|Dev: Xgen Studios|
|Pub: Xgen Studios|
|Release: November 15, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Let me tell you about a fun arcade mining game. The Diamond Mine mode in Bejeweled 3 has players frantically making matches at the bottom of the screen in order to explode bedrock and retrieve treasures. Fail to dig evenly enough, or quickly enough, and you run out of time, making this mode both strategic and fun.
Sadly, this is not a review of Bejeweled 3. It's a review of Super Motherload, an ostensibly addictive mining game in which the player carves up the crust of Mars looking for valuable minerals. It's the sequel to Xgen's popular Flash game Motherload, but with additional features and a story.
In Super Motherload, the player selects one of several characters, which are identical except for their portrait and voice actor. These characters control a hovering drill tank and are tasked with mining the crust of Mars for valuable ores and gemstones. The tank must be on a solid surface to drill, and can only drill downwards and sideways. It also has a limited amount of fuel and cargo space, and once depleted of either, must return to the surface (or later on, the nearest underground depot) to refuel, sell cargo, and repair any damage to its hull.
Thus, the main gameplay involves drilling into the ground, collecting ores, returning to the surface, selling the ores, buying more gas, and going back down again. That's about it. Mars is procedurally generated every time the player starts the game, but small “puzzles” are placed randomly in the earth, requiring mildly strategic drilling and bombing in order for the player to get at the most valuable ores.
There are a few elements that slightly increase Super Motherload's complexity, such as the ability to upgrade the tank at the local store and to merge certain ores into more valuable ores with a smelter upgrade (provided they're collected in the correct order). Even with these elements, however, the game feels quite shallow. There's little challenge in its puzzles, and far too much time is spent going up and down, up and down, up and down to fetch more fuel and empty the tank's cargo. Upgrading the tank is extremely grindy, as the upgrades are quite expensive, and it takes far too long to get through each stratum in order to reach more valuable ores… at which point, even more outrageously expensive upgrades become available.
Provided the player doesn't fall asleep during the seemingly endless ups and downs of the first stratum, there are many strata of ore to mine. There's a full set of stores for fueling, buying, selling, and repairing at the top of each stratum, but they're still too few and far between.
Each stratum requires a drill bit upgrade in order for the tank's drill to successfully penetrate its earth, but only the first upgrade can be purchased. After that, fetch quests are required for the upgrade to be performed, a fact that the game never really explains to the player. Fetch-quest items don't spawn until the player receives the quest, meaning even more time searching through the earth for random macguffins. There might not even be enough of these items to complete the quest and receive the drill upgrade in the mine-able strata, forcing the player to bomb down into the next stratum--an expensive and frustrating proposition just to receive access to the exact same gameplay that has been available for the entire game.
To top off the game's ho-hum experience, the PlayStation 4 controls are somewhat slippery. It's very easy to accidentally bang into the rock while maneuvering the tank up and down. Taking damage from these collisions is the only danger to be found for the vast majority of the game. I died several times because I was bored and didn't care, so I learned that dying simply places the player at the top of the current stratum again. There's a “hardcore” mode available in which fuel depletes more quickly and death is permanent, which bored me to tears just thinking of it.