Mining games are far more satisfying than they have any right to be. Take a drill, dive deep into the earth, and pull up as much as you can. They don’t tend to be particularly challenging, but the simple formula of the genre makes for a pleasant feedback loop. Super Motherload doesn’t do a whole lot new with mining, but it’s still a fun way to journey deep into the planetary crust while spacing out to its entrancing electronic soundtrack.
In this case, however, the planet is Mars, and you’ve got a drilling tank that’s in desperate need of upgrading. The gas tank is tiny, the drill weak, it’s fairly slow in moving and flying, and the cargo bay can only hold a small handful of minerals before filling up. There’s also something about horrible experiments going wrong at research stations located deep underground, but really it’s all about the mining and tank upgrades.
Like in most mining games you’ve got a 2D side-view of the action, and while the playing field is a couple of free-scrolling screens wide it goes down and down and down nearly forever. At first you’ll be sticking near the surface, pulling in minerals and buying the basic upgrades, but it doesn’t take long to have a few mining shafts sunk deep underground, leading to more deposits with a higher value. It just takes a bit to develop the mining tank into a usable tool.
The primary limitations on the tank’s effectiveness are fuel and storage. Fuel powers the tank’s drill, so while you can move around freely with an empty gas gauge, any discoveries made will have to wait until you can drill again. Even if you’ve got some juice left, once the storage bin is full you’ll just be wasting what you’ve drilled, so it’s back to the surface to get some gas, fix any damage, and maybe buy an upgrade after cashing in your take.
Just grabbing whatever minerals you see is a terrible way to make money. Once you’ve got a few basic upgrades it’s time to start being choosy. To make up for the cheap minerals it’s possible to do a little chaining, getting a single ore as many times in a row as possible so that the chain cash bonus more than makes up for the low-grade material value. The smelter upgrade offers even more options, though. Get ironium and platinium one after the other, for example, and they combine to form a rare earth magnet, which not only takes up less storage space but also has a higher sale value than the two minerals would on their own. This leads to a fair amount of scouting the terrain looking for the right minerals near each other, but the payoff is worth it. As the smelter is improved it also becomes useful for combining ore and gems into bombs, which come in a variety of exploding patterns to help solve some puzzle areas.
The mining tank is fairly mobile, but it’s restricted in drilling to left, right, and down. Additionally, while the tank can fly it can’t drill while hovering, so if you’ve drilled a mine shaft straight down there’s no way to move horizontally at any point except the bottom, leaving behind any resources above. A T-bomb can solve this nicely, though, because its explosion pattern is up one block then three blocks wide, effectively creating a small staircase. Admitted, if you need something five blocks high that will deplete the bomb inventory quickly, but the bomb formula is easy and resources plentiful. Carving out a path past unbreakable steel plates and through damaging molten rock is just a matter of carefully considering your resources and using them right. And then you get to the bottom of the map, make a story choice, fight a little boss fight, and beat the game.
Super Motherload is just about long enough for what it is, wrapping up before getting tedious while still providing plenty of gem and mineral harvesting action. There’s no real reason for it to be on PS4 versus any other system, of course, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a fun bit of digging with an excellent soundtrack. Super Motherload does a great job of satisfying one’s inner miner, letting you dig to the heart of Mars and the bizarre mystery lying in its core.
Platform: PlayStation 4