Being a miner may not be the most exciting job on the planet, but do some digging on Mars... and, well, it’s still not very exciting. As it would turn out, if you've obliterated one object for its rich, rich bounty, you've obliterated them all. But play Super Motherload long enough, and you'll come to appreciate its hypnotic gameplay, of digging deeply into the red planet's mysterious underbelly, all by your lonesome, and unearthing treasures untold. What begins as a rather boring journey actually ends up being a decently enjoyable venture.
Simply put, Super Motherload is a game about digging for resources and selling them for cash. The money you get from all that gold and silver you dig up can be used to improve your base of operations and mining effectiveness. Certain factors like a limited fuel gauge limit how much you can dig, so you need to make trips back to surface every so often. It all follows a predictable cycle: Dig for a bit, fly back up to replenish your fuel and unload your stash, and then go back down and do it all again. Repetitive, sure, but it's also a bit addictive, as there's plenty of things to upgrade: cargo space, fuel reserves, helpful repair kits--it's up to you to decide what to spend your money on.
If survival were your only goal, you could breeze through Super Motherload in less than 60 minutes. But where's the profit in merely surviving? If you’re in the game to max out everything possible and have the most badass mining rig in the universe, you'll need to plan out a digging strategy. Excavating the same mineral type in a row leads to combos for extra cash, and you can even smelt them together to create more expensive, rare alloys. Sure, you can just dig and not worry about these bonuses (there’s definitely enough stuff in the ground to pay for all your expenses), but that option’s there if you really want to maximize your profits.
Its pace, coupled with the solitary feeling of being thousands of feet below the ground, makes for a soothing and tranquil experience. There are no monsters to fight or weapons to fire, and aside from the risk of blowing up your ship if you damage it too much, there’s really no way to die. And that’s okay. Like any trip into the unknown, Super Motherload conveys strong feelings of isolation and intrigue by keeping things simple and letting you explore things at your leisure. Its eclectic, almost hypnotic soundtrack enhances the experience even further, and even made me lose track of what time it was several times.
Up to three friends can also join you in local co-op, but you won’t miss anything if you decide to play alone. Everyone shares a fuel tank and has his or her own cargo meter, so you don’t really gain anything by playing with others. In fact, things can get crazy pretty quickly, ruining the calmness that comes from playing by yourself.
Despite the freedom it offers, Super Motherload does come with a story that will eventually bring your digging to an end. Segmented radio transmissions provide some narrative and fill you in on what’s been happening to other scientists doing research underground. It’s not all good news, of course, and you are sometimes asked to unearth objects for them. These errands don’t provide anything new--just look around and dig them up--but they make you feel like there is a purpose to all of your digging. They also create checkpoints and give you a sense of how far you are into the surface and into the game.
When you do reach the final moments of your excavation, things get weird--not just because of what you discover in the planet’s core, but because the game shifts into something else. Let’s just say you need to do something besides digging. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air since it frees you from your routine, but because it happens at the end of it all and without any warning, it’s not elegantly incorporated.
Not everyone is going to enjoy the calm and repetitive structure of Super Motherload, especially at its $15 price point. But give it a chance, and you’ll find that all that mining can be quite relaxing and almost addictive, keeping you tunneling happily until you reach that hard bump at the end. The game may not be at the top of the pile for impressive PS4 games right now, but it’s one worth digging into.