Review: Super Motherload

SuperMotherload

Judging a game by its cover is dumb. But judging a game by how easily it can cause you to lose track of time is not. Any game that can suck two hours away without so much as even feeling like five minutes have passed is both a blessing and a curse. Obviously any time sunk into a game should be rewarding otherwise you might as well call the game crack and sell it in a dark back alley. XGen Studios have brought their web classic Motherload to the PlayStation 4 (and PS3), and along with it a level of polish and style that easily makes two hours feel like five minutes, without the crack addiction side effects.

Super Motherload is presented as a Mars mining adventure which feels like a cross between Dig Dug and a reverse Bejeweled of sorts.  You control a hybrid flying drill, working to collect various types of ore (copper, silver, iron and gold) which must be brought back to the surface once the cargo hold is full, or the drill runs out of fuel. Collecting the ore is not a simple matter of drilling left, right or down, however, as the hybrid vehicle is too heavy to drill if there is no surface below. The drill can fly, but can’t drill while flying. If a tunnel is dug horizontally and along that pathway a section below is not filled in, that tunnel can no longer be dug in that same horizontal row. Planning out a specific route to collect rare ore (and deeper down, rare gems) can become a devious strategic challenge.

As drilling progresses further down into the planet, certain obstacles block the way. Some obstacles are dense rock, others are metal plates which can be melted, and, of course, there is always the ever present danger of magma. As the planet is mined of various types of ore, money is collected which can be spent to upgrade the drill. Upgrades allow you to improve cargo and fuel capacity, hull strength, drill speed, the smelter or the radar. Each upgrade increases in price as the drill progresses, which means the prices grow exponentially more expensive the better the upgrades become. Helping to keep up with the cost of better upgrades, an on-board smelter allows you to mix gems and ore to create even more rare items which obviously sell for even more money. Drilling deeper to get the better resources also means a pretty large amount of time is spent traveling deep within the planet and then back up to unload the items collected. To alleviate some of the tedium of this up and down travel, bases can be found at certain levels to refuel and unload. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of almost unnecessary downtime spent backtracking. 

One cool thing is that upgrades paid for on one game carry over to subsequent sessions. The upside is that some upgrades cost up to five million, but the downside is that eventually the drill becomes almost too overpowered. From a standpoint of replay, there isn’t much incentive to play as any of the other 10 playable characters if you already have an overpowered one. There are a few trophies which offer some replay, such as for finishing the game in one hour and beating the game on hardcore difficulty (I’ll get to that in a minute).  Overall the game is fun, but once you maximize the sense of accomplishment with one character the game loses some of its staying power. This could be fixed with some DLC quests perhaps or even online multiplayer.

While there is no online multiplayer, the game does support up to four players in couch co-op. Having just spent a good chunk of change on a PS4 I admit that I didn’t also buy three extra controllers, so the closest thing I could do is use my Vita as a Remote Play controller and give 2-player a go. First off, holy crap Sony really nailed Remote Play with the Vita–especially the ability to use the Vita as a second controller. Secondly, using the Vita as a controller is a perfectly viable way to play co-op. Since the only necessary inputs for the game are the left analog stick or d-pad to move, L1 and R1, and then the face buttons, using the Vita is as easy as using the DualShock 4.

My main complaint about co-op is that every player has to be on the same area of the screen. The view doesn’t scale up or down, which means all players have to be ready to go up or down when someone has filled up their cargo hull, or they are out of fuel. The other thing that is slightly frustrating is the fact that if a second (or third or fourth) player logs in (assuming you have multiple profiles on your PS4 like I do) those profiles don’t carry over their own drills’ progress. Whoever loaded the game first gets the money and upgrades for each of the characters and it isn’t stored with the secondary profiles. I realize this is a launch title for the PS4 (and maybe not all of the local profile kinks have been worked out), but it would be nice if the character progression from one profile showed up when that profile joins a game locally so that an upgraded drill can be used to full advantage.

I mentioned above that one trophy option is to complete the game in Hardcore mode. There is a reason why the mode is called Hardcore:  When your character dies, you don’t get him (or her) back unless you start a new game. Dying in Hardcore mode is as simple as not getting back to a refueling station in time. In normal mode, once fuel runs out, the drill stops digging, but the helicopter will still function, allowing for travel back up to a refueling station. Taking too much hull damage will also cut short your character. If one character dies, then the game simply lets you pick from another unlocked character and progress continues. A sinister laughing skull taunts you when a character dies. That skull is one devious mockery (and is a nod to the original web version).

When compared to the web version, Super Motherload is just that, super. The art assets have been greatly overhauled, there is voice work for all quests that appear, the controls naturally are adjusted for controller use and the music is fantastic. If you have ever found yourself sucked into the web version of the game, then you will feel right at home with this PS4 version. Even if this is your first Motherload experience, you will find it to be a great change of pace once you’ve burned through all of the flashy big budget titles in the PS4 launch lineup. Aside from a few minor stumbles, Super Motherload is an addictive game that looks fantastic and is easy to pick up and play.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Addictive upgrade loop
+ Fantastic music
+ Dark yet interesting story
+ Remote play with Vita works flawlessly for co-op

Cons:
– Co-op is confined to same screen view
– No local profile carryover during co-op
– No online co-op

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 via PSN (also coming to PC/Mac)
Publisher: XGen Studios
Developer: XGen Studios
Release Date: PS4 – 11/15/2013, PS3 – 11/26/2013
Genre: Digging Adventure, RPG, Casual, Arcade, Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (local co-op only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.