IMPRESSIONS: SuperMash

Monday, May 11th, 2020

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By


I’m gonna start this piece with a fact about myself that only my oldest friends know – I’m a huge fan of weird hybrids. Even as a young lad, I was engrossed with those picture books that let you mix and match body parts to create strange chimeras. So it should be no surprise that I was instantly drawn to the premise of SuperMash. After all, it’s a game all about mixing together different video game genres in surprising ways. So of course I was ecstatic to cover the game. The question is, can SuperMash live up to the ambitious gameplay hook?

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The story starts with a garage sale, the acquisition of a retro game console, and an eviction notice. The main characters are Tomo and Jume, a brother sister duo that happen to run a used game store together. Presented with that eviction notice, they decide to use their newly acquired PlayType console to try and make some money. Their ultimate goal is to use the console’s unique capability to mash together two disparate game genres into a working mini game, package them, and sell them for enough money to find a new place. There’s other side notes, such as Tomo’s estranged relationship with Meryl or a mysterious older gentleman interested in the PlayType, but most of the story is about the siblings finding a way to make things work financially. Though I wasn’t that drawn to the characters themselves, I did appreciate all the nods to game culture and retro collector syndrome.

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For the gameplay itself, you play Tomo as he mashes together specific 6 genres for research purposes. These are the available genres – Action / Adventure, Platformer, Stealth, Shoot ‘Em Up, JRPG and Metrovania. There’s specific tasks you have to accomplish to move the story along, as well as optional side quests that reward you with currency. You use that hard earned cash to buy packs with something called Dev Cards. These are used to manipulate factors in the mini games to your advantage. There’s a variety of them you can adjust – Player, Enemy, Weapon, Level, Glitch and Music. Speaking of Glitches, you can encounter beneficial and harmful ones. Some positives include spawning extra health or randomly killing all foes on screen. Some negatives include the screen titling, being trapped in ice blocks or the dreaded Glitch Ghost haunting me. Though I didn’t use the Dev Dashboard to implement cards that much, it’s nice that there’s something in-game to make things a bit less random. You also acquire more Dev Cards every time you successfully beat a mini game (referred to as a Mash). Besides this, you can also select the length and difficulty of each individual Mash.

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If you have the impression there’s a lot of player control, you might be in for a surprise. See, every time you either manually or randomly roll the dice to create a Mash from two genres, there’s one thing you have zero control over – the objective. There’s a decent range, from killing a group of foes to only killing a specific one, collecting a set amount of currency, finding and selling weapons, rescuing lost characters and a whole bunch more besides. At first I really liked the sheer amount of variety. Early on, you only have to fulfill basic requirements to progress. But once you start investigating the mysterious journal that came with the PlayType console, things get a bit trickier.

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Every time you have to fill out a journal page, Tomo is supposed to suss out and complete specific objectives. The problem is these objectives aren’t really clear. For example, to fill out the Action / Adventure journal page, you are supposed to find 4 gem-like objects. But the names of these objects aren’t specified. So I thought for sure I had already found the Fire Wordstone, and kept avoiding Mashes that listed finding that as a goal. Problem was, I actually had a different Wordstone, so I was accidentally wasting time. Or take the Metrovania journal page. Instead of objects, it displays what appear to be specific stages, but with no clear names. As a result, I have literally been trying to fill out the Metrovania page for more than an hour, with no success. An additional irritant is that sometimes SuperMash didn’t tell me when I had unlocked a journal page objective. And keep in mind you don’t get to set the objectives, so you could be playing for a while before you are able to progress. Thankfully, once you do fill out a journal page, you get to experience a cool boss challenge based around that genre. These range from fighting a giant airship to defeating a fantasy monster to infiltrating a base.

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While I was frustrated by the journal roadblocks, I don’t want to give the impression that playing through SuperMash was a constant slog. If anything, it was a mixed experience, with some good and some bad. Let’s start with what I enjoyed. I loved all the nods to the game industry in SuperMash. For example, there’s a cat girl wearing bandages named Sheila, a pixelated swordsman named Tye and a man armed with a gun and cardboard box named Mercenary Mongoose. Likewise, the visual styles of the genres are reminiscent of consoles from many generations, from NES to Game Boy to SNES to Sega Genesis. I also adore the silly Mash titles the game generates. Many are totally ridiculous, while some almost look as though they could have been real games. SuperMash takes a Mad Libs approach to composing all the Mashes, often with hilarious results.

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When it comes to how the actual genres are mixed together, that’s pretty crazy unpredictable. Some of the genres work surprisingly well together, and others are a mess. Say you’re playing a Stealth Mash as a Platformer character. This means you’ll be able to jump on top of enemy heads as well as shoot them with silencers. Or you’re playing a JRPG with Shoot ‘Em Up. You’ll encounter aerial raids, and get interrupted by random encounters, complete with ATB systems. But then you’ll get nightmare combinations like Action / Platformer and Stealth. I’d say for every fun Mash, I had a handful of bad ones, and a lot was dependent on the RNG. I got less and less worried about quitting a Mash quickly if it had many rough Glitches or absurd requirements.

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Now let’s talk bad. It should be noted that right before you boot up SuperMash, you get a disclaimer about how the system can produce strange results. I’ve encountered lots of unintentional bugs, such as being unable to leave a challenge room, or being literally blown into stage geometry, unable to escape. It’s also a pain when you’re doing well in a Mash and the PlayType console has a hiccup, forcing you to quit. I get that Digital Continue was going for an authentic tribute to old school consoles, but that’s a little much. I also encountered some really wonky physics, such as being unable to navigate through a door. There’s even times when the path forward in a Mash is less than clear. I should point out the item you need will likely be in that Mash, but you’ll have to figure out what it is. An example is a noxious gas cloud. You could get past it with a gas mask, or with an invulnerability bubble. You just have to figure it out on the fly.

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Also, though I feel most of the genres are done justice, there’s a couple that fell a bit flat – JRPG and Metrovania. I’d say both are the most complex genres on tap, and it’s hard to distill their essence into a 5-10 minute mini game. Frankly the JRPG games reminded me of Koei Tecmo mobile RPG adventures. Sadly that’s not a compliment. Often I would pray my randomly generated party had enough mana to cast spells and not get steamrolled by basic foes. Lastly, I have two complaints about time. It takes upward of 20 seconds to load each Mash, assuming it doesn’t crash midway. Finally, I’m not a fan of how many Mashes have strictly enforced time limits. I hate being rushed, though I admit some of the Mashes without a time limit took way too long.

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In a weird way, I feel like SuperMash is the bastard child of Retro Game Challenge. Both have an admirable focus on retro with amazing creativity on display. I just feel the execution here was a bit rough at times. Also, I would have died to see some more genres represented, such as Beat ‘Em Up, Racing or even Rhythm. But if you enjoy crazy games that indulge in their passion for video game nostalgia, it’s hard to go wrong for only $19.99. Just be ready to navigate some choppy waters.

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.