Super Motherload is not a very long game, nor is it a very complex game. What Super Motherload is, is a beautiful and compelling slab of gaming. There are few games that have come out recently that are worthy of not only a playthrough but a full completion - doing everything it has to offer. This little indie title manages to weigh story with gameplay in such a way as to not be intrusive to the experience, yet still keep you curious as to what it’s all about.
You are one of a selection of characters chosen by the Solarus Corporation to mine Mars for its important minerals. What starts out as a monotonous grind to find minerals of increasing value is interrupted by strange transmissions coming from... somewhere. The corporation insists it’s old earth television signals beamed to the workers on Mars by the corporation itself. As you work your way deeper into the martian crust you uncover a plot which, in tandem with the gameplay, increases in complexity. The two are balanced so perfectly it’s hard to even notice they aren’t really related apart from the act of going deeper
To excavate the martian soil you’re given a little drilling rig that can be upgraded with a better drill, a more durable hull, higher cargo capacity, larger fuel cache and plenty of other passive awards with money you earn from returning the goods gathered from below the surface. The gameplay is simplistic, even later on when mixing different ores and gems together to make bombs and unique materials is introduced, the learning curve is so expertly managed that you never feel overwhelmed by new mechanics. Upgrades soon shoot up in value and so you must go deeper and find more ingenious ways of obtaining the higher price ores.
As you delve lower and lower, you come across areas that act as stop gaps allowing you to mine the next layer and not have to return to the surface every time. Once again, these are perfectly placed to make you feel like you’re never going to get to the next area, then bam, it appears. In between these new layers small quests are given. While they are very much of the fetch-quest variety, they never outstay their welcome (seeing a pattern here?) giving just enough of a challenge to keep the action in line with the story.
There are also puzzles within the game at each level not related to the story. These are randomly generated with each playthrough, just as the whole layout of the map and its ores are. Often, once you’ve managed to navigate the puzzles, you’re awarded with the more expensive gems and items.These add a layer of optional exploration and puzzle-solving not offered by the main gameplay that, again, weighs just perfectly with your time and need for more expensive materials.
There are a few issues with the game that stop it from being perfect. Once you get to layer 4, things start to get a little long in the tooth and can feel a little tedious going constantly up and down as you try to get enough money to upgrade your little drilling platform. But you’ll need to, to survive longer and carry more in the larger, more densely populated soil. Also the one boss battle the game has is very uninspired and doesn’t feel in place with the rest of the game. But it’s hard to think how many other ways it could have been implemented within the mechanics, so it’s not exactly a huge failing.
It is worth mentioning that there is a couch co-op mode where you and up to three of your friends can all attempt to beat the game together. While I didn’t get to experience this, I would wonder how it would impact the pace and flow of an already perfectly balanced game. But if you’re in the market for a bit of split-screen fun this may be a factor to take into account when deciding to part with your cash or not.
The aesthetic of the game lends to a relaxed feeling with a soothing pastel colour palette along with the fantastic original electro-inspired score. All the art within the game is comic-esque and looks crisp and clear making this vision of Mars come to life with style and depth. The design of the characters are all interesting, with some great voice acting, and never feel out of place in this eerily strange portrayal of Mars and, as the game goes on, there is an air of the developers and writers having great fun with the story, setting and mechanics.
At this point, I’m sure you can see I enjoyed the hell out of this game, Super Motherload feels expertly hand-crafted and exudes more love and care than any AAA game could ever hope to. An inspiration to developers everywhere that balance and understanding of pace can carry even the most simple of games. Besides its small flaws Super Motherload is not only an example of a small game done right but, frankly, a joy to play.