Supermash and The Art of the Hybrid-Genre

For the past few days, I’ve been playing Supermash, developed and published by Digital Continue. Supermash bids itself as a “game that makes games”. You run a video games store, that’s on the verge of closing, when you discover an old retro console that lets you combine (or mash) two different genres of game together to generate a unique old-school title that borrows elements from your chosen genres.

Every game you generate has its own challenge for you to complete. Whether the task is achievable however, is a whole other story. In fact, Supermash begins with a screen that states:

Supermash doesn’t design games a person would. The mashes can be: Good, Weird, Unbalanced, Incredibly Hard, Super Easy. The fun comes from finding and saving the games and rising to the challenge to overcome seemingly unbeatable mashes.”

In a bid to perhaps spice things up a bit, Digital Continue also incorporated “glitches” into the Supermash generation process. That’s right, a retro game wouldn’t be retro without the odd glitch now would it… would it? The difference here, is that these glitches actively affect the game’s mechanics, with some having positive effects and others negative. Which is why, in my time playing Supermash, I’ve often found that it was the glitches themselves that dictated if my play-through would be a success or failure, more so than the combination of the two chosen genres.

For example, The Conqueror: Ninja was an example of a fun, functioning Stealth & Metroidvania mash, where I played as “Quinn” on a 5 minute mission to kill all the shadow bats throughout the level with my silenced pistol. I particularly liked the sonar-esque field-of-vision cones they gave the bats, and as long as you stayed clear of these you remained undetected. Where the glitch came in to play, was the spawning of a heart canister every time I got hit by an enemy. This essentially resulted in me being somewhat invincible.

Meanwhile, Forgotten Legends of the Epic Gems was a hilarious combination of Shooter and Adventure, as my “G-74 Striker” aircraft navigated a Zelda-like dungeon, swinging a stoneblade sword and breaking pots. There was even a secret area which transported me to a traditional top-down Shmup environment. This time, the active glitch was a treasure chest that spawned after several swings of my sword, which would contain either power ups, gems or hearts. So, if you spammed the attack button, you would spawn in more chests.

Sadly, Boing Boing Town was just impossible. I received a task from a customer to create a hard Platformer Jrpg, and boy did Supermash overachieve. Despite her best efforts, “Lady Justus” and her team were no match for the evil undead, when the active glitch was to spawn a new enemy foe during a random encounter battle, on each successful hit by the enemy. Soon outnumbered, I never got past the first fight.

All of this got me thinking. How do we approach genre mashing in Literature?

Cross-genre or “Hybrid Genre” writing is hugely popular, and has been a long established approach to fiction writing. William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) is considered a truly classic example of hybrid genre fiction, with a blend of poetry, prose, and engravings.

In contemporary fiction we are more likely to think of contrasting combinations such as the Noir/SciFi of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the Period Drama/Horror splicing of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, the Crime/Fantasy of Rivers of London & The City & The City, and the Fantasy/Romance of YA series’ Twilight & The Mortal Instruments. However, Wikipedia also suggests Action Comedy, Comedy Drama and Romantic Comedy amongst others as examples of literary mashes. I can’t help but think these have become such mainstream, popular combinations that they are taken for granted as hybrid-genres.

So how do you pen a successful cross-genre novel?

Esther Rabbit, author and content creator, proposes there are two types of reader to identify when marketing your story.

The Reality anchored reader: Even when reading works of fiction, this reader seeks real-life experiences through the written word. No flying unicorns, no glittery vampires, no magic wielding creatures. Just life unfolding in its realistic layers whether it’s drama, romance or comedy. 

The Fantasy anchored reader: This reader is looking for a way out of real-life, wanting nothing more than to escape in a world where nothing is impossible: supernatural creatures, life on other planets, worlds hidden in plain sight.

Esther Rabbit – Writing Cross-Genre Novels: Trends, Marketing & Insights

In addition to this, Michelle Richmond proposes 3 key objectives to the perfect Supermash formula.

• Recognize your primary genre—and use it as your compass. Let your primary genre give your story structure, and you’ll have a strong foundation upon which to build.

• Draw on your strengths as a writer, regardless of genre.Write what you love, and write it with an eye toward entertaining your reader.

• Create characters that defy genre conventions. If you were to extract your main character from the novel and set them down in an entirely different situation, would the reader still care what happens to them?

Michelle Richmond – How to Write & Sell a Cross-Genre Novel

So how far could we push this cross-genre envelope? How far-flung and subversive can we get before the sublime became the ridiculous? How about…

The Hunt for Red Riding Hood | Classic fairy tale meets Tom Clancy thriller. A gripping story of a former woodcutter turned CIA agent, tracking down a courageous female Soviet captain who defects from the Big Bad USSR in a desperate bid to deliver a nuclear submarine to the safe hands of her American grandmother.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Peace |A re-imagining of Tolstoy’s epic, as a count’s illegitimate son employs ancient Chinese battle strategy in his bid to woo a beautiful noblemen’s daughter and fend off a competing prince, whilst fighting against Napoleon’s invading forces.

Fear and Loathing in Lilliput | Gulliver embarks on an alcohol & drug-fuelled bender, believing himself to be journeying across the seas and documents a psychedelic adventure as he’s held captive by tiny people & befriended by enormous giants, only to find he’s tripping balls in a 2-star motel room.

Anyway, I’m off to pitch my new TV program to the BBC, Androcles and the Dragon’s Den. Part Aesop’s fable, part reality show, as several budding entrepreneurs pitch their inventions to remove a thorn from Peter Jones’ rear end (who’ll invest in return for 40% of the company).

I think I’m on to something with this one.


This article was written in response to episode three of the Prompt Night podcast (here). It was read aloud in episode four (here).

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