Super Motherload is the latest game from indie developer XGen Studios, and is the sequel to a well-loved, free PC title named Motherload. Deployed alongside the PlayStation 4 in North America, the title plots the escapades of the Solarus Corporation, which discovers vast reserves of ore and gems beneath the surface of Mars. With some excavation expertise, the company intends to profit greatly from the excursions downwards, but when some strange occurrences surface and communication suddenly ceases on the great red planet, the fictional firm seeks out new recruits to find out exactly what has happened.
You play the role of a new employee given a mining machine and dropped onto the surface of the far-away planet. Your goal is to use your drilling finesse to harvest as much of the ore below as you can muster, while attempting to discover exactly what caused the communication failure and how you can restore the mining operation. In a nutshell, something went haywire, there’s danger, and you’re expendable enough to do the job.
In the real world, few people go mining just for the fun of it, as extracting precious minerals is a dangerous activity. Similarly, in Super Motherload, if you hit a wall or the ground while travelling too fast, your vessel will be damaged and repairs can be costly. You must also be careful not to run out of fuel while travelling deep underground.
The challenge of the game, therefore, comes from trying to survive while amassing great wealth and opening up paths to explore deeper. Resources that you uncover can be reinvested at the surface, but depositing ore and gems and refuelling the pod can feel somewhat tedious as it results in plenty of backtracking. However, the challenge of survival and the various puzzles are enough to keep the game entertaining while traversing into the depths of the planet.
Various rock and metal formations block the pathway on the way down. Usually, some rare element is contained inside, and you must navigate through the maze correctly to get to the ore. This is more challenging because you can only dig downward and sideways when your treads are on solid ground. Meanwhile, the explosive array given to you requires careful positioning and bomb selection in order to prevent you from blowing up the only way into a puzzle or the ore contained within.
The complexity is furthered with the smelting upgrade. Various ores can be combined to form more valuable resources, but they must be mined in successive order. This further complicates the mining procedure, but is very profitable if used correctly.
Sadly, the graphics in the release are not exactly mind-blowing. The game art is amusing but not spectacular, and there are no cinematic sequences in the game, as the title opts to progress the plot through a series of profile pictures and dialogue blocks.
Nevertheless, despite its simplistic presentation, the plotline is engaging – even if the dialogue boxes employed to advance the narrative are sparingly used. The storyline certainly could have benefitted from a little more depth, but the infrequent occurrences of exposition are intentional, and help to add to the mysterious nature of the release.
Furthermore, the game mechanics are very smooth, and the controls are easy to get to grips with. Most of the title can be played using just the d-pad, but the trigger buttons and touchpad can be used to arm bombs and other add-ons. The pod movement is very fluid, and provides the impression of using heavy machinery. Meanwhile, the game is easy to pick up and put down, as it auto-saves whenever you re-visit a fuelling station, which is something that occurs often.
Despite the fluidity of the gameplay, though, the adventure can feel tedious at times, as mining through thousands of feet of dirt isn’t always the most enjoyable premise. Interestingly, you’re given several options as to how you wish to end of the game, playing on the moral nature of mining other planets for gain. The multiple endings and unlockable characters give the release replay value. Plus, since all of the character upgrades carry over from game to game, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to burrow down into the depths of Mars all over again. It takes approximately ten hours to travel from the surface to the conclusion on your first attempt, but it can definitely be done a lot faster depending on how organised you are.
Adding to the replay value, there are a couple of difficulties to choose from. Normal mode is probably the best place to start, as it’s much simpler and there are fewer consequences for mistakes. In this tier, dying from taking too much hull damage means that you’ll regenerate at the last activated station, while running out of fuel means that you’ll no longer be able to dig, but will be able to fly back to get more gas.
Meanwhile, the more challenging Hardcore mode offers a great means to showcase your skills. There are no respawns, meaning that once you die, you’ll be forced to choose someone else. Also, when you run out of fuel, your mining pod will explode, killing your player. Seeing as character statistics and upgrades carry forward from game to game, upgrading your protagonist will massively help you in conquering this mode.
Of course, you don’t need to plunder alone, as Super Motherload is designed to support up to four players. With four initial characters to choose from – and more to uncover – you’re able to choose your favourite identity and unlock upgrades over the course of your underground career. Multiplayer can be a bit cumbersome, but it’s highly amusing. Sharing one screen between four ambitious miners can result in some players getting stuck, and that means that you must slow down in order to accommodate for everyone. One fuel gauge is shared between all of the players, so everyone must return to the fuelling station at once.
While it’s a bit rough, the multiplayer definitely gives the experience an extra edge. Playing with friends is extremely enjoyable, though without an online multiplayer option available, you will have to ensure that you have some buddies nearby in order to get the most out of the experience.
Super Motherload is a game that will appeal to casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike. Solving the puzzles and blasting your way deep into the heart of Mars is entertaining, despite it feeling somewhat repetitive at times. Throw in a few friends and the formula definitely comes alive, though, making this something of an unpolished gem.