Supermash Review – Flop Jam
It’s easy to think of how some of your favorite video game genres might fit together. In the space of just pure imagination, it’s possible to completely deconstruct familiar tropes and wildly throw them against a wall to see what sticks, challenging established norms without consequence. It’s this sort of unhinged creativity that makes Supermash initially hard to ignore. By making it easy to choose two genres and mash them together with randomly determined results, Supermash seems to promise a near endless supply of retro concoctions. But instead of delicately blended results, the games that Supermash does spit out lack any identity, while feeling too similar to one another when they do work and downright frustrating when borderline broken.
The core conceit of Supermash is the ability to create new games from templates of genres. The genres on offer are varied, ranging from a classic NES action adventure in the vein of The Legend of Zelda to the sneaky steps of a Metal Gear-inspired stealth game. Each genre template plucks a core idea from its inspirations and uses that as the core mechanic for your eventual combinations. For example, a JRPG will lend turn-based combat to any game it’s matched with, while a shoot-’em-up will introduce vertically scrolling terrains to whatever other genre you choose to pair with it.
Supermash is incredibly easy to get going–pick two genres, decide on a desired game length and difficulty, and use mostly single-use collectible cards to make small cosmetic and gameplay changes to the initial result. The rest is handled by Supermash’s procedural generation, which doesn’t always do the best job of masking the limited templates it’s clearly working with. Within an hour, I was recognizing the same layouts in both stealth and action adventure mashes, and even routinely seeing the same visual palates used to dress them up in. Seeing the strings behind the puppetry would’ve been disappointing but forgivable, though, if the games themselves were any fun to play.
Most of the creations lack any substantial differences between them. Whether you’re playing a shrunken-down Zelda-like dungeon or jumping through a Mario-inspired platformer, you’re generally doing one of three things: finding a specific character, retrieving a specific item, or killing a certain number of a specific enemy, all within a short timeframe. These don’t change with the genres you’re putting together, which often makes genres meant to be less linear pointless. Genres like JRPGs or metroidvanias are much more than just their styles of combat or collectible upgrades, but Supermash never gives you levels or goals that reflect this. And even when the objectives do coalesce with the main genre influence, they’re just unsatisfying to play. Platforming feels floaty and imprecise, dungeon crawling becomes nothing more than a repetitive checklist, and shoot-’em-ups never capture the exhilaration of their inspirations.
Randomly assigned modifiers called “glitches” can somewhat differentiate one mash from the next, but more often than not, they result in more game-breaking issues. A glitch can, for example, spawn a new enemy every time you attack, or conversely heal you every time you take damage. These serve to either eliminate any challenge or increase it to frustrating levels, regardless of the difficulty setting you assign prior to making the game. Others are more frustrating, though. I had a glitch that moved me in a random direction for a few seconds after each attack, which made simple movement a chore. It forced me to just forgo combat entirely while navigating a dungeon, further restricting the already limited actions I had. There’s no way to turn these randomly assigned glitches off either, so when you’re dealt a bad hand, you just have to restart and hope for a better result next time.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some combinations that aren’t at least amusing. Playing a 2D stealth game with the turn-based combat of classic Final Fantasy games doesn’t work mechanically (having to go into an action menu to perform a stealth kill is ridiculous), but it does remind you of how good each of the individual parts are in other games. But Supermash’s multitude of little games never come close to reaching the entertaining heights of the genres they attempt to recreate, which makes it difficult to want to test the abilities of its random generation further after your initial attempts.
Encompassing all of this experimentation is a thin story about three friends trying to keep their video game retail store open, with the crew hoping to package and sell some of these new creations to spark some interest. Story objectives set some parameters for your next mashup, indicating what genres and modifiers to use, without really steering you towards any great outcomes. There’s an additional journal to work through with objectives tied to each genre you have at your disposal, each connecting small but throwaway stories within them.
Progressing this journal is incredibly frustrating, though, since the items required for completion are populated into your generated levels at random. You’re forced to repeatedly mash together the same genres in the hopes of finally getting one that has what you need, which only serves to expose the repetitive nature of them even faster. Each chapter culminates with a boss fight specific to the genre you’re completing, and despite being some of the only handcrafted bits of retro action in Supermash, they fail to be any more exciting than the random contraptions you put together. Most are one-note and devoid of challenge, only requiring repetitive attacks and simple movements to overcome. They’re not worth the time you need to invest to unlock them.
It’ll be rare for you to want to save any of the creations Supermash lets you construct, which is indicative of how shallow and unsatisfying they all are at their core. In a bid to try and do so many things right, Supermash forgets the fundamentals of all the genres it tries to encompass, while also overreaching by trying to make them all work in some way together. None of Supermash’s creations feel close to replicating the joy of their inspirations, and instead serve as reminders that there are far more focused and polished attempts at each individual one that will reward your time better. There’s no doubting the imaginative idea at Supermash’s core, but it ends up choking on its ambition.
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