt to run through the whole game.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Both the multiplayer and Remote Play seem like a bonus, but what I found the most fun was combining the two features. Using the Vita through Remote Play lets it act as another controller in the likely event that you don't have four DualShock4s on hand. The PS4 version of the game allows the player to use the touchpad to set off the different bomb types, but I found that I prefer the button controls.
As a fresh alternative to meandering $60 games, 'Super Motherload' nails the kind of value proposition offered by good independent games. My towering expectations burned out during one of the many backtracks through the endgame area, and I can't help but wish for more than what the story delivered. But when the game is humming along, the experience is fun and unique among the offerings of Sony's new system. The game's charm, couch multiplayer, and Remote Play support make me treasure its presence on my PS4's hard drive.
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