Without having the constant pressure of enemies lurking around every corner, there is something serene about gathering a few friends and digging aimlessly through the Martian soil on Mars. As an employee of the Solarus Corporation, it is your job to dig through the ground, filling your cargo hold with as many minerals and gems as possible. Once your hold is crammed with all sorts of expensive rocks, it’s time to return to the surface to unload, refuel and repair.
As you dig deeper, a dark narrative unfolds involving experimentation and murder through cryptic dialogue boxes. The entire story feels sewn together, feeling like an afterthought to the mining gameplay. Most of the fun in Super Motherload involves upgrading your little mining vehicle. Increasing the size of your fuel tank allows you to dig further than before, a bigger cargo hold means more profit and increasing your movement speed allows you to retreat to the nearest outpost quicker. In the normal difficulty setting, running out of fuel only stops you from drilling, but you are able to safely maneuver yourself to the nearest outpost.
In hardcore everything relies on the amount of fuel you have left, so running out of fuel before reaching an outpost will result in your death and the loss of everything in you cargo hold. A skull and crossbones will be placed at the exact spot you die, reminding you of your failure. The pacing of the game slows down as you try not to dig as far down in a single trip, but as soon as the low fuel warning appears you’ll frantically race to the nearest fuel pump.
A few thousand feet down you’ll discover that minerals aren’t the only things waiting for you to be mined. Gems and even fossils from a long lost alien race can be collected and sold. Collecting the same element multiple times will yield a small cash bonus, but upgrading your smelting ability allows you to combine consecutively collected gems and minerals. This significantly increases their resale value and decreases the amount of space taken in your cargo. Outpost stations are scattered underground providing the same benefits as returning to the surface. The deeper you go the further distance between the outposts. Failing to beat the final boss on your first attempt (and you won’t), you’ll have to trek down thousands of feet again just to restart the encounter. Various types of bombs can be purchased, to help you blast your way past rocks and access previously unreachable minerals.
Super Motherload features 4-player local cooperative play and is arguably more exciting when played with friends. Not realizing the benefit of combining elements at first, the strategy of maximizing benefits and cargo space later in the game becomes important (especially due to the high upgrade costs). I can’t see myself playing through the game multiple times on my own besides for hunting trophies, but cooperatively it can be enjoyed in small doses.
Note: The Super Motherload review was based on a digital copy on PlayStation 4.