This one is a tricky one because it wears its references and inspirations on its sleeve. It means that while it does play reverence to classic games like: Super Metroid/Super Castlevania IV, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Mario, Gradius, and Zelda: A Link to the Past. There are times where there is not enough value added to push it beyond a pale comparison though. Even the developers acknowledge how inconsistent the quality of play is between sessions… anyways let me explain what’s going on here. So I mentioned that list of games because SuperMash is a love letter to all those games, and allows players to MASH elements of those games together into procedurally generated levels within specified confinements (such as length, difficulty, and modifiers). The boldness of the concept alone was enough to sell me, but I constantly felt like I was seeking the white whale of game permutations that would satisfyingly justify a person’s purchase.
For the most part, I would find myself saying, “oh that was kinda cute, so THAT’S the mechanics they’re using here. Oh wow this is kinda OP and different…” At the worst I was screaming at the screen, “Why is there a button prompt here when IT’S NOTHING BUT A DEAD END?! UGGGGH WHERE IS THE LAST SILVER BOW!!! There’s soooo many random encounters because I mashed final fantasy and metal gear NOOOOOO.” I think it’s a matter of how much you want to time sink: I found I had the most fun with shorter levels and higher difficulty, because there’s less chance the algorithm creates a bunch of fluff and time wasters, Instead just giving me a linear, snack to munch on. Sure, I WANTED to explore, but the game often creates alternate paths that have zero reward or relevance to your goal. That is one of the neat things about each Mash is that you have a randomized goal be it collecting x amount of currency, destroying x amount enemies and no one else, making it to the checkpoint, etc. It’s all pretty varied and can require some spontaneous lateral thinking. At its best, SuperMash feels like a fully fleshed WarioWare minigame lampooning some great classic SNES era games. While there may be some stinkers, there’s a bit of wonder in the process of discovery. I’m a bit torn on my conclusion with this game, because the low points were very low, but I think I’ll choose to be more positive and let you decide.
So SuperMash presents its narrative as teenagers hanging out in a game store after one finds an unrecognizable console at a garage sale. Your friends will make requests to create specific genre mashups and/or to play on certain difficulties. It really just serves as a way to slowly introduce you to the ways in which you can vary and control aspects of your procedurally generated game world. Eventually, there will a request line that involves filling in a scrapbook for each genre, locked away from some pretty specific and cryptic achievements. Doing so will unlock a special boss level that wouldn’t be too out of place in the types of games I described earlier. Dialogue is cute and less forced than I’ve seen in some other indie games using these sorts of characters. I really enjoyed the music: a mix between chiptune and EDM that really breathes life into each level while also creating a generally chill vibe outside the game. Sound design can be a little hit or miss across the variety of items, enemies and heroes, but overall passable. One pet peeve that I wish could be fixed is that while there is a quick retry button within levels, the game constantly repeats its fake gameboy startup intro screen. If possible, it would be much more preferable to just have a screen fade to the level just to get you back into the action.
Genre mashups follow the rule that the first genre defines the gameplay loop, then the second genre defines the level layout, enemies, powerups, weapons, and other attributes. I will say that using RPG as a second genre is a death wish, it just wastes time with random encounters that start to feel mind numbing, especially if you picked a longer length level. This is compounded with what I discussed before, of having so many dead ends and pointless paths that have zero exploration value. I do find enjoyment in figuring out the fastest way to meet the objective at hand, but for the most part, levels can become meandering and overstay their welcome. Once you start to play more of these, you start to already know most of the wrinkles that each genre can bring, and it makes for a ‘seen it all before’ feeling. I found myself gravitating towards the shorter length levels because I had zero faith that longer levels wouldn’t simply be padded out. Granted some genres perform better than others: I found platformer, Action/Adventure, and RPG first genre picks to be pretty consistently enjoyable. I know I harped on RPG before, but when it’s the primary genre of the mash, enemy encounters actually appear on screen similar to Earthbound or Chrono Trigger. After you create a mash, you have the option to save it or share the code. I’m a bit baffled that there isn’t a search function or game list analogous to Super Mario Maker 2, but I suppose it’s tolerable and functional. There really is no ‘Online Mode’ or scoreboard or easily downloadable list of games organized by popularity or difficulty. The lack of concrete and easily accessible features such as these are definitely a disappointment and when rectified would easily improve my rating of SuperMash.
All in all, it’s a great concept, but it had a middling execution. I’m glad to say that the “engine” and mechanics are very lovingly adapted from each genre, and it was fun to see the inspirations from several titles. There are times that these characters (particularly player characters) feel a tad too cookie cutter in how they control and fight, but I did enjoy the enemy designs quite a bit. Overall, all the character models look pretty great and evoke the era they’re from, but the gameplay associated with each character isn’t always equally identifiable. I left quite a few critiques that if changed would immediately change my tune and lean more towards awarding that sweet sweet Seal of Approval. Tl;dr it needs some basic quality of life tweaks, more robust online features, and if possible, map layouts that reward the player for exploring. Incidentally, I would also stumble upon glitches in levels that would include a button prompt, but I still don’t understand their purpose. Perhaps that may be key to part of my feedback, but nonetheless… SuperMash is a game I really want to love, but isn’t quite there. I hope after a few patches and redesigns, I can happily change that.
A review copy was provided by the dev
Hellfirebam has not awarded SuperMash the Indie Seal of Approval