XGen Studios’ Super Motherload is a bit of an odd duck. Released to Steam November 13th of last year, it strikes one as an original concept that feels familiar as soon as you start playing. It seems like a combination of Dig Dug without the enemies and a bit of RPG elements thrown in. Seeing how Dig Dug is one of my favorite old school games, it’s odd that this did not strike the right chord with me.
Super Motherload definitely starts off great. You choose a character to denote vehicle color and your portrait, and then immediately land on the surface of Mars. The idea is to dig up minerals and gems all the way to *sigh* unobtanium to take back to base in exchange for money that you can use to upgrade your drill platform.
Look, I am going to digress for a moment. Avatar was a terrible movie all around. It got by on the novelty of its visuals, but was otherwise an overlong retelling of the story of Pocahontas. We all agree that unobtanium was a stupid name, but let’s stop bringing it up. I would rather forget that I paid money to watch James Cameron slide further into mediocrity, as he used to be one of the best sci-fi and action movie creators ever.
Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be reviewing a game.
In essence, this is an RPG-style action game boiled down to its most base components. Delve as deep as you can go, travel back to town to upgrade and resupply, and then go deeper. So far, so good for an indie game. Honestly, seeing as how I have done quite a few cutesy games recently, this felt like a breath of fresh air. I mean, what is more testosterone-infused than playing as a miner on a harsh, unforgiving planet?
Regrettably, this feeling does not last long. As there are no enemies to speak of (at least until the end) there is not much in the way of challenge. Each excursion from the base feels the same. Leave home, navigate through the terrain you have already exploited to get to an new vein of riches, fill up your hold, return, rinse, and repeat. You can upgrade the smelter built into your mining platform so that combinations of materials will yield a more valuable item. (For example, mining a diamond and then a ruby yields a red diamond.) This does add a thin veneer of strategy as you decide if it is more worthwhile to go for these combos or if you should go for the bonus provided by mining the same type of item as many times as possible in a row. By the way, the answer is whatever is easier to do based on your surroundings.
Another issue that adds to the unfortunate boredom are the visuals. While the portrait and character designs are pretty cool, the environments get pretty monotonous. One can only see the same tiles over and over before craving a change of scenery. I was actually more entertained by the designs that popped up on the radar based on the tile layout than the action on the screen. Though each playthrough is procedurally generated, a careful eye will catch grinning skulls, treasure, and other easter eggs on the radar that isn’t immediately obvious on the main gameplay screen.
Another missed opportunity lies with the your driller platform itself. As the biggest component to this game is to upgrade your machine for better efficiency, it is seriously disappointing that the upgrades are not visually reflected. If I spent the time and money to upgrade my fuel tank, I want to see it on my vehicle.
This issue could be mitigated were there enemies, traps, something else to worry about on each run. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The only real challenge comes near the end where you are tasked to collect some of the (redacted to avoid going off topic again). Many of these are tucked away in such a way that you will need to put some effort and explosives into reaching these.
I do want to note that my primary playthrough was on normal mode. There is a hardcore mode as well where permadeath is introduced and running out of fuel means you are stranded and will die sad and alone. Based on the game, this only means that you will progress slower as you mine and clear more space to create a more fuel efficient run to the next base. I haven’t completed my hardcore run, and truthfully probably won’t.
All of this is seriously disappointing. I really enjoyed this game at first and found myself enjoying the grind. To its detriment, though, it is a one trick pony and cannot hold interest for as long as its fifteen dollar price tag would imply. Hopefully, XGen or someone else can take this idea and flesh it out in a future title. As it is, it won’t take you long to strip mine this vein.
The game can be found at http://store.steampowered.com/app/269110/