That platformer itch
After booting up Renegade Kid’s Mutant Mudds, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t throwback to games like Super Mario Bros. or Megaman, but instead a nice little platformer that was actually made in the mid-80s. Every square inch of it oozes classic platformer design, from its controls, to level design, to difficulty and visual style. Having originally debuted on Nintendo’s 3DS, Mutant Mudds has now made the leap over to PC, and it delivers a solid, if not flawed, fix for those yearning to scratch their classic platformer itch.
Like many of the 8-bit games that inspired it, Mutant Mudds isn’t terribly interested with delving deep into its characters or story to present any life-changing moral lessons. There’s a short set up to explain why you’re shooting (or, rather, squirting) things, but it is really more of a formality than anything that really adds to the game.
In Mutant Mudds, players take control of Max, a stereotypically nerdy looking young kid sporting some shaggy blonde hair and glasses that are too big for his face. At the beginning of the game Max is minding his own business, enjoying some video games at grandma’s house, when a meteor crashes into Earth and unleashes an invasion of evil Mutant Mudds. Luckily the monsters are weak against the most common liquid on the planet, water. Max decides that he should probably save the planet with the aid of little more than his bubble gun and water powered jet pack.
Using these watery weapons, Max must fight his way through each level in order to find the water sprite, objects that hold the power do away with the Mutant Mudds for good. That’s about all there is in terms of story or character development. On one hand, I understand that a lot of the classic platformers of yore had incredibly minimalistic stories. On the other, it’s not 1985 anymore, and we’ve been spoiled by games like Braid that have proven even retro style titles can tell worthwhile stories while still staying true to their roots. In a game like Mutant Mudds I’m not expecting to have to re-evaluate my world views after the credits roll, but even just a little bit more story or character to keep driving me forward could have gone a long way.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, R…
Mutand Mudds is not a complicated game. In fact, it may be simple to a fault. The only things Max can do are move, jump, double jump with his jetpack, and shoot his bubble gun. While all of these mechanics work well, and I can appreciate a game not trying to overcomplicate itself for the sake of being complicated, I would have liked a little more variation throughout the course of the title. The combination of Max’s unchanging abilities - a few minor upgrades such as extended hovering time on the jetpack notwithstanding - and the amount of times you will have to replay levels can make the game feel pretty darned repetitive after awhile. Enemies navigate each level via pre-mapped pattern routes. More often than not, trial and error allows you to work out various Mudds’ routes to achieve victory.
The game lacks mid-level saves which means you will be playing certain sections over and over and over again. Is that faithful to most of the classic platformers? Yes. Does that make it any less frustrating? Not really. I think it would be ok if I was only working through the same levels a few times before moving onto something different gameplay-wise, or if I was progressing a story forward, but that’s not the case.
Finding some weapons with different firing properties or unlocking new ways to move around could have mixed things up enough to stop me from feeling like I was playing the same thing for a pretty big part of the game. It’s worth noting that there are a few bonus missions where players can play as Max’s granny, but besides letting her use all of the upgrades at once (Max can only use one at a time), she doesn’t play any different or bring anything new to the table.
Objects in the rear view mirror
Despite my wants for a little more variation, the game is saved by the underlying mechanics being pretty darned rock solid. Thankfully the controls are extremely tight, and I never felt like I overshot a platform or miss-timed a shot by virtue of anything other than my own errors, which is a great thing for a platformer. Having played the game on both PC and the 3DS, the d-pad and button layout of Nintendo’s system is a slightly more natural fit as it more closely mimics the two button controllers games like these were made for, but PC gamers shouldn’t find much of anything to complain about.
The only mechanic that doesn’t work quite as well here as it did in its handheld iteration is the z-axis hopping. Max is able, at certain times, to change between three 2 dimensional planes to traverse- the background, the mid-ground (the main plane) and the foreground. These planes are still distinguishable by their level of zoom and clarity, but it’s a clear step down from how cool the hopping looked on the 3DS. It’s clearly a mechanic designed to showcase 3D technology, and without the “wow” factor of him appearing to actually jump closer and farther from the screen the mechanic just doesn’t add much. If I didn’t know it had originated in a more natural fitting environment it would have come off as little more than a gimmick.
Overall Mutant Mudds is a bit of a victim of its own dedication. It does everything it can to not only allude to games of decades past, but to become one of them. It ignores many of the advances games have made over the last 30 or so years. While many will enjoy its pure-platforming action and retro visual/aural design, others, like myself will grow tired of repeating segments that weren’t overly memorable the first five or six times. With just a little more variety thrown in, Mutant Mudds would have been an easy recommend, but as it stands it just doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself in an increasingly saturated indie platformer market.
Visuals, music, and gameplay are all dedicated to their visual roots, controls are tight and responsive.
Repetitive gameplay, plane-hopping mechanic is less impressive on 2D displays.