Genres are incredibly important. Not just in video games, either; whether you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to some music, genres are vital in indicating what kind of experience you’re in for. SuperMash takes this idea and flips it on its head, giving you the freedom to take two distinct game genres and smash them together. It’s an enticing concept that’s hard to resist - particularly if you grew up in the '80s - but ultimately its overall execution is incredibly shoddy, and failed to hold our interest for very long.
The game’s story is largely inconsequential, but does well to serve as the backdrop for the main gameplay. You play as a store assistant who, after giving a young boy his very own video game console at a garage sale, is rewarded in turn with what initially appears to be a box of old gaming junk. When the store is under threat of closure, the owner breaks out the box and discovers a never-before-seen console that takes two game cartridges at a time, thus creating a ‘mash’ of game genres. Personally, we’d be straight down to the auction house if we found a console like this, but there we go.
The rest of the story plays like a visual novel, with the video game store serving a hub area in which you can stroll around at your leisure. There are various points of interest, including a journal to view information on the game genres, and a tool in which you input a code to generate a specific game. You can also tap X at any point in the store to quickly jump into a randomly generated mash, if you wish. You might remember in the Indie World announcement that one of the devs showed off his favourite code and asked that you try it out when the game launches. All we can say is that it is, at least, one of the better games on offer.
There are six genres to choose from when mashing your games together: the Platformer is reminiscent of classic 2D platformers like Super Mario Bros.; the Shoot-Em Up creates a vertically scrolling screen with waves of enemies; the JRPG adds elements like turn-based battles and stats; the Action Adventure is basically The Legend of Zelda condensed down; the Stealth genre takes inspiration from early Metal Gear titles; finally, the Metrovania contains elements from Castlevania and Metroid games, as you’d expect.
Whichever genre you pick first will form the overall basis of the game you’re about to play. So for example, if you choose the Stealth genre and the Shoot-Em-Up, you’ll likely be placed in a military compound similar to Metal Gear, but the characters will be made up of assets from a shmup, with enemies scrolling down the screen as you explore. If you swap the order of the genres around, though, you'll be placed in a vertically scrolling level, and there will be elements from a stealth game (including a cardboard box, because of course...).
You can choose how long your mash is going to be, along with its overall difficulty. In addition to this, the game makes liberal use of ‘dev cards’, which essentially form gameplay modifiers called ‘glitches’. These can make the games easier or harder depending on what the glitch consists of, and unfortunately you can’t turn these off entirely. Still, some are worth playing around with; we particularly enjoyed the glitch that causes the camera angle to tilt. The dev cards themselves are unlocked by either completing your gaming sessions, progressing through the story, or using in-game currency to purchase them.
It’s initially pretty fun to experiment with the various genres on offer to see what kind of game it spits out, but ultimately you’re not going to create anything worth revisiting more than a few times. The crux of the issue lies with the fact that the games are based, more or less, on classic titles known for their deliberately, carefully designed levels and gameplay. By taking these genres and making everything procedurally generated, nothing fits together as cohesively as you’d like (not to mention the fact that you're inviting direct comparison with some of the best video games ever made). The initial novelty of seeing genres smashed together quickly fades as you run into problems like poor item placement, unbalanced difficulty, and actual glitches that completely break the experience.
Despite the glitches, however, the overall performance of the game is reasonably solid; the issues mentioned above are more from a design perspective as opposed to technical problems. Graphically, many of the assets are pretty decent, and the character design - while not unique - is commendable. The presentation as a whole is very welcoming, and it's a real shame that it falls apart so quickly once the core 'mashup' gameplay kicks in. We had the most fun when we put together two of the same genres, and that says it all, really.
SuperMash is a great idea that feels squandered thanks to poor execution. The idea of mashing together different genres is a fun one, but the reality is that the resulting games are only mildly amusing at best, and infuriatingly broken at worst. Procedural generation certainly has its place in the industry, with many games using it to fine effect. Unfortunately, in the case of SuperMash the concept is so inelegantly and heavily implemented, we’d much rather sit down with a deliberately handcrafted game any day of the week.