The first time a watermelon smashed into a log-cutting industrial saw's menacing jagged edges, there were melon bits everywhere. For the next two hours or so, that carnage only got worse. Red melon juices like blood stuck to its blades, with wasted delicious looking melon slices flying in all directions. That melon destruction was not due to excessive enjoyment of a well-made puzzle game, but rather that Mortar Melon proved tiresome thanks to shoddy mechanics; there was no semblance of fun to care about.
Melon physics: who knows how that works? Trajectory, melon weights, melon aerodynamics… these are the things you will have to consider in Mortar Melon, a game not unlike the basics of Angry Birds with a bit of Donkey Kong Country thrown in. Instead of flinging birds, you shoot melons out of mortars through some maze-like designs and puzzles - collecting fruit along the way - to a safety basket at the end of each level. Unlike the destructive power of Angry Birds, however, the goal isn't to smash the watermelons into structures, though that will inevitably happen. The watermelons are versatile, and you can slam a watermelon hard against walls or taut vines and they'll just bounce right off. If angled just right, walls can be used to direct these delicious projectiles.
When Mortar Melon lays out a decent puzzle in which you have to use those visible trajectory angles, or utilize walls to get to where you're going, it's a rare occurrence. Even then it doesn't do much to get creative juices flowing; it's a relatively simple game with many of the puzzles having visible routes to the end goal. As expected, Mortar Melon tries to ramp up its difficulty by using saws, trap doors, portals and other deterrents as melon death traps. Unfortunately these all feel more like trial and error runs rather than actual puzzle-solving, for the most part.
Attaining the maximum 3 stars for each level may annoy some. Doing this requires getting all the fruit in the level, with most of them in the path or easily attainable and therefore keeping this game uninspired. Hanging fruit, fruit arches, floating fruit behind trap doors - Mortar Melon can, at times, be a pain for completionists trying to win it all. Sometimes it'll require you to do timed button presses to release trap doors as your melon flies near the vicinity of one - prompts which may not always seem to respond as they should.
The actual physics of how the melons move is astounding. They are not always bound by gravity, and when in slow motion are a thing to behold. Some shots may seem impossible, and will have you wondering just how you managed them. It's better to not question melon law, for it'll have you scratching your own melon as to how exactly any of this works. Some of these things are made worse by how Mortar Melon is plagued by glitches. There's considerable lag if you leave a level running, and there were also instances of frozen screens, forcing hard resets of our Wii U.
But one of the greatest sins Mortar Melon commits is just how awful the touchscreen controls are. There's little accuracy in angling when using the stylus, which in turn can affect controlling speed. It leaves the game virtually unplayable, which makes switching to analogue mode feel mandatory. Even then, controlling melons can be difficult. The analog stick isn't always precise, and takes a lot more effort than it should to get right.
Then there's the issue of not being able to skip levels. Like the melons that hit walls without smashing, so too does Mortar Melon refuse to break and budge in that aspect. Until you finish a level you cannot unlock the next. It can really mess up a flow, and while this is a feature that many games have it'd be nice to just have that option to come back and do a level that bested you at your own pace. Being stuck on a level with no means to progress is worth something, but only if there's content to look forward to. As Mortar Melon doesn't have that much going for it all these issues leave these moments of being stuck feeling more like a hassle than incentives to do better.
Mortar Melon is one big rote, melon party. Or three parties if we're thinking about locations for this melon tossing madness. In the mighty jungle melons collect oranges, bananas, pineapples, apples… to the smooth sounds of jungle beats in a dense rain forest. In the desert, pyramids are set on bright sun-blazed yellow sands with mysterious music swirling about the levels as you smash the melon against unstable, hieroglyphic walls to break through them. In the frozen tundra the soundtrack has the calm of a quiet, wintry afternoon with icy gems buried in pink hues on blue snowy drifts. The animation along with the soundtrack is serviceable but these are three parties with looks and sounds that aren't off the hook, and some which you'll soon forget.
If you're feeling particularly proud at defeating a level, you can leave a message in Miiverse to display your ownership of it. There's also a Challenge mode that tallies your bananas and other fruit collection. As the levels are all the ones from the regular mode, it's just an additional twist that's for people who really can't get enough of shooting melons. Yes, that's what challenges are for, but will this really be something that adds so much to an already simple mess of a game? That depends on you.
Mortar Melon is the type of game you've probably played before. There's nothing incredibly unique about this melon shooting, physics defying game. It's tedious, and simple with little incentive to keep playing as it lacks brain-teasing, good puzzles or clever level designs. With broken control mechanics that compound all that frustration, Mortar Melon is anything but smashing - unless you have a terrible fascination with seeing watermelons destroyed or lost to the virtual wild. Overall, there's very little fun to be had and Mortar Melon feels like an unrewarding, fruitless exercise.