I hate to use the word ‘unique’ to describe games, mostly because in my experience it means the game isn’t very good. Games follow formulae because developers have learned that players find certain things fun. Bucking the trend and finding one’s own way is risky, but sometimes very rewarding. What if the uniqueness involved a very direct melding of game genres? Digital Continue’s SuperMash uses capitalizes on that idea to facilitate ostensibly endless genre combinations. What would that look like? Would it even be fun? Wonder no more, because we have you covered. This is our SuperMash review for PC!
Beginning with visual design, SuperMash’s hub area (a videogame/geek store that’s going out of business) has a great aesthetic. It can sometimes be difficult to see icons indicating that something in the store can be interacted with, but I managed. Graphics for the ‘mashed’ games range from Gameboy green and black to 16-bit SNES. The quality of those graphics was hit-or-miss (spoiler alert – you’ll be getting that sentiment a lot from this review). Some sprites look like they could have been lifted from an early SNES JRPG, whereas many others look more reminiscent of 2000’s Flash games. SuperMash’s developers also didn’t quite manage to capture the subtleties of what these early games felt like. There is at times distressingly little detail to some movements, such as jumping in the platformer or Metroidvania genres. Nevertheless, the music across sub-games is appropriately thematic and, as the kids say these days, ‘bumpin,’ which is nice.
I should note that I specify ‘genres’ here because no specific existing games are used. All assets appear to me to be unique, even if some clear ‘inspiration’ was taken. You can expect to see characters and environments clearly inspired by Contra, Castlevania, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past, 1942, Metal Gear, and others. In this sense, I think SuperMash succeeded well. I definitely felt the nostalgia bug biting me, and it was a feeling I liked. Nevertheless, as I mentioned, although the graphics might have been similar, implementation and feel didn’t always meet my expectations. For example, and I’ll describe this as best I can, there was always a certain heft or ‘oomph’ in jumping in a game like Castlevania or Super Mario Brothers that isn’t in SuperMash. I don’t know what magic is missing – perhaps a problem with the physics engine or who knows what, but that feeling of off-ness hindered my enjoyment at times.
The core mechanic for SuperMash is to take two genres (among shoot em’ up, platformer, JRPG, stealth, action-adventure, and Metroidvania genres) and smush them together. You might, for example, mash JRPGs with platformers and find yourself hopping on top of JRPG enemies, but still have an occasional random encounter. I thought it really cool that I was using what was effectively Mario’s fire flower in a JRPG battle and on the side-scrolling screen. Alternatively, you might mash Metroidvanias with action-adventure and have a Samus-like character running through a Legend of Zelda dungeon, blasting skeletons with an assault rifle. Each combination is called a ‘Mash’ and takes the background, playstyle, music, enemies, and protagonist from the games and mixes them up.
Additionally, each Mash includes random glitches, some good, some bad, that are reminiscent of what you’d expect from a Game Genie code. The number of glitches depends on difficulty level, with no negative glitches on easy and several on hard. Glitches might give characters life every time you press left or kill an enemy or summon a ‘glitch ghost’ that is very capable of killing the protagonist and can’t die. Other modifiers to a Mash come through cards that one acquires after completing a Mash or turning in silver tokens at a machine in the gaming store. The cards, which are usually consumed once used to modify a Mash allow for some control over what emerges. For example, one might select a specific protagonist, ability, or enemy to appear in a Mash. Again, it’s great when it works, but there are definitely some combinations that answer the question of why people haven’t done this before.
All of this is really cool when it works. Each Mash has randomly chosen victory conditions, which means each Mash is generally not a very long experience. Some victory conditions might entail gathering a certain amount of coins in a given time limit or finding a specific item in a dungeon. Sometimes the Mash can be completed within 10 or 15 seconds (selecting easier difficulties and shorter Mashes obvious makes said experiences shorter). Completing Mashes is central to progressing the rather thin story that holds all of SuperMash together. That is, the story, centering around a special console that allows one to mash these genres together, involves a brother and sister trying to save their store by creating Mashes, saving, then reselling Mashes for others to purchase. I won’t spoil the story, but one does explore the mystery of this machine and so on… but it is not a compelling or deep storyline.
SuperMash is truly a unique addition to the gaming zeitgeist. It was nice for a trip down memory lane, encouraging me to look up old games and game music, and I appreciate the Mash mechanic. I think that the developers could work magic here that would make for an unforgettable gaming experience, but I think they didn’t quite hit the mark with this rendition. Perhaps SuperMash could be improved by addressing some of the broken victory conditions or improving the feel of the games, but it seems like it’d be a tall order. Nevertheless, SuperMash is worth a spin if you’re looking for retro games or have wondered what a game might be like if you were to upend its mechanics. That said, this is a lighter game and not really geared toward the hard-core gamer, but it can certainly still entertain.
A game key was provided for this review.
COMPARE TO: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy