December's Desura Dementia #5: Mutant Mudds

01/12/12 - Ballistic05/12/12 - Mutant Mudds09/12/12 - Slydris
02/12/12 - Band of Bugs06/12/12 - Oniken10/12/12 - Soulcaster
03/12/12 - Escape Goat07/12/12 - Outpost Kaloki11/12/12 - Squids
04/12/12 - MiniFlake08/12/12 - Reprisal12/12/12 - UnEpic

December the Fifth

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The game: Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds

The source: The Indie Royale Harvest Bundle

The pre-amble: Renegade Kid has been developing games for Nintendo handhelds for a while, creating first-person horror survival games like Dementium: The Ward and Moon. Mutant Mudds is a departure, being a classic 2D platformer with a cartoonish Commander Keen vibe. As with Renegade Kid's other games, it first debuted on a Nintendo handheld (though relegated to the 3DS eShop rather than a retail release) but became available on the PC just recently. For a considerably more in-depth pre-amble, check out Giant Bomb's Quick Look.

The playthrough: Sigh.

After a few of the first stages, I was marveling at the fact that the two games I seem to have enjoyed the most thus far were of the oft-maligned (by me) puzzle-platformer persuasion, and for a brief moment felt the icy exterior of my cold, cynical heart begin to thaw a little. Perhaps I'd been too hard on the Indie circuit for producing wave after wave of these things? If they have a cool gimmick--and Mutant Mudds' plane traversing definitely qualifies--some kicking tunes and a decent amount of level variation, I'm totally down. Platformers are my second favorite genre, after all. But it soon dawned on me just what kind of Indie Pixel Puzzle Platformer I was dealing with: The Masocore Indie Pixel Puzzle Platformer (and yes, at this point I believe there's enough of them to justify sub-sub-genres. So much for that vanishing cynicism.)

This background/foreground stuff is so cool! Why ruin it?! I think there comes a time in a young man's life when he realizes not all platformers can be Mario.
This background/foreground stuff is so cool! Why ruin it?! I think there comes a time in a young man's life when he realizes not all platformers can be Mario.

Whoever decided that the difficulty was the draw of the old 8- and 16-bit games we used to play ought to be thrown into a crate full of the rusty sawblades they covet so much. The difficulty was never the draw. We loved those games in spite of their crushing difficulty, because neither we nor the game developers knew any better. Check out this interview/counter-interview between GCCX funnyman "retro game master" Shinya Arino (someone who has long since developed a thick skin when dealing with inscrutably difficult bullshit in video games) and genial, banana-loving Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata. Among the many interesting revelations from the always refreshingly frank Iwata is a pertinent factoid prompted by Arino's question on why older games are as difficult as they are: The simple answer is that Japanese developers play so many games, especially their own, that their skills start to border on the prodigious. Thus, when they test the games and find them to be acceptably challenging, they ship them out and those games torture generations of young gamers with their abject cruelty. It was a frequent error that the developers couldn't possibly account for back then, but would eventually fine-tune with time and experience.

Mutant Mudds breaks down because it's frustratingly difficult without needing to be. Dying once always puts the player back at the start of each level, no checkpoints and all collectibles removed, and dying is an extremely easy thing to do. Enemies move too quickly, fire too quickly, explode too quickly or are otherwise more challenging opponents than they need to be. The player can upgrade, but only in one specific way at a time, and all but one of the upgrades are entirely useless unless the player is aiming for one of the secret exits (which lead to even more challenging levels). Super Meat Boy got the masocore element right by making death a very minor setback (until it shot itself in the foot by making later levels way longer, anyway). Each death in Mutant Mudds will undo anything between five to ten minutes of work and is never "trivial" or "forgivable" in the same sense. It's such a shame that the game falls at the very last hurdle, adhering to this archaic design philosophy that was never intentional. It's as if every Indie game started adapting poor hit detection or sprite flicker or sound glitches, because those aspects were what we remembered most fondly from old NES games. Imagine if there was a whole sub-genre of "nostalgic" Indie games that tried to be as faithful to Friday the 13th as possible, down to the maladroit rock throwing and unavoidable mid-air knife power-ups. Doesn't bear thinking about.

The verdict: Nah. The first few worlds are legitimately fun, when the game's still introducing new obstacles and new ways to use its plane-shifting. But then... just no. It's really not worth the cardiac arrest.

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