When I was at university about 150 years ago, I spent one glorious summer working at Big Red Software, testing Game Genie codes for the Game Boy. The Game Genie was a sort of cheat cartridge that you could slot into your console, before putting a game in – this would give you access to a range of cheaty options like extra lives or infinite cash. It was my job to play around 200 Game Boy games to make sure the cheats worked properly and din’t lead to catastrophic crashes. It was bliss.
And one thing I noticed quite quickly was that, in the wake of Super Mario Land, the traditional scrolling platfomer had reached a kind of zenith on this machine. There was Looney Tunes and Speedy Gonzales, there was Kid Dracula and Kid Icarus – none of them astonishingly innovative, but all wonderfully playable. They traded a certain amount of individuality for sheer mastery of the genre. That is an acceptable compromise.
And it seems that Mutant Mudds is very much a hark back to that golden era of guiltless platforming pleasure. With a simple story (young boy fights aliens with water cannon and jet pack) and a range of garishly colourful environments to leap through, it is a really lovely, really traditional scrolling plat former, in which the player must avoid baddies, master pixel perfect jumps and learn how to time leaps onto fading platforms. Everything from the minimalist intro sequence to the chunky visuals scream ‘NES forever!’, which would be a giant pain for modern gamers if it wasn’t for the assured implementation of every familiar genre feature.
The one neat trick is the plane jumping, which allows Max to whiz into the background or forward into the foreground at certain moments on each level. These extra planes can be seen as you journey through the environment, giving you constant clues about what is to come, and eventually providing some neat puzzles as you work out how to progress and clean up every one of the collectible diamonds.
And ultimately, it’s all about balance – the game design element that’s the most taken for granted and simultaneously, the most important. This game leads you into its pixellated world, lets you discover its basic rule system then slowly but surely ramps up the difficulty. It is lovely to return to an era in which sheer craft was so valued and so understood. You should download Mutant Mudds, you should re-discover the beauty of this great handheld gaming genre.