If you’re a fan of old-school 2D platformers, Mutant Mudds is currently the best game on the Nintendo 3DS’ eShop by far, and you should go download it right now.
What, you want more? What do you mean you want to know why I’m saying that before you go buy it? That one-sentence endorsement isn’t enough?
I kid, I kid. Of course that one sentence isn’t enough! But I’m not kidding about Mutant Mudds currently being one of the 3DS eShop’s very best original offerings, nor am I kidding when I say that it should be an instant, essential purchase for fans of classic 2D platformers. Indie developer Renegade Kid has crafted a ridiculously good, tight gaming experience in Mutant Mudds, and they are more than deserving of your $9 so they can go and make more fantastic games like this.
Mutant Mudds looks, feels, and carries itself like a lost NES gem. The story is uncomplicated and straight to the point: Max, a boy who lives with his grandma (referred to in the game as Grannie), finds his Earth-like homeworld invaded by alien creatures made of mud, and sets out to stop them armed with nothing more than a heavy-duty water cannon and a jetpack. That’s it! The game is delightfully simple and uninterested in being anything more than a really great 2D platformer, which is refreshing in this modern age of big-budget, story-heavy games. Not that I’m knocking big-budget, narratively complex titles, but it’s nice to have a balance!
Gameplay-wise, Max can walk, jump, hover for a bit with his jetpack, and shoot the Mudds with his water cannon. That’s it! It’s up to you to use those meager abilities to safely navigate Max through the game’s 20 levels and defend his home from the Mudd invasion. Doing so is no easy feat, though. Developer Renegade Kid does a great job of keeping you on your toes by constantly reminding you through intentionally-implemented gameplay limitations that Max is in fact just a kid and, as such, a relatively weak protagonist. For one, his water cannon’s rate of fire is pretty terrible. Despite the fact that most Mudds only take a couple of shots to destroy, Max can only have one shot on the screen at a time (and those shots don’t even travel very far), which forces you to make your shots count, especially in the game’s tougher levels. Also, Max can take a meager three hits before dying, and there are no life-replenishing items to be found. There is also no shortage of instant-death spikes, a lá Mega Man… so basically, it’s plenty easy to die in this game.
But if and when you do die, you’ll at least know it’s your fault and not the game’s. Mutant Mudds‘ controls are spot-on, which is pretty much a necessity in a platformer that requires as much precision jumping and movement as Mutant Mudds. The game’s few and only “cheap” deaths come from the sections where Max is very close to the screen, making it very difficult to see and plan for the hazards that lie ahead. More on that later, though.
Despite the myriad ways to die, there are ways to slightly tip the odds back in Max’s favor! Each level contains 100 “Golden Diamonds,” which, when collected, are permanently added to Max’s overall total (they can’t be collected again). Grab enough of these, and they can be given to Grannie in exchange for one of three power-ups (a slightly improved water cannon, longer hover time, or a rocket-boosting vertical jump ability). Only one of these power-ups can be equipped at a time, though, and not all of them are particularly effective in every level, so even here the developers took great care to ensure the game wouldn’t become too easy.
If I haven’t made it patently obvious by now, this is not a game for the faint of heart. Mutant Mudds is a tough platformer undoubtedly tailored to veterans of the genre, and the kid gloves surprisingly come off within the first couple of levels. To give you some perspective, I consider 2D platformers to be my bread-and-butter in terms of gaming skills. I cruised right through Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 and can’t help but continue to be astonished by those who consider them difficult.
By comparison, Mutant Mudds kept my heart racing and my palms sweaty throughout thanks to devilishly sharp level designs that are peppered with white-knuckle platforming segments, and enemies who seem harmless at first but are ingeniously placed such that they will throw your whole groove off and ruin your day. These are the kinds of level designs where it’s easy to figure out what the designers’ thought processes were when designing such wonderfully unforgiving situations, and even easier to imagine the self-satisfied looks on their faces when thinking about the hard times players would have with them… and the game is all the better for it. There needs to be more platformers like this.
I haven’t even mentioned the game’s even more difficult “secret” levels yet, which require extremely advanced platforming skills and strategies like intentionally altering an enemy’s flight path to make sure it drops bombs in tandem with the enemy next to it so you have just enough time to get by unscathed, or working hard to preserve your health just so you can take a forced hit and use the (very small) invincibility window to reach the goal alive. Yeah, we hardcore platforming fans eat stuff like this right up.
So conquering these secret levels is hard enough, but just getting to them also takes a bit of exploring (there’s one entrance hidden away in each of the main levels, and getting to them usually requires using one of the aforementioned power-ups), meaning that these secret levels lend Mutant Mudds a fair bit of lasting value beyond the main game. There’s also something very cool about the visual presentation of these hidden levels that long-time gamers like myself will love, but I’ll let you discover that on your own.
Now we come to the music. Oh, the music. Mutant Mudds‘ soundtrack is an utter triumph, and deserves special recognition in and of itself. Sticking to the overall 8-bit/old-school presentation, the game’s soundtrack is an excellent collection of chiptunes that you’ll swear came from some lost NES game. Aside from a couple of duds found near the end of the game, the soundtrack is fantastic throughout and is a standout element of an already wonderful game. It seems that this point was not lost on Renegade Kid, who has made the soundtrack available for purchase apart from the game itself. If you’re a chiptune fan, what are you waiting for? Go get it — and absolutely do not play this game without headphones!
Mutant Mudds also happens to be a very good-looking game as well, combining charming 8-bit sprites with levels and backgrounds that look a bit closer to something you’d see on the Super NES. The game’s visual style is memorable and attractive without feeling antiquated or lazy. What really pushes the graphics from “great” to “fantastic,” though, is the 3D implementation. This is a game you’ll want to keep the 3D slider cranked all the way up for; not only does the 3D make the game’s simple, sharp visuals look even better, it actually affects and assists gameplay as well. Many of the game’s levels take place on multiple planes, with special panels allowing Max to jump farther away from the screen into the background, and/or closer to the screen into the foreground. It’s a great visual effect that also adds to the game’s already wonderful level designs, though I will say — as I mentioned before — that the foreground segments take place so close to the screen relative to Max’s size that it sometimes becomes difficult to see hazards coming, which can lead to a few cheap, unnecessary deaths in these sections. That’s a very minor issue, though, and it only happened to me a couple of times.
It’s really tough to come up with a solid complaint about a game this good (and I feel guilty for even trying), but I do have one sticking point: the lack of boss battles. There are none to be found in Mutant Mudds, which is a real shame; the game’s pinpoint controls and incredibly sharp gameplay could have made for some seriously epic, tense boss battles. Perhaps this is something that will be explored in a possible sequel? (I say “possible,” but pretty please, Renegade Kid? This game is practically begging for a sequel.)
When all is said and done, Mutant Mudds is one of the very best original games the 3DS eShop has to offer, and if you live and breathe 2D platformers, then it is easily the best, hands down. Renegade Kid has set the bar so high with Mutant Mudds that other developers will have to put forth no less than their mightiest efforts if they hope to outdo it — which can only mean that good things are in store for us gamers.