Digging games are truly a unique genre. They provide a sense of wonder and despair that’s hardly found in other titles, and the addicting nature of wanting to find out “what’s at the bottom” is practically unparalleled. Although the PC platform is filled to the brim with them, they hardly ever travel over to the console side — and never at the launch of a new system. But here we are with Super Motherload on the PlayStation 4, with four player co-op nonetheless.
But while Super Motherload gets so much right, a host of design issues and a general lack of pacing bring it down a bit.
The concept of Motherload is rather simple — you dig all the live-long day until you run out of fuel or your mineral capacity is full, then you head back to the surface to refuel and unload. In that sense, it’s much like most of the digging games before it, as the game is built to have you go back and forth in a limited fashion, building some form of tension for “just one more run.” After flipping through the upgrade list for the first time, you’ll feel captivated to buy them all, and get all the minerals you can to do so. It’s addicting, to say the least, wanting to go back down into the depths to dig customized paths to return back to your home base and find more valuable minerals, and I ran out of fuel many times doing so.
In a rather odd choice however, running out of fuel does nothing but prevent you from digging further into the depths of the hole. It makes you a bit slower as you return to the surface, but there is literally no penalty for being reckless. At first, I thought running out of fuel would mean an instant loss of minerals and I’d have to respawn at the surface, but disappointingly enough, it becomes a pointless stick to the game’s carrot minerals. If fuel was increased and there was actually some danger of running out, the game would be a lot more tense, coupled with the fact that you’d get to explore a lot more at once.
Motherload does have depth to it as upgrading your smelting capabilities allows you to “combine” minerals but digging into them one after another. So instead of capturing objects willy-nilly, you’ll instead aim deliberately for some minerals, then dig into another batch. It’s a level of strategy rarely found in digging games, and if you master it, the game will move a lot faster. But still not quite fast enough.
The main problem with Motherload is that it starts off far too slow, and takes way too long to get to “the good stuff.” I know that a good progression curve is the mark of a solid design, but when it takes you over an hour to buy anything worthwhile, it starts to become an issue. At first, you’ll be able to upgrade ancillary augmentations, like extra fuel, faster digging, and a better smelter. But the money you need to upgrade anything substantial far exceeds the money you take in even halfway into the game, which can often times discourage you from moving on.
Storywise, Motherload is a bit of a mixed bag. I’m a huge fan of the clay-like art style, as it’s dark, but not so dark that it doesn’t pop out at you. The character designs are delightfully creepy looking, and the general theme is complimented wonderfully with the haunting soundtrack and variety of minerals. Sadly, the story is mostly a mix of nonsensical tropes from classical sci-fi horror films, but not in a good way, as it’s not cohesive enough and constantly pesters you with radio dialog while you’re trying to have fun.
Four player co-op can be fun depending on your company, but since everyone shares a fuel meter and has to stay on the same screen, it can become quickly frustrating. I don’t know if it’s the limitations of the developers or a deliberate choice, but forcing everyone to share the same resource isn’t any fun, as you’re constantly going back up even more than you would in solo play. Add in the fact that if someone stays still for approximately three seconds they instantly explode, and you have one very odd multiplayer experience.
Super Motherload isn’t a bad game by any means, it just feels like some of it wasn’t thought through all the way, and the world just isn’t that engrossing. If you’re a fan of diggers you should pick this one up because it gets all of the central tenants of the genre right, but I don’t think it’ll win over any non-fans. With a few fixes and maybe some more worthwhile upgrades, Motherload could be a much stronger game.
This review is based on a digital copy of Super Motherload for the PlayStation 4.