Sometimes, something comes out that’s so interesting a concept it can’t be ignored. We’ve seen it with The Sims, Katamari Damacy and now Mutant Mudds, a game advertising itself as “12-bit” – a cross between 8 and 16 bit games. But how does the marketing spin translate into actual gaming goodness?
Imagine if Megaman and LittleBigPlanet had a baby. Then imagine that the baby looked a bit like Jeff from EarthBound, and you have Mutant Mudds. The game is a side-scrolling platform shooter in which players guide a boy called Max and his water pistol through a series of increasingly difficult levels in order to defeat an invasion by the Mudds – a race of, well, mud creatures whose main directive seems to be to sit in awkward places and periodically walk back and forth. An interesting mechanic implemented here is the ability to jump between three different planes (differentiated by the 3D effects of the 3DS) to traverse platforms and avoid hazards. The player does this by using little orange pads scattered around the stage, but unfortunately you’ll often find yourself switching planes without entirely meaning to – and there’s not always a pad back.
The platforming action starts off gentle but soon becomes brutally unforgiving, only allotting three hit points to Max and making it very difficult indeed to not lose any. There’s always a rush of adrenaline as you string together a series of perfect jumps across platforms that flicker in and out of existence, just as there’s always disappointment when you hover just a second too long and plunge to your death. In the end, your deaths will probably outweigh your victories, but this is probably good or you’d burn through the game’s fifteen or so levels incredibly fast.
Fortunately, death isn’t too much of a burden. Unlike the games it pays homage to, Mutant Mudds has no lives system – an excellent choice, and it relieves the frustration players feel by a lot (especially when you die two jumps before the end of the level). The levels themselves only last four minutes at most, before the clock runs out and the player dies. You’ll probably never encounter this however, since the different stages are actually pretty small, they just keep you from the ending with their insane required precision.
Still, for all the game’s difficulty, it’s never unfair. It’s always possible, with enough skill, to make it through every level with your health intact and even pick up every diamond along the way. You aren’t scored on your performance, but in each level there are a hundred of the little floaty squares for those of you with magpie tendencies. Maybe you’ll be called obsessed, but hey – it means you get those upgrades faster!
Upgrades are purchased from your lovely Grannie’s attic, and are quite few in number, bringing Max a total of three improvements to his firepower, jumping and hover ability respectively. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all the bonus content you’ll be getting, since Mutant Mudds really lacks in replayability. Diamonds can’t be collected again, meaning there’s very little motivation to complete the stages more than once beyond going for 100% completion. For all its visual depth, Mutant Mudds really isn’t that deep, and it’s a great shame there wasn’t more.
Speaking of visuals, here’s where the game really shines, and it’s odd that the best use of the 3DS’ graphics so far comes from a sprite-based side scroller. It finds a good use in differentiating the layers Max can traverse and for once manages to not get in the way, barring the usual problems with the console’s 3D viewing range (here’s hoping the XL fixes that!). It’s great that 3D works so well for viewing 2D sprites on 3D planes, and it only helps that the sprites themselves are so lovingly reminiscent of the 16-bit era. Colours are bright and all the different palettes fit together nicely, even though modern systems can display much more than the 256 colours the Mega Drive was capable of.
Wonderfully nostalgic also is the music, which fans of chiptunes will certainly enjoy – the bleeps that found their way into their hearts are here in force (no such thing as MP3 here!) and really help with the feeling of being transported back to the early Nineties. Unusually for ears used to modern orchestral soundtracks, it shouldn’t get on your nerves too much – at worst you’ll forget it’s there and at best you’ll be nodding your head as you drop into a spike pit for the millionth time.
Mutant Mudds is a great package, available for a reasonable £8.19 on the 3DS eShop. Some might complain that the price is too high, there’s not enough content, or that it’s far too hard, but with practice you’ll improve and the price makes sure it’s worth the few hours you get out of it. Rare is it to see such a classic-styled game get a major release on a console, but if anything deserves it, it’s Mutant Mudds.
An absolute blast for the few hours it lasts, somewhat lacking in content but altogether very much worth it. 8/10.