The Neo Geo was not exactly short on choice for fighting games, with many-a-series of one-on-one brawlers available; though they were not as numerous, there were also some sidescrolling beat ‘em ups to pick from too. Several have already arrived on the Switch’s eShop and now HAMSTER brings another in the form of Mutation Nation. Like the recently released Robo Army there’s a limited character selection, but despite this there’s still a lot of enjoyable arcade action to be found.
Taking control of Ricky (player 1) or Johnny (player 2) you must work your way through six stages, punching, kicking and just generally clearing the streets of the mutant menace that has appeared because of, well, reasons. The first enemies encountered are some mustachioed men, who despite exploding in a pool of green goo are relatively regular-looking thugs. After that, shrimp-headed men appear and more weird and wonderful designs soon follow, with robotic creations also joining the fight against you.
The game was originally released in 1992 and it looks like it. There’s plenty of detail in your surroundings (as was common with Neo Geo titles), but there’s also plenty of colour. Bright oranges, greens, purples and more can be seen throughout your journey, whether walking the streets or visiting the subway. It avoids looking too garish, however, and there are some great and varied character designs for the enemies.
The enemies include insect-like creatures alongside tentacled thugs, robots, mutant dogs and flying foes too. Naturally these come in a variety of colours, so you’ll be fighting both green and red wolfmen. The enemies attack in different ways so you’ll have to employ varied tactics when hoping to get through as unscathed as possible. Rocking, energised music also plays as you fight. It can get a bit repetitive, but it doesn’t annoy and suits the onscreen action just fine. A variety of grunts, howls and groans also enhance the experience.
Behaving largely the same, Ricky and Johnny have a few moves to deal with the mutants. Tapping away at the punch button is used to string together a series of punches, with maybe a kick or knee to the face depending on circumstances. The jump ability is useful for either avoiding attacks or to perform a jumping kick, and each has a jumping punch that proves to be useful in a variety of situations.
Special attacks are also available, although they are used a little differently than is typical in games of the genre. Whilst a special is typically used to get yourself out of a tight spot when surrounded, here you cannot really do that as the attacks are charged up by holding down a button and then releasing once a meter is full. Special attacks, as a result, become a way of taking out potential threats should you see a number of enemies approaching.
By default Ricky performs a series of fast kicks (think Chun-Li) and Johnny performs a spinning clothesline, but several alternative (limited-use) specials can be collected that can send out powerful energy blasts or take out multiple enemies at once. Thought has to be given on when to use them and the game does give you opportunities. Boss battles in particular can get tactical as you look for your moment to charge and unleash your devastating attack.
Fire up the standard 1-credit ACA Hi Score mode and the game gets challenging. Time must be taken as you avoid attacks as best as you can, decide when best to use those specials or when to simply get a punch in. Alternatively you can play the regular arcade mode and use as many credits as you need to get through to the end. That's a good way to see all the wacky sights of the game, and it also has the benefit of two-play co-operative play.
With a good range of mutants and robots to fight, playthroughs fly by and there are some fun boss battles - including a four-armed dancing mutant who fires flies from a cavity in her stomach and gyrates in between attacking you. As always with these ACA releases the Hi Score and Caravan modes add some replayability as you look to see how well you can do on one credit, or in five minutes and try to move up those online leaderboards.
A larger character choice would be good, but there's a solid range of enemy attackers to deal with during your playthrough. A number of moves (including the sometimes tactical use of specials) keeps the fighting entertaining whether playing alone or with a friend. There are some decent character designs for the mutants and robots, with some nice touches in their animations such as a transformation or the way a seemingly human foe's face is punched off to reveal the robot inside. Once cleared there's not a lot of immediate replay value, but you can always try and improve in the Hi Score and Caravan modes; whenever you do boot it up, Mutation Nation provides a great scrolling beat 'em up fix.