Dream Alone (Switch) Review

A Dark Nightmare

Dream Alone is one of the darkest games I have played. It’s not because of its chilling storyline, creepy atmosphere, or horrifying imagery. Rather, the game display is literally so dark that it’s sometimes hard to see the screen. When factoring in obscured death traps and poor level design, the issues turn this dream into a nightmare.

Check out my Video Review to see how dark Dream Alone truly is!

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North (Switch) Review

Gone South

Warning: Bizarre Imagery Ahead

After playing and completing the game North within the span of an hour, I can safely say that I have no idea what I witnessed. And that’s actually the point of this light adventure/walking simulator that puts you in control of a refugee in a strange land. The game opens with a letter explaining the protagonist’s situation to his sister. After escaping the presumably horrible South, he has arrived in a city in the North, which is portrayed as a dark, dystopian landscape.

Please be sure to check out the Video Version of my review!

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Mutant Mudds Super Challenge (PS4) Review

Mud Max

The original Mutant Mudds was a challenging platformer that put players into the shoes of Max, a boy with a water cannon and a jetpack. It was a difficult game that took advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D function, allowing you to jump back and forth between layers of background and foreground. Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is a new entry that takes the assets and gameplay from the original and remixes them into tough-as-nails levels.

Gameplay

Like its predecessor, you play as Max, whose sole mission is to stop mud creatures by collecting a water sprite at the end of each level. Once again, you are armed with a water cannon that can shoot bubble bullets at foes. Pressing the jump button twice activates your jetpack, allowing you to hover over short distances. The hover is limited, but you can shoot enemies, turn around, or end the hover at any time while in midair. This leads to tight controls that give you opportunities to perform slick moves while avoiding danger. At certain launch points, you can jump between different layers of background and foreground. While this may work in the 3DS version, playing on a non-3D system makes this process a little frustrating. If you’re in the background, foreground obstacles will sometimes block your view. Conversely, being in the plane closest to the screen can be disorienting.

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One-hit-kill spikes are a super challenge.

Anyone familiar with the original Mutant Mudds will have no trouble getting re-acquainted with the gameplay. This is done purposefully since developer Renegade Kid’s purpose is to challenge veteran players. The level is methodically designed to take advantage of your tight jetpack controls. One-hit-kill spikes, bottomless pits, and rounds of enemies constantly stand in your way, usually requiring you to use up the maximum length of your jetpack’s hover. Enemies return from the original game, including mud piles that shoot projectiles and flying mud balls that drop bombs. Ghost enemies that cannot be attacked without a special weapon also make a comeback. Further increasing the difficulty, enemies are placed in locations between spikes and pits, and you have to master shooting at targets while hovering to avoid death. Later levels throw in slippery ice, poisonous bubbles, and clouds that blow you into the foreground. Instant death aside, you only get three hits before having to start over. The game realizes how hard it is and keeps track of your death count, with a counter that goes into the millions. Even then, conquering each level is rewarding, and deaths never feel unfair. Generous mid-level checkpoints and unlimited continues encourage you in the face of adversity.

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Go between foreground and background to complete levels.

As fun as the challenge is, this is not a game for beginners. Even the first stage is brutal and will likely take a good toll on your death count. The learning curve is almost non-existent, and there is no tutorial. From the get-go, you are expected to know how to play and be really good at it. Players new to the series shouldn’t start with this entry but instead play the original Mutant Mudds first.

It can be a struggle for even the best players of Mutant Mudds, but the game thankfully provides three useful power-ups from the get-go. A stronger water cannon extends the reach of your bubble shots, a high-jump allows you to reach new heights and can be used as a form of double jump, and an extended hover doubles your air time. You can only have one power-up at a time, but each one is extremely useful. In addition, you usually need a particular power-up to unlock the hidden bonus level in each stage. They take you to V-Land and G-Land, with color palettes reminiscent of the Virtual Boy and Game Boy, respectively. These levels are almost as long and just as difficult as the ones they are hidden within. They also include their own end-of-level water sprites, effectively doubling the total level count.

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Ahh, that nostalgic Game Boy green in G-Land. V-Land comes in glorious red.

Each of the 20 levels and additional bonus levels houses 100 collectible coins. The coins provide added difficulty and finding them all will require some exploration, including locating secret entrances in walls. These entrances are sometimes hard to identify, and the game only vaguely hints at their locations by showing you a small slit at the wall. Thankfully, you only need to collect each coin once per playthrough, so you can focus on missed coins on your return trip. Unlike other platformers where the coins are extra collectibles, you must obtain all coins in each world’s level to fight the corresponding world’s boss.

Bosses are brand new to the series and are well-implemented. Each boss is unique and provides either a platforming challenge or a tricky puzzle. It’s a surprise that Renegade Kid hadn’t included boss fights in the original because its clever boss encounters work well with the Mega Man-like action.

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Bosses are new to the Mutant Mudds series, and they’re better late than never.

Graphics & Sound

The retro sprite-based graphics return in Super Challenge and look as wonderful as ever. The game sports an upgraded 8-bit artstyle that is more colorful and detailed than an NES game could ever handle. The goofy expressions on enemies and Max’s lovable idle animations bring the game to life. The music is just as lovingly made, with novel catchy chiptunes accompanying the new stages. Retro music fans can collect hidden CDs in each stage, awarding one of the background tunes in the sound test.

Conclusion

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is a welcome return to Max’s sprite-based world of tight controls and inventive hover-based platforming. With 40 levels and 100 required collectible coins in each, the amount of playtime depends largely on players’ skills. Intentionally tough but fair, the level design tests even the most hardcore players, and cruel bosses may impede progress indefinitely. Regardless, the challenge is very fulfilling and will leave you wanting more after the credits roll. Beginners beware: play Mutant Mudds first to learn the ropes. Once you’ve mastered that, take on the Super Challenge if you dare.

Score: 8/10

Note: A PS4 review copy of this game was played for this article. This review was posted on Darkstation.

What are your thoughts on Mutant Mudds Super Challenge? Have you played the original Mutant Mudds on 3DS or another system? What are some of your favorite indie platformer games? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Mighty No. 9 (PC) Review

Bend It Like Beck

Mighty No. 9 has an extensive history surrounding it. Helmed by Keiji Inafune, one of the original character designers of Capcom’s Mega Man, Mighty No. 9 was intended to be that series’ spiritual successor. Mighty No. 9 raised about $4 million via Kickstarter. Due to a number of delays, the game didn’t release until almost three years after its Kickstarter. Despite everything poured into it, Mighty No. 9 doesn’t quite measure up to the lofty status of Capcom’s iconic blue bomber. Comparisons aside, the game has elements of fun that are unfortunately dampened by below-average level design.

Gameplay

The game stars Beck, the ninth in a set of robots known as the Mighty Numbers. After a virus corrupts the other eight robots, Beck must stop them using his trusty buster. Although it sounds like Mega Man so far, Beck is equipped with a feature that sets him apart. As he attacks enemies, they eventually destabilize. Dashing into them allows Beck to absorb their Xel, which temporarily powers up one of his stats, such as attack or speed. Faster, consecutive dash attacks increase both your power-ups and your score. Technical bonuses such as dashing into midair enemies grant you even more points. His dash is unlimited, providing an adrenaline rush as you blaze through sections of enemies, switching back and forth between attacking and AcXelerating through them. AcXeleration is a fun mechanic that makes Beck much faster and more akin to Mega Man X than his original Mega counterpart.

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Dashing through a stage is satisfying.

While this could have led to a pleasant experience, there is an unfortunate disconnect between Beck’s dash and the level design. Although Beck can dash at any time, the levels limit its effectiveness. There are multiple areas where electric spikes can kill you in one hit. These contrivances are commonplace, appearing on the floor, walls, ceilings, and a variety of moving objects. Although one-hit-kill obstacles were used in the original Mega Man series (also admittedly unfair at times), they feel overused here, as if the developers couldn’t think of any other way to increase the difficulty besides instantly killing the player. Electric spikes are sometimes unexpected, suddenly appearing at the end of a wall following a long dash sequence, almost punishing you for trying to use an intended game mechanic. These non-telegraphed death traps are tenets of poor level design, using unfair instant kills to force players to memorize the layout. There are fairly generous checkpoints throughout that alleviate the frustration, but some of these instadeaths shamelessly cap off long, difficult sections.

Narrow spaces and small platforms can also hurt players trying to dash through stages. When enemies are destabilized, they remain on the screen and still damage you unless you dash into them. However, a combination of electric spikes and tight spaces impairs your ability to dash safely. You may find yourself rushing to your death just so you could finish off an enemy. Although, it is possible to attack a destabilized enemy to death, it is a slow process and is counterproductive to the benefits of AcXeleration. An option to absorb enemies while standing still would have been appreciated. There are also portions where you must dash onto a small floating platform safely, which is easier said than done. When dashing midair, it is difficult to control the trajectory of where you land, which can lead to accidental deaths.

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A ceiling of purple electric spikes line the ceiling. You will likely grow to hate that color after playing this game.

The faulty level design is a shame because there are some interesting, fun ideas implemented throughout. Each of the eight Mighty Number levels, which can be selected in any order a la Mega Man, have a mix of fun sections marred down by some painful parts that bring down its overall quality. For example, Batallion’s stage actually utilizes the dash effectively with conveyer belts and long hallways. However, one of its most annoying segments asks players to destroy an explosive container while riding on a conveyer belt where boxes are constantly falling on you, surrounded by electric spikes.

One interesting level is a highway with moving cars as platforms that you must land on. However, the platforms are quite small, and some “traffic sign” robots fly into you with little warning, causing you to fall onto the deadly asphalt. An infamous level asks you to locate a sniper in a looping White House-like level. Midway through the lengthy search, the game suddenly covers previously safe areas with pesky one-hit-kill electric wires. If you die, you are whisked back to the beginning without a checkpoint. Finally, another level has an instance of two instant death electrical turbines blocking your progress, and you won’t get past it without performing a particular technique perfectly. The effort is clearly there with thematically decent levels, but unpolished level design and a poor sense of flow brings them down.

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This particular section is hard to get through with falling platforms, a high ledge (which you can grab), a spinning fire wheel, and more electric spikes.

There is one consistent positive among the levels: engaging boss fights. Mega Man’s essence is summoned most effectively in arena fights against the eight Mighty Numbers. Every skirmish must be approached in a different way, thanks to the unique abilities of the bosses. However, there is one shared aspect: Mighty Numbers destabilize temporarily after a few hits and must be dashed into or else they will heal that damage. This can become annoying, but it makes great use of the AcXeleration maneuver. Upon performing the final AcXeleration, you defeat the boss, ridding it of the virus and siphoning one of its key moves. As in Mega Man, you can use one boss’ attack to exploit another’s weakness, which can make some problematic bosses more approachable. Even better, you can actually find out what their weaknesses are with a handy “Advice” option while choosing a stage.

Outside of levels, the captured boss abilities, known as ReXelections, are quite useful. Some of the best powers include shooting remote control shots, transforming into a tank, and brandishing a sword. ReXelections recharge over time and as you build up Xel, which encourages players to use them instead of merely storing them for the boss fight. Cycling through powers is a little clunky, but you can set shortcuts and even change the order in which powers appear. As an additional touch that makes characters more likable, the bosses you defeat will help you in other stages, preventing some obstacles from harming you and making the stage just a little easier.

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The Mighty Numbers are brimming with personality, even though they’re written like Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Playtime/Replayability

Mighty No. 9 can take anywhere between 3-6 hours, depending on skill level. You can increase your maximum lives up to 9, but that won’t help you if you can’t get past a tough section. If you run out of lives, you must start over at the beginning of a level. Between lengthy, difficult levels and some bosses that have an instakill ability, lives deplete quickly. Once you defeat your first boss and gain its ability, the rest of the game becomes a bit easier from there. A robot friend, Patch, also offers free items, including instant recovery items for players having trouble. However, the items are random, and the most helpful item, instant recovery, doesn’t always appear.

Since levels can sometimes be dependent on memorization and Beck has a dash technique, speedrunners may actually find the game more enjoyable, provided they don’t get frustrated from running into constant death traps. Otherwise, most people will probably not feel compelled to replay the game if they can even get through the difficult final levels. A challenge mode may entice players to tackle special missions that feature certain conditions, such as removing your attack ability or strict time limits. Some additional online multiplayer modes and boss rush modes can be unlocked as well, which can increase replayability, though they aren’t necessarily fun to go through.

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Nothing says speed like… slippery ice.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics aren’t particularly appealing and resemble an old GameCube game’s output. Some visuals are distracting enough and can actually affect your playthrough. For instance, one level has sudden explosions, signified by crudely animated red blots. These explosions blow up a tower in the background, which can instantly fall onto the stage and kill you. You might not register any of this until it’s too late because of the lack of graphical polish, not to mention any lag you may have in this particular section.

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That’s supposed to be fire in the background.

Character designs are okay, with the standout designs belonging to the Mighty Numbers. Voice acting is also decent, with the Mighty Numbers again providing the most entertaining performances, even though they’re cheesy. Oddly enough, characters’ mouths don’t even move while they talk, making the product feel more rushed than it should.

Mighty No. 9 shares a composer with the original Mega Man, Manami Matsumae. It doesn’t always show because of some uninspired tracks, but there are some nice-sounding techno gems that shouldn’t be overlooked, including the main theme. There is an option for 8-bit music to satiate retro tastes, though no song is as catchy as the original Mega Mans tunes.

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Mighty Nos. 1-9

Conclusion

Mighty No. 9 has semblances of good ideas thrown into levels that are muddled with instant kill spikes, overly difficult platforming sequences, and overall bad level design. It’s a shame because Beck himself is fun to play as, with a clever dash mechanic that can be exhilarating when used well. The Mighty Number bosses are highlights, providing both fun boss fights and entertaining personalities. The abilities they bestow rival some of the best abilities in Mega Man titles. In the end, Mighty No. 9 will likely be remembered as an underwhelming attempt at recreating the spirit of Mega Man. It’s not a horrible game, and those willing to play through the infuriating parts may find the enjoyment hidden within. However, if you’re looking for a challenging but less frustrating platformer, just play Mega Man instead.

Score: 6/10

What are your thoughts on Mighty No. 9? Did you back its Kickstarter, and if so how are your feelings of the finished product? What are your comparisons between Mighty No. 9 and the Mega Man series? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Note: I was not a backer of the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter, but i did receive a free code from a generous backer. The Steam version was played for this review.

This review was posted on Darkstation. Please find the article here.