Another Early Bird review! Today we’re looking at Mugsters by Reinkout Games/Team 17 so lets jump in shall we?
I’ve spent some time trying to mull over how best to describe Mugsters. It’s an indie physics platformer with aliens that feel like the ones from War of the Worlds? It’s a fast paced action game for two people but not quite? No, I think the best way to get across to you what kind of video game Mugsters is would be to describe it as a cocktail. The base flavour of Human Falls Flat – a physics based platformer, a dash of Hotline Miami sauce to give it some colourful bloody spectacle and all topped off with a little zest of Just Cause to add in a little open-ended gameplay with explosions and vehicles. All of this results in a tasty game best enjoyed with others but just don’t drink too much at once.
Typically when you’re looking into a review for a video game the first and most important thing to look into is the gameplay but Mugsters is a little different. The visual style of the game is something you need to go into with some idea of what to expect. The camera is fixed at a very wide-angle that will zoom out further as needed (it does very occasionally zoom in to) and the only camera control you have is to rotate it around a fixed point. The game does looks fantastic with clever cell shading and a colour scheme to make everything stand out but it’s not particularly easy to see everything on a big screen at a distance. When playing multiplayer should the players go in different directions the camera simply zooms further out and makes it even harder to see whats going on. Not a deal breaker and essentially from a visual stance it sets it apart but when going in be sure to look at some screenshots and gameplay footage first.
When you start to get into it though, Mugsters does have some cracking gameplay at its core. You start the game in a hub home-like area full of stuff to tinker with and obviously your first impulse is to see what you can mess around with. To this end the developer for Mugsters seems to totally understand this. They have created a hub that gives you the space to mess around, get to grips with the base of the game and still stay functional. Your given a never-ending supply of explosives, a van (a few cars in multiplayer), a large area to try driving fast and even a modest house to blow the walls off. The design of the area lends itself to exploring around and you quickly get the lay of the land. This clever design work continues on into the main game, each level is crafted with a main objective, humans to save and crystals to collect. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s a lot to cover here for what starts out as a simple physics game.
Each level consists of you taking your little white blobby figure through a main objective, trying to keep blue blobby figures with limited AI sense alive, collecting the shiny green shards and making it to the airplane for a quick getaway. Each level does have puzzles but these are typically nothing more than ‘how do you press the button without being killed by aliens’ and rarely test you to think too hard. Mostly Mugsters will be relying on you to go through the stage with a sense of trial and error. While this does at first feel lazy the open-ended nature thankfully gives you enough space to solve most objectives however you like. The nice touch of completed objectives remaining completed on each play through helps shift your attitude from trying to complete 100% on each level the first time around to trying out different tactics on different objectives (completing objectives and collecting crystals the first time then saving humans the second). Once you ease into the opened nature of the game this takes a lot of the pressure off and you can easily take a cavalier attitude to solving the level resulting in a lot more fun.
Controls in general for the game are a mixed bag. When your sprinting across the area kicking up dust as you go and your character jumps for a mile being propelled by inertia it’s terrific when your trying to jump on a block it’s not. You’ll find jumping after sprinting does send you flying in a really satisfying way but this makes the platforming sections of Mugsters a little more frustrating than expected in surprising ways. There will be multiple times you and the AI saved humans get stuck on ledges or miss-time a jump and plummet into the deadly sea resulting in a restarted level and needless backtracking to continue. The physics at work for this to happen extend out to everything in the game and as a result the vehicles are both fun and frustrating in the same way. They are brilliantly disposable, encouraging swapping out and experimentation with each handling slightly different and yet somehow managing to be utterly ridiculous all the same.
You get a feeling for the way the physics works in Mugsters the more you play but a good 4 of 10 times you’ll find it didn’t work the way you thought. A vehicle will just sway far too hard, you’ll hit something you didn’t mean to and have to back up and try again. A barrel you were throwing went at the wrong angle and blew missing the target, meaning a trek back to the dispenser. The helicopter clipped a wall and that’s that. This doesn’t happen all of the time just enough to warrant a moment of blowing up a wall just to feel like some progress is being made. There is always the option to bail out of vehicles and if you were holding the accelerate button they will continue on without you. Some puzzles encourage this and are easiest to solve with a car or van carrying on after you bail out. The only problem is the vehicles become highly explosive on contact with anything once you’ve dived out and getting them to sit still is bit fiddly. They shift about without staying still even when you want them to sit on a button or switch resulting in some faffing about or they clip something explode and it’s back to another frustrating re-attempt.
Mugsters does feel a lot more at home with a controller in your hands than using a keyboard. Your ability to throw items and punch the mutants becoming a lot easier to direct, the aircraft doesn’t feel so nightmarishly difficult to take off and vehicles handle a lot easier. This helps later in as it quickly becomes full of action sequences with numerous red mutants charging at you out for blood, it’s nothing too taxing though and your given a lot of second chances when the game allows it. The second chances don’t come often and don’t get me wrong you’re likely to die over and over and over figuring out how to progress. Mugsters starts off strong with fun quirky puzzles and just when it’s starting to get going it adds in the abducting relentless alien presence from the title screens. Granted your introduced to them in one level in a fantastic almost jump scare way but there is a definite sharp spike in difficulty shortly after that stops it being fun with physics and quickly becomes a lot more frustrating.
However all of the above only covers the Singleplayer experience, Multiplayer in Mugsters is a fairly different beast. Not simply due to slight shifts across stages with some puzzles being a lot easier (and the hub gaining extra cars to play with) but as soon as you realise you can resurrect the other player some previously taxing puzzles become a lot simpler and a lot more fun. That being said you can’t rely on the resurrection feature if you’re the first/main player. If the first player dies and can’t respawn (say you get your resurrection pod stuck out of reach) the second player can’t control the camera to turn it at all. Also if either player leaves the other behind that’s it, that player is stuck until the level is reset. So instead of a Coop experience Mugsters essentially is a solo game with a helping disposable hand, mixing things up and helping with puzzles as they go. It’s local Coop but not in an equal sense and it does work for the most part. It’s a nice touch that one player can use the keyboard and the other a controller without any real tinkering. Just be sure to add some customisation in the hub area so you can tell each player apart, I did find myself partial to the superman cape.
Annoyingly the AI isn’t great. Both for the enemies that simply aim for you regardless of what’s in the way and especially for the blue blooby followers. They very quickly show their limits when the game gets harder. On more than one occasion I was finding they had followed me up into an area only to get stuck between two parts of the nearby wall or running into an explosion and dying. With no way to resurrect them, it’s a case of restarting the level all over (thankfully keeping your completed objectives completed). Given they are tied into the objectives for the levels the need to complete the largely platforming tasks of the crystals becomes apparent and it’s at this point the grind unfortunately starts to set in. Gathering crystals in multiplayer is a lot simpler but sadly saving the humans isn’t. On more than one occasion we found the AI flitting between us on who it was going to follow, sometimes merrily running into the side of an explosion and being blown into little red bits. I can understand the need to give multiple reasons to replay levels for different things to do but the blue human aspect ironically detracts from the interesting main objectives of blowing up silos, powering batteries and pointing ray guns at things.
One of the biggest problem Mugsters has is with the sound design. Everything has a noise that sounds fine, jumping, explosions, cars and helicopters all sounds fine it’s just that nothing stand out. It’s all too functional. It’s the lack of any ambient sounds with little to no music in the game that causes a problem, you’ll spend some time restarting a level and after a few times you’ll feel an urge to pop some music on. There are audio cues such as the relentless alien noises that make you want to run for the hills but these tend to be too loud and abrasive. There are plenty of moments that could do with them but it seems like your supposed to make your own amusement.
A lack of signposting is a bit of a problem in Mugsters as well. It encourages experimentation but a lot of the useful things like how a large vehicle that’s going fast enough can go through a hard wall could really do with some sort of signposting. I know I could have really used a nod to how you should play the game hard and fast when getting into the later levels because it isn’t really explained or even hinted at. You’ll find yourself learning through trial and error that slow and steady will only get you so far and running, jumping and repeated attempts is the best method. If only to get the alien menace to kill itself on an explosion or shot to death by its own sentient death ray turrets. You’ll figure out for yourself that some boxes can’t be easily moved by your character but running into them with a vehicle results in them sticking to the roof until you run the object into whatever it needs to be in. For all the clever design the hub has it really is crying out for a bit of a tutorial for some things.
You’ll find yourself playing through Mugsters level by level until you hit a locked off level. Then you’ll need to head back to the home base hub area and go back through previous levels until you 100% them. To unlock a new vehicle in the home area you need to have a number of saved humans first, then you get to press a button and see them fired through a portal and you have access to a new vehicle that gets you a better time around the track. There’s also an added incentive to the crystals with the ability to forcibly unlock new levels (in a brilliantly gruesome way). There are time trials for each level once you 100% it and this gives you plenty to be getting on with. The only problem with simply playing through the game being that you are forced back into previous levels to get them 100%.
The more I play Mugsters the more it seems perfectly constructed for a streamer or Lets Play on YouTube with an audience interacting as you progress. It just feels like neither a solo player or two people looking for a Coop experience are going to get as much enjoyment as watching someone play it and interacting together. It’s disappointing in aspects but fantastic in others. You’ll find yourself having fun blasting Postman Pat’s van around running from an alien orb menace one minute and cursing the blue blobby humans the next. I’ve died a few times falling through spaces between level objects and had a few times where I’ve died in vehicles when it didn’t seem I should have. Every moment of fantastic fun is there to be had from time to time but all the while thinking to myself, “I’d love to see PB & Jeff play this”.
6/10 – Mugged from a sterling silver experience.
Mugsters is out on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Switch on the 17th July 2018
(ps. that’s Today – It’s already out!)
*Review code provided by Team 17 – Check them out here!*