After debuting on 3DS in 2012, the latest edition of Mutant Mudds arrives for PS4 along with its trademark unforgiving level of difficulty.
I'd be lying if I said I understood Mutant Mudds' plot from its opening cut scene, which, as far I can tell, is just a very brief, random slideshow of pixelated images. But according to Nintendo's website, you're a boy named Max who receives special intel revealing the location of a meteor impact site that's spawning Mutant Mudds (the bouncy brown things in the screenshots, if you're curious). Now you must venture forth from your secret hideout in the jungle to locate the meteor and destroy it for good.
In practice, what that means is jumping and shooting your way through about 40 levels of some of the hardest 2D platforming around. You only have three health points and no extra lives. Die before you reach the one mid-level checkpoint and you go back to the beginning. Rather than the Mudds themselves, your most lethal enemies are falling to your death and hitting one of the myriad spikes that line the floor, walls and ceilings. Touch them once, even just brushing against its side, and you're sent back to the beginning.
Right from the get-go, things are very difficult with the first stage being a practical panoply of spikes in places. It doesn't get any easier in later levels, but luckily Mutant Mudds at least allows you to attempt any of its initial four worlds in any order you want, meaning you won't be stuck torturing yourself with the same one over and over. Getting through any of the levels requires a good deal of multitasking. Navigating past the series of spikes usually necessitates quick-fingered combinations of jumping, ducking, shooting, or hovering with your jetpack. To help, you'll be able to choose from one of three power-ups: an increased range of fire for your gun, a longer hover time for your jet pack, or a vertical boost straight up into the air. Some levels can only be beaten with one of these equipped; whereas in others, they just make things a bit easier. Unfortunately, if you get halfway through a stage and realise you need a power-up that you don't currently have, you're forced to quit out to get it thus losing your checkpoint progress.
What really makes Mutant Mudds a struggle to get through is its insistence that you pick up absolutely all of its collectibles before you can progress. That means 200 coins in each level (100 in the regular level and another 100 in their respective secret stages), as well as the flashy blue star thing at the end (sorry, I don't know its technical name). If you die without getting to a checkpoint, you lose your coins and have to collect them all again, forcing you to go over the same areas repeatedly until you perfect them. This makes Mutant Mudds feel like it's trying to milk as much play time out of its very short levels as possible, turning it into a tiresome, repetitive experience. Once you've got your 800 coins and your eight blue star things, you're allowed to fight a boss for that world. Beat it, and you'll unlock one of the levels in the final world (which follows the same principles).
Another aspect that needs mentioning is Mutant Mudds' depth-of-field mechanic which is carried over from its 3DS days. At certain points, you will need to hop into the background of a level to progress. While this might have looked impressive on a 3D device, it serves no real purpose on PS4. Furthermore, it can occasionally be difficult to tell whether some enemies (such as the big angry chimney things) are in the foreground or background, as the difference is essentially a slightly lighter shade of grey.
There's also a bit of a control issue that can cause some annoyance. A lot of commands are mapped to the X button such as jumping, dropping down, transitioning to the background, and hovering. If you try to drop down when one pixel of your character is still over an adjacent solid ledge, you will jump up, which is usually fatal in a game with a lot of spikes on its ceilings. Similarly, if you jump near a portal to reach a coin, you can accidentally transition into the background, leaving you with no way back to collect it. The hit detection is also sometimes off. On one level, I was able to pass through a wall of spikes unharmed while the same ones would kill me at other times.
Along the way, you'll be able to unlock 20 secret characters that are hidden throughout various levels. These include recognisable faces from Shovel Knight, Xeodrifter, Woah Dave!, Shantae, Adventures of Pip, BIT.TRIP, and Teslagrad. However, all of these are cosmetic costumes and don't have any effect on gameplay.
If you don't mind brutally unforgiving games and like playing the same stages over and over, you might enjoy Mutant Mudds. Personally, that kind of gameplay bores the heck out of me and I can only tolerate it in short bursts. There's a sense of satisfaction (or perhaps it's relief) when you finally 100% a level but for me, the frustration it takes to get there doesn't make it worthwhile.
- + It will take you a long time to beat all its levels and collect everything
- + You can play most of its worlds right from the beginning
- - Extremely daunting learning curve
- - Foreground / background mechanic doesn't add anything to non-3D versions
- - Artificially stretches its replay value