Wednesday, 31 October 2012

REVIEW - Mutant Mudds (PC)

Mutant Mudds is a 'retro' platform game released earlier in 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS via the Nintendo eShop. The game received decent enough reviews to result in a PC version with 20 extra levels being released in August. I never played the 3DS version for 2 reasons; 1) I don't have a 3DS, and 2) I don't want a 3DS. My eyes are sufficiently wonky to render anything out of the ordinary (magic eye books, 3D TVs) an uncomfortable viewing experience so I figured the 3DS wasn't for me. Anyway, I come to this PC version having no prior knowledge of Mutant Mudds, but as a sucker for anything that looks remotely like a 2D platformer from the 80's or 90's I hastily downloaded the game.

After a short cutscene showing a meteorite hitting earth and unleashing a plethora of aliens made of mud, our nerdy looking hero sets off to vanquish them armed with a water pistol, and rather randomly, a jet pack. As the little poindexter, you are tasked with traversing a 2D platform world, blasting baddies, collecting diamonds, searching for secrets, and generally performing tasks you have done a million times before in much classier games. 
Lets start with the visuals, in screenshots they actually look reasonable cool, but in reality they are very uninspired. They are neither 8-bit, nor 16-bit as many reviewers incorrectly claim, instead sitting in a grey area between the two, they are far too 'clean' and lack the rough pixellated look of early platformers, in fact I would say Mutant Mudds most resembles a Gameboy Colour game being played in an emulator that uses horrible graphics filters to smooth out the pixels. The sound effects are poor too, but luckily the music is better, the chiptune tracks giving the game an 8-bit NES feel to it. The tracks are certainly nowhere near as catchy as the most well known of NES tunes (Mega Man series I am looking at you) but they do the job and fit the vibe of the game nicely.

To be honest, after only a few minutes of Mutant Mudds my finger was hovering over the escape key ready to shut it off and play something better. Running through lifeless backdrops blasting brown blobs, double jumping (via your jet pack’s short burst) onto disappearing platforms isn't the most gripping gameplay experience, but then I came across the game's 'hook' and my interest was extended for a while longer. The gimmick is that certain platforms switch you between the background, foreground, and midground. In the background you naturally look smaller and there is a layer of fog to give the illusion of depth, in the foreground you are huge and can barely see 2 feet ahead of you. This is the game's only unique point, saving it from being an awful and generic platform game with no redeeming features whatsoever, but it also presents many problems. The main issue is that it can become visually confusing. With monsters and fireballs and moving platforms, not just in your plane, but in the background and foreground too it can become hard to see what is actually going to hit you, resulting in many deaths. This is coupled with a frustrating difficulty level that sees you sent back to the start of the stage upon your demise and you rapidly lose patience with Mutant Mudds. Actually, the frustration is born from the thought of having to slowly traipse through the tedious level again rather than the game being unfairly difficult.

To the developer's credit they have tried to inject some depth to proceedings, there are secret rooms to uncover, levels that require a set amount of diamonds before becoming unlocked, and 3 upgrades you can purchase that improve your weapon and jet pack. But is it is not enough to help Mutant Mudds rise above the level of mediocrity. Surprisingly this game has been getting 'rave reviews' around the net with 8 and 9 out of ten scores appearing, but I fail to see the same magic these people are seeing. We are in a time where any new indie game that looks 'retro' is automatically hailed as cool / trendy / awesome (delete as appropriate) by the hipsters who think that new games that look like NES games are 'da bomb', regardless of their quality. 
Maybe I see these indie games with a different set of eyes. Having grown up during the era when the 2D platformer was king it takes something pretty special these days (see Spelunky) to get me excited. Maybe younger gamers who missed the 16-bit years see these games as a breath of fresh air from the current gen A-list titles, and are not fully aware of the huge back catalogue of mindbogglingly amazing titles readily available via the wonders of emulation, virtual consoles, and compilations.

Anyway back to Mutant Mudds and all that is left to say is that I found it exceptionally bland, with a retro look that is unappealing and devoid of charm (the hero looks like a Dexter's Laboratory character, as drawn by a 5 year old). Playing the game feels like going through the motions, you find yourself slogging your way through it in the manner of someone completing tedious household chores on a rainy afternoon. Well that's how it felt to me anyway. It simply does not cut it, so do not waste any of your time playing tat like this when there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing 2D platformers out there to choose from.. go ahead, pick one, there's a 90% chance it will be vastly more enjoyable than this insipid effort.

The Good:

  • Chiptune soundtrack is reasonably good
  • Background / foreground switching mechanic is cool, but....

The Bad:

  • … It is visually confusing
  • Bland & charmless graphics
  • Slow, boring, repetitive gameplay