Neo-Retro: Mutant Mudds
July 27, 2015
Mutant Mudds is a platformer released in 2012 for the 3DS. Which is the platform I’ve played and 100% it on. It’s available on other platforms but offers no substantial advantages. (Higher resolutions are superfluous given the art style) I recommended the 3DS version over others as the 3D effect is put to good use.
The games logo is painfully out of style with the rest of the game unfortunately.
The game is self described as 12-bit from the official twitter account. The resolution and colour palette seems close to super Mario world. But in actuality the game has a much higher resolution (I assume to allow for the multi lane mechanic and depth of field blurring/scaling effects)
One of the main gimmicks of gameplay is the ability to hop between three lanes, each a varying distance from the camera. It’s reminiscent of the effect that the SNES was able to pull off, where it could zoom in and rotate sprites. This three lane design helps circumvent how otherwise flat the game could have looked. There’s frequent foreground decorations and complex looking backgrounds, since they’re actually interactive.
The sequel Yoshis island used this effect near every chance it got.
But obviously here’s it’s a lot smoother (60 frames) which in itself is a good example of Neo-Retroism. The older SNES hardware couldn’t render three level lanes at once with differently scaled assets let alone at a modern frame rate.
The game opens with a brief opening cutscene and that’s essentially where the games story begins and ends. There are no boss fights in the game and the ending is equally as slim. This isn’t really a criticism, it actually harkens back to retro games. Back in the 90`s you were lucky if your character even spoke, let alone have a legible story which wasn’t butchered by Japanese to English translation.
We all remember this piece of Shakespearean work.
Mutant Mudds makes no effort at all however. The levels sadly are just flat out tropes with zero world building in the details and the enemy design all over the place aesthetically. There’s enemies who wield swords and shields and have menacing expressions, and then there’s derpy pig like enemies who behave like harmful platforms. I don’t need an intense character driven back story about why the Mudds are invading but the lack of coherency is jarring. They are definitely gameplay design orientated and it shows.
Despite the lack of lore it does have an atmosphere all its own however. The energetic soundtrack and vibrant palette perfectly encapsulate the cartoonish platformer craze so prevalent in the 90`s (interestingly the games designer was the person responsible for Aero the acrobats character)
A solid platformer. Worth a try if you can track it down. Available on the Wii virtual console.
It’s a pretty obvious improvement but it deserves to be mentioned again. The flawless 60 frames per second performance is a huge help to the immediacy of the controls. The protagonist Max has a very simple character sprite and he has no complex wind up animations to slow down movement. You press jump, he jumps. No fuss.
This is true for all of his available actions. Aside from jumping he can shoot and use a set of three powerups. There’s a grand total of two buttons to use but they are utilized very well. There’s plenty of level hazards where you need to duck, and instead of wasting an extra button for the super jump ability, it’s activated by pressing up & jump.
With a lot of games nowadays there’s nary a button left unused. Control schemes are overly complex, when developers should be looking to streamline and condense their setup appropriately.
However that is a hard balance to achieve. Gears of wars for example was overly reliant on the context sensitive ‘A’ button (running, rolling, using cover etc). But developers shouldn’t shy away from using button combinations for non-essential moves. Kingdoms of Amalur and Dragons Dogma using trigger & face button combinations for various spells and attack is a good application.
Obviously for older retro controllers, games had to make do with combinations if they wanted to achieve complexity with their controls. (or god forbid, a laborious menu system ala Quackshot)
This game could have learned a thing or two from Gunstar Heroes about switching weapon types.
Bit of a tangent there. Mutant Mudds controls are best likened to NES Megaman, (except the equipment switching is done in the hub world instead) which is obviously a huge compliment to the games finesse.
The sharp pixel style lends a lot of precision to platforming. Which is especially noticeable when playing on the closer up lanes.
Here’s Max posing on the closest lane. You can really admire each individual pixel at this distance.
Another helpful addition the platforming is the use of stereoscopic 3D. I know the feature has a lot of differing opinions but I feel this game puts it to flawless use. It aids in precision having yet another element to aid your perception. Plus it makes the foreground and background elements really pop. On other platforms the game looks a bit underwhelming without the addition of 3D. Credit where its due however, the games visuals are created solely by one person.
In regards to the art style, It’s very safe and clean. You can really see the copy pasted elements which is a personal niggle of mine in a lot of games. These really need to be obfuscated with unique decorations or variations and with modern size limitations there;s no reason to not to. (work load not withstanding) The easiest solution to masking tile asset based visuals is to be excessively lush so repetition is harder to spot. Which proposes an interesting challenge for sprite art to overcome. (A successful example would be Owlboy)
This method is a lot easier to accomplish with modern HD visuals thanks to tween animation and filters to add variety.
The games difficulty is suitably old school. There’s nothing modernized about it at all. Its just a straight up hardcore platformer which demands ultimate finesse and patience. The sequel Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge has a difficulty curve which seemingly continues where the first game ends. Which is simultaneously awesome and terrifying.
A lot more awesome colour palettes here. Less of the tired colour tropes and even some gradients are utilized.
The music in the game is a triumphant mixture of old and new. The melody is pretty simple and catchy, and there’s a lot of effects added into the mix. The tune inst as busy sounding as say the music in Megaman, but here the songs last a good length instead of being extremely short thanks to size limitations. There’s reverbs, fades and all manner of audio wizardry only possible thanks to better hardware. Plus, nearly every single level has its own unique song.
I still listen to the soundtrack to this day. Nothing ages better better then a good solid melody.
Another progressive and generous addition to the title is DLC. After the game had been out for a while, the developer released a free update which added a substantial amount of even more difficult levels. It’s a odd juxtaposition thinking of a retro title indulging in downloadable content. Until you realize Nintendo have been doing it for decades with the NES and Nintendo 64.
Like the Dreamcast, the 64DD was far too ahead of its time.
Mutant Mudds is simple in its execution, which leaves a lot less room for error. It’s a very solid blend of the old and new with very few misteps. Stereoscopic 3D and pixel visuals are a exhilarating blend. Its fascinating to see all the lanes and parallax scrolling brought into a tactile perspective. The 3D re-releases of sonic the hedgehog 1 & 2 on the 3DS Eshop are both using this to good effect.
I hope renegade kid continue to implement more neo-retro elements into their future releases. Treasurenauts (an upcoming 3DS title) is heavily focused on plentiful loot. And enemies spawn tons of treasure and gems upon defeat, which bounce around the level in a highly satisfying fashion.
The way shadows cast are a very nice touch. And its good to see boss fights are included.
One last feature about the game I’d like to compliment is it’s take on new game plus. Once you 100% the game your rewarded the ability to play as grannie who is always equipped with all three powerups which makes replaying the game a lot more empowering second time round.
With a lot of older games there would be the core single experience and usually no wrinkles on a second playthrough. For a lot of retro games I craved more reasons to jump back in namely because i was a young brat with no disposable funds hence a small game library. Granny is a small addition (her sprite being humorously similar to Max) but i highly appreciated being encouraged to jump right back in.
I’d like to end this piece by stating the games strengths and weaknesses regarding neo-retroism aren’t particularly a critique on it’s general quality. Mutant mudds comes highly recommended on multiple levels.