SuperMash has a very charming idea at its core. It seems built from an undying love and nostalgia of retro titles. Unfortunately, nostalgia is a powerful tool and there’s a reason only the cream of the – 700 odd – crop of NES titles rose to the top. Instead, SuperMash tries to pay homage to legendary titles and comes off as a buggy and cheap imitation.
The basic idea for SuperMash is simplistic but great. Essentially you, your character and a bunch of mates are working in a video games shop, when you discover a machine that “mashes” games together to make new games, a novel concept. And that in itself leads to many questions… what would happen if I played Metal Gear but every time I was caught, it would play out like a JRPG? What if The Legend Of Zelda had stealth mechanics? The game inspires these kind of conversations, but they prove to be much more interesting concepts in theory.
The gameplay of SuperMash is split into three main segments. There are visual novel-like segments that have characters talking to each other, and this is how most of the narrative is told. The second segment involves walking around your shop. Once here, you can do a handful of things such as exchanging coins for dev cards, making new mashes and talking to characters. The third and most important gameplay structure is done in the form of mashes.
You grab one of six genres – Platformer, Action-Adventure, JRPG, Stealth, Shoot ‘em up, “Metrovania” – and combine them with each other. From here, there are a few main things you can do before actually playing. You can choose the difficulty and length of the mash which, in turn, affects both the saved mash and the rewards earned after completing it. Furthermore, you can choose to add “dev cards” that affect the enemy types, your character and a multitude of other factors. These are nice little ways of micromanaging your experience. The draw of SuperMash is that you can have hundreds of very different small games but it’s nice that you are given the freedom to change it up.
This brings one to the small games in question. They draw heavily on the stereotypes and caricatures of the genres they attempt to encapsulate in interesting ways, but their interpretation feels shallow. This might work better if there were 20 or 30 game types included but the limited scope and imagination from the genres themselves often means the base experience is the same the majority of the time. It doesn’t help that this experience is rather tedious. Generally, after an opening narrative, you are informed of one objective you must complete. These go from finding an item to killing a certain enemy or amount of enemies within a certain time, and more. There are items you can find that add a small amount of puzzle-solving, like boots that allow you to walk over a crevice, but the objectives don’t tend to change much. This is unfortunate as, after your third or fourth mash, the entire formula becomes rather tiresome.
This isn’t an issue with procedural generation as a whole; this is an issue with the design of SuperMash itself. What makes roguelikes and other titles that are fond of procedural generation consistently fresh is everything else about their design. It isn’t the arenas in The Binding Of Issac or the worlds in Minecraft that are interesting, it is the game itself. You discover new things and new ways of beating areas faster. SuperMash does not have this. While there are plenty of dev cards to unlock, the game becomes hollow very quickly.
While the story progresses, the gameplay, for the most part, does not. The story does a reasonable job of setting up the universe. You and a group of your friends run a game store that is currently going under until you find the “Playtype Game Machine”. You quickly realize its potential and start to combine games to sell to customers. There are some nostalgic and rather nice moments in the story, and it works for the most part. This is tied up with some fitting visuals and a decent soundtrack. Furthermore, the idea to add boss fights after finishing objectives for each genre type is a great idea, but the bosses themselves aren’t great and can be beaten very quickly.
There are plenty of systems that work well within SuperMash but the gameplay itself lets that all down. You can earn dev cards by spending tokens on them and it plays with glitches and ideas in interesting ways. Unfortunately, SuperMash has two types of glitches: glitch cards that can be added to your mash and glitches that ruin the entire gameplay experience. The glitch cards add some interesting and unexpected caveats to gameplay like “enemies have more health for ten seconds after walking right” or “items randomly spawn”. This is quite self-aware, meta and would work if the game itself didn’t have so many problems. But it does, and there are pretty constant graphical and audio mistakes found throughout, like your character disappearing and sound effects repeating indefinitely. This becomes more frustrating especially when items get stuck in walls and ladders can’t be climbed due to enemies being stuck on them. Both of these require quitting the mash and starting again.
This sums up my experience with SuperMash on Xbox One as a whole. Whilst I have really wanted to love SuperMash, it has instead ended up as a tedious, frustrating and downright boring affair. There are some great ideas but the good faith these earn are ruined within minutes. In fact, SuperMash feels like playing on your friend’s NES, stuck in the middle of a mission before the game unexpectedly crashes. Over and over again.