If you see something amazing, you want to be able to do it yourself. It’s why people break bones after watching YouTube stunts. When I saw a preview of Mugsters before its release, with its crazy physics-based action, I instantly wanted to play. A top-down view of a dude sprinting into a car, leaping out as it drives straight into a gas-filled tanker by some enemies, taking them all down in a satisfying explosion of retro graphics. It put the game on my radar and I was ready to copycat on release.
Mugsters is a physics-based action platformer developed by Reinkout Games and published by iconic 90s publisher Team17. When I see that logo, the endorphins kick in and I’m instantly back sat in front of my computer playing Worms or Cannon Fodder. Mugsters seems the perfect fit for Team17. Like titles of old, there’s a similar approach of organically discovering the mayhem on your own. You’re literally dropped into the game with no direction as to why you’re there, what your mission is or the mechanics of playing.
It’s one of Mugsters’ most endearing features, how little is said about your what you should do or how to approach its puzzles. The aim of each level is to rescue hostages and collect crystals, with additional tasks like activating or destroying devices. As you’re running about trying to free hostages from alien pods you face a range of enemies. Two-headed red guys and huge alien contraptions try to kill or abduct you and the hostages, but dropped in the map are a host of vehicles and explosive barrels at your disposal.
Run through the map, drive cars, hurl explosion barrels – all those things promised in the trailers are there in the sandbox for me to play with. The true puzzle of the game is working out how to unlock the best route to fly off into the glorious sunset hostages in tow. But obstacles on the way aren’t easy to overcome, and it’s not just because of Mugsters’ difficulty, but because the old-school gameplay can be frustrating.
The difference between the preview video and when I played was that the restrictive reality didn’t allow me to do the awesome things that I’d seen. I was always chasing those fast, fun moments, but was stunted by Mugsters’ occasionally clunky action. Driving is frustrating, it’s extremely easy to die, and a few times there were some glitches that meant I had to replay the level again because hostages had been stuck on scenery or disappeared for no reason.
The freedom of the game is also one of Mugsters’ flaws. It can be frustrating not knowing what’s going on and having to learn almost everything for yourself, especially if it feels like it’s getting in the way of the fun.
Mugsters’ overall package is no-frills. Visually it reminded me of an old SEGA Mega Drive game. So much so, that I didn’t actually think I’d be able to rotate the camera at first. And although Mugsters is graphically minimalistic, I occasionally had some juddering when playing, which was a shame.
It seems like there is a lack of visual effects on Switch than on other platforms. A few times I killed enemies who’d disappear with no sound or graphical indicator that they’d died. As a result, I couldn’t work out if I could kill enemies by running over them in a vehicle at all.
With limited music and sound, occasionally I felt like I was playing a tech demo. That’s fine for many, especially if you’re just looking for some action, but technical frustrations will annoy the hardcore crowd, too. If you’re trying to complete levels in the fastest time possible, and I certainly think that’s what Reinkout Games are hoping players will do, the odd glitch and difficult controls can ruin the experience. Mugsters can be punishing, and while a lot is part of the challenge, if a hostage gets stuck on scenery or disappears for no reason and you were trying to win as fast as possible, it’s the wrong type of punishment.
The added co-op adds to the value of the game, but the game’s frustrations hamper re-playability. The stripped down nature of the game is part its charm, but can work against it. Sometimes Mugsters’ sandbox just feels a little shallow.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Team17