Forty Levels of Controller Tossing Fun
The NES had no shortage of ridiculously difficult games that the children of the day played to pass time. From Battletoads, to Ninja Gaiden, to Silver Surfer and Ghosts n’ Goblins, early gaming was synonymous with difficulty. So common were difficult games that there was hardly an expectation that you would even finish the games that you owned.
But something magical happens when you play a brutal game and actually become good at it. You begin to like the punishment. You take pride in being able to defeat the thing that caused you so much pain and frustration. Mutant Mudds Super Challenge channels the difficulty of the NES era, inspiring players to invent their own curse words as they discover new ways to die.
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is a sequel to the original side-scrolling platform game released in 2012. This game ramps up the difficulty from that previous release, focusing on an extreme challenge. Players jump, hover, and shoot their way through forty levels while avoiding spikes, pits, and all kinds of enemies and moving obstacles.
The gameplay is simple, requiring only the d-pad and two face buttons to play. You have a water cannon to splatter your mud-based enemies, and a jetpack which allows you to hover for brief periods before falling back to earth. The jetpack provides an especially interesting dynamic. Many challenges are designed around hovering over pits and squeezing through tight spaces. The jetpack can be turned off at will, allowing you to carefully time your descent. This is important for avoiding rotating hazards and assuring that you land properly on moving platforms.
The levels are fiendishly designed, often requiring you to traverse multiple obstacles at once while exercising very precise timing. In one level, you must leap across a bed of lava, hopping down a series of tiny platforms that have spikes on their sides. Invincible enemies rotate around each of these platforms, and at the end is a swinging obstacle that rocks in and out of the foreground, ready to kill you in one hit. Should you get through this segment, you are awarded with three coins. Then you have to go back and onto the next challenge.
Most enemies can be shot and killed but are often positioned just out of reach. For example, one type of stationary enemy is often placed at the edge of a platform, right below the player’s level. These nasty fellows will rhythmically fire bullets, forcing you to jump in front of them at just the right moment. Then you must activate your jetpack, shoot them three times and hover over to their position before your jetpack runs dry. Every level is packed with these kinds of timing based challenges, requiring not only care and preparation but a fair amount of finger dexterity.
The challenge persists throughout and is likely to be a polarizing aspect among players. There’s no way to adjust the difficulty, and in order to unlock the bosses and later levels, you have to complete every stage, and collect every coin. That’s a substantial task, especially when you consider that even difficult games often keep their toughest challenges optional. There’s no shortcut to the ending in Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. Of course, with the high-end challenge comes a great sense of accomplishment. There’s nothing like conquering a particularly ridiculous level, or unlocking a new boss.
The boss fights themselves are creative and a lot of fun to play, serving as worthy milestones to cap off each world. The five bosses all behave differently and make use of unique mechanics. These fights are a welcome departure from the rest of the game, as they allow the player to exercise a different set of skills, including puzzle solving. The fights aren’t particularly difficult, at least compared to the rest of the game, but they serve as a highlight nonetheless.
For the most part, Mutant Mudds’ challenge is at least fair. Enemy behaviors are highly predictable, and moving obstacles always follow specific patterns. Unfortunately, Mutant Mudds produces a few cheap deaths in addition to its truckload of fair ones. Objects in the foreground can obstruct your view of the action, forcing you to blindly make jumps and avoid enemies. Certain platforms and set pieces are so similarly colored to the background that it’s easy to miss them. There are flying enemies that can drop bombs on your head and sometimes do so when they’re still off-screen. The hit boxes on spikes are inconsistent; too sensitive from the side and too forgiving head-on. Most of these problems will only get you once as it’s easy enough to learn and adjust to them.
Even for a game that ties itself to an 8-bit aesthetic, Mutant Mudds is not the most pleasing to look at. Most of the enemies are brown globs of some sort, and levels call upon familiar tropes, such as ice caves, lava caves, and green outdoor areas. There aren’t a lot of visual details to define or stylize the world, which unfortunately makes the presentation come off as generic. Secret levels suffer the worst, as they are tied to strict color palettes that almost make the game look monochrome. Graphics aren’t particularly important for a game of this type, but more detail would make for a more attractive package and potentially attract more players.
The sound design fares a little better. The simplistic effects provide the nice blips and boings that you’d expect from a retro-inspired game while giving a satisfying crunch to killing enemies and hopping up dangerous cliff sides. The soundtrack is nicely composed with a variety of tunes. Most tracks are upbeat and catchy, led by the stage-select area which sounds oddly reminiscent to the gym theme from early Pokemon games.
Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge is a fundamentally solid platformer with difficult gameplay that will appeal best to hardcore gamers. The levels and challenges are well-designed, testing players’ skill in a number of ways that makes for a tough, satisfying game. It’s not narratively complex nor particularly pretty, but for a gameplay-first experience, this one won’t steer you wrong.
Just be sure to roll your controller in bubble-wrap before you begin playing.