Wireframe

Supermash review - mixtape-'em-up

By Andrew King. Posted

In some ways, SuperMash is a logical extension of the last decade of work in procedural generation.

Spelunky assembled new levels to explore each time you played, and hundreds of rogue-lites followed suit, scrambling their tilesets in pursuit of an endlessly replayable game. No Man’s Sky, similarly, held the promise of a forever game, a galaxy that – through algorithmic creation – could be explored forever.

Spelunky was the game that made levels. No Man’s Sky was the game that made planets. SuperMash, per its marketing, is the “game that makes games.”

As a teenager named Tomo, who works at a video game shop run by his older sister Jume, you are the new owner of a PlayType Game Machine, a gadget that can smoosh two 16-bit genres together to create one new game.

To do this, you’ll select from a pool of six genres – stealth, action-adventure, JRPG, platformer, shoot-’em-up, and the copyright-skirting metrovania – and jam them together to create new chimeric “mashes.”

One might be a shoot-’em-up where you occasionally pause from the blasting to cast an ice spell on a fighter jet in turn-based combat. Another could be a Metroidvania with portals transporting you into Metal Gear stealth sequences. One might take you to a platformer, where in order to shoot fireballs you have to select that attack from a JRPG-style menu, mid-jump.

The bulk of SuperMash involves choosing the genres you want to mash, adding unlockable modifiers – one might stir in a beneficial glitch; another might introduce a new enemy type – and then playing them through to completion. Potential customers wander the store and will request specific mash-ups, which you can make and give to them to unlock new modifiers and tokens.

Each mash begins with a text intro, setting up the proc-gen story and win requirements. It quickly gets tedious, and I was skipping these after an hour.

Though the game takes place in a video game shop, it isn’t Video Game Shop Manager, so you don’t actually need to worry about Tomo and Jume’s financial situation. The story and setting are just scaffolding for the mashy hook at the game’s heart. You will spend roughly 90 percent of your time in SuperMash making and playing mashes, and about ten percent advancing through visual novel narrative segments.

So, how is the mashing you spend so much time doing? It averages out to just about OK. On a base level, each genre feels pretty good to play. The jumping is satisfyingly springy when you’re platforming, and the JRPG bits use a basic, but tried-and-true, menu-based formula.

Though there’s variation from game to game, the action-adventure titles often manage to capture the exploration and progression that power a 2D Zelda game. Stealth works well, too, with a button hold required to stealthily take down guards. I’m not a big fan of old-school shoot-’em-ups, but these shoot-’em-ups feel like old-school shoot-’em-up fans will like them.

The worst of the bunch is metrovania, which seems to boil Metroid-style design down to “like a platformer, but there’s no discernible goal, and the camera is a little farther away.”

The procedurally generated mash names are often hilarious, as evidenced here.

Some of the mash-ups are genuinely interesting, too. They’re rarely, if ever, great, but there are flashes of proc-gen brilliance. One of my favourites cut the turn-based combat out of a JRPG, replacing it with stealth takedowns.

It wasn’t polished, but it presented an interesting idea that I would love to see expanded into a full game. None of the mashes are deep, though. The breadth of genres represented, and the randomness of their creation, ensures that these feel more like game jam games or rough proofs of concept than finished ideas.

There are also some annoying glitches that occasionally hampered my fun. The most serious problem was that one of the game’s major features, which allows you to share mash codes and play your friend’s mashes, broke my game whenever I tried to use it.

Several times, I tried to input a code that a member of the team at Digital Continue showed off during their trailer in December’s Indie World Direct, only to get stuck in the interface. The only option was to quit out of the game. I tried it again today, and it worked. It seems that this feature needs an internet connection to work properly.

The in-mash art often nails the aesthetic of each genre’s 16-bit era.

The game didn’t communicate this. It broke instead. Additionally, some stuff around the edges is rough. Customers constantly glitched as they entered and exited the store, hung up on each other or on level geometry.

The problems are real, but SuperMash manages to create some great, if undercooked, ideas. It’s the closest thing I can think of in games to a collection of writing prompts. But, it feels like it desperately needed an editor, both for its story – which introduces threads that it ends too abruptly to do much with – and for its collection of games.

I don’t know if Digital Continue will get to make a sequel, but if they do, I hope they drill down on some of the cool ideas that their algorithm managed to surface.

SuperMash isn’t a game that makes games; not really. But, its interesting experiments may inspire the people who do.

Highlight

Each game comes with a beautifully absurd name. The Prophecy Foretells of the Froggy? Sure. Attractive Ghost? Why not. Minigun Folklore? Hell yeah!

Verdict: 60%

SuperMash is a game that makes levels. Some of them are good, but it would be massively improved with some pruning.

Genre: Genre-’em-up
Format: PC (tested) / Switch / PS4 / XBO
Developer: Digital Continue
Publisher: Digital Continue
Price: £19.99
Release: Out now (PC)

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