Review by SneakTheSnake
"A fun and challenging platformer that helps put some “Oomph” into the eShop"
Nintendo was pretty hesitant to get itself into the online gaming market. They either innovate on many fronts at once (such as with Wii's motion control and focus on casual play) or hold off (for example, using cartridges for the N64 as opposed to discs). When Nintendo started putting exclusive online content out for its Nintendo consoles, well, players were skeptic, myself included. That, and I'm still waiting for the next console generation (or even the one after next), when Nintendo finally fires on all cylinders to provide multiplayer support and excellent, online-exclusive content. Mutant Mudds is a step in the right direction.
Part of why Mutant Mudds and other games fare well is the advantage the 3DS and DSi have over smartphones, namely a competent controller. The d-pad and buttons make all the difference in how action games can succeed in the Nintendo market as opposed to the App Store; that, and many of the games feature the classic Nintendo charm and generally higher production values than what you're bound to find elsewhere. Mutant Mudds is a 2D platformer of the classic pedigree, offering up plenty of old-school challenge blended amongst some rather new-school ideas.
In the world of Mutant Mudds, there's been an alien invasion, in which the whole planet's been taken over by giant mud creatures. You take on the role of a small boy who, with the help of his grandmother, traverses sixteen main levels and a bevy of bonus ones to nab diamonds, blast away the Mutant Mudds and save the planet. The story is ho-hum; even if you take it as a tongue-in-cheek homage / parody of classic games, it's not very impressive or immersing. It's an exhausted framing device.
After a brief cutscene, you take off into a series of platforming challenges, positively riddled with enemies and obstacles. You can jump pretty high, and you can also glide with your water pack to help reach faraway platforms or to hover around, taking out enemies from above. Your method of attack is a small gun, kind of like a peashooter. Mudds come in all shapes and sizes; those and other obstacles, like deadly spikes, vanishing platforms ala Mega Man 2, lava, spinning spike balls and bombs will make your adventure all the tougher.
For every old-school influence, there's a new-school touch. You have three hit points, but you also have infinite lives. The levels are short, even timed affairs, but the game saves after every level. Your jumping must be precise, but only to a fault, as your water pack allows for more precise platforming. Perhaps the most obscure retro callback is the fact that you can jump at certain points between the background and foreground, much like Donkey Kong Country Returns or Virtual Boy Wario Land.
Because of the devilish enemy placement, the spikes around every corner and the way you can shift between different planes, the levels of Mutant Mudds are creative and endearing. Often, you'll be going through a level and see some diamonds far away from you in the background or right in your face in the foreground, but you'll be in the middle. How do I get to the other diamonds? you'll think to yourself. Could you have missed a jumping point someplace else? You'll also encounter enemies (some of them shooting projectiles or firing bombs) perched innocently on the next platform you want to get to. On top of that, there are secret exits in each level to take you to platforming challenges even tougher than the ones you already have ahead.
Mutant Mudds is indeed a challenging game, but it's kind of fleeting. The game has twenty levels, which each, even with some memorization and perseverance, take about four or five minutes apiece to complete. Couple that with a lack of bosses and you have a game which survives on its classic-inspired premise. There isn't much gameplay variety in Mutant Mudds either; while the game does give the player the choice of which levels to play through in which order (at least to an extent), these stages are all rather straightforward, and there are no other gameplay types to break up the action. The replay value comes in collecting all the diamonds, which in turn grants access to upgrades, which ipso facto grants you access to harder levels. Your higher jump, longer hover and quicker shot make things easier, even if you can only use one of them at a time, and some of the bonus levels are pretty well-hidden.
There are twenty levels, and each of these has two medals; one is obtained when beating the level outright, and another is obtained when you find the secret exit and clear the special stage. These special stages, along with the last few levels in the game, can be grueling in difficulty - fair difficulty, to be sure, the best kind of difficulty. Mutant Mudds does provide a few truly well-hidden secrets and nail-bitingly tense moments, but still only a few.
Despite the lack of gameplay variety and brevity, Mutant Mudds succeeds. The control and level design are spot-on, as is expected in a Nintendo platformer, and the graphics and music embed a pitch-perfect retro feel. Billed as a 12-bit game by the developers, Mutant Mudds employs a pixelated aesthetic, and the sprites are lively and interesting. Bright, colorful backgrounds enhance the landscape, and it can be kind of impressive, albeit somewhat confusing at times, to see three layers of platforms all on screen at the same time. I especially like the design of the larger Mudds, which all have funny facial expressions, but the sprites of the main characters, Max and his grandmother, aren't without their charm.
The music really pulls things together in these retro tunes, ones whose melodic complexity and chip-tune goodness sound like they were pulled out of Duck Tales or Mega Man 2, two games touted for their excellent soundtracks. It's kind of redundant to call the game technically unimpressive, seeing as it's a title inspired by the 8-bit days, but the music will quickly get in your head as you play through the expansive, towering levels.
My only complaint is how short the game is. I bolted through Mutant Mudds, with most of the secrets in tow, in a few scant hours and, while I intend to go back and grab the last few medals, I imagine that will take one or two hours more. That about does it for replay value as well, as there are no time trials, multiplayer options or extra modes to speak of. One could chalk that up to the bare-bones, gameplay-focused, no-frills approach of the 8-bit era. But, with all the new-school touches in Mutant Mudds, like 3D support, infinite lives and battery back-up, some leaderboards or some kind of endurance tower would have been welcome additions. I hope those are saved for the sequel.
Mutant Mudds has a lot going for it. It's a short game; the challenge comes in a little later on in the game and sticks with you. The game requires precision control from you, and it's tight enough that it could only be your fault if you lose. The graphics are charming, the music is mp3 player-worthy, and the gameplay is tight and refined. I wholeheartedly welcome the upcoming PC version and the already-announced sequel to Mutant Mudds, as this is a game that deserves to be a franchise. Let's hope Max can stave out another alien invasion in the near future.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/12
Game Release: Mutant Mudds (US, 01/26/12)
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