In early 2012, Mutant Mudds hit the 3DS eShop, and we loved it. Its faux-retro sprite design and satisfying difficulty made for a great gaming experience, as did the fact that it actually used the 3D effect in an interesting way; our hero Max could leap forward and backward through the background layers in order progress through the game, and the 3D always made it easy to tell where you were and what you had to deal with next.
Now Mutant Mudds Deluxe is available through the Wii U eShop, and it's ostensibly the same experience. It includes all of the original levels from the game, the set of "Grannie levels" that was released as free DLC for the original, and a new set of 20 "ghost levels" with some new surprises of their own. It's bigger, but is it better?
Sadly, no. But first, let's focus on the good, because there's a lot of it.
The adorable spritework from the original game and the excellent soundtrack both make the transition to the big screen intact. In the former case the lack of detail makes the scenery feel a bit dull and empty in a way that they never did on the smaller handheld, which is disappointing, but they're not without charm.
The controls are also as tight as ever, with Max's very limited move set and small amount of health meaning you need to make every decision count. You can jump — tapping the button again to hover — and fire your water gun. Three hits and you're dead. There's a decidedly retro feel to this simplistic design, and it works in the game's favour, as you can't just power through difficult areas or rely on powerful attacks. It's as much a brain game as it is a platformer, and that makes for a nice challenge.
However this game was very clearly designed with the 3DS in mind, and the lack of a 3D effect on the Wii U should have triggered at least something in the way of redesign. As it stands we still have Max hopping through the background layers, but now it's difficult to tell just where he is. You might find yourself jumping for platforms that look like they're on the same plane but aren't, or failing to avoid enemies because it looked like they were a layer deeper than you were.
It only takes a few failures owing to this lack of clarity for the game to feel frustrating rather than challenging. Enemies and obstacles that are meant to "pop out" and injure you are just as bad; it's very difficult to tell when it's safe to proceed, and even harder to time tricky jumps between them. It's a serious problem, and it interferes substantially with the enjoyability of the game.
As in the 3DS original you unlock three powerups as you progress through the game: a stronger shot, a longer hover, and a vertical boost. These can be used to access the "retro levels," one of which is hidden in each stage. These were all present in the 3DS game's original release, and were later joined by the Grannie levels, one of which was also hidden in each stage. Now there is also a set of ghost levels, one of which is unlocked for every stage you clear.
With all of these extra levels, the main game begins to feel less like the core experience and more like a difficult world map. While the ghost levels do introduce new mechanics — such as unkillable enemies, enemies that reappear after a set time, limited ammo — they also start to feel like too much of a good thing. The experience of playing through them begins to grow tedious, especially if you're also working your way through the other hidden levels, because they're not challenging you in unique ways. Nearly all of the platforming puzzles in the hidden levels rely on you knowing the precise limits of your hero's ability to hover, and once you master that the game can't think of much else to have you do. It all begins to feel like too much of the same, and a fun short adventure with some challenging levels starts to feel like it's ballooned into a repetitive slog that doesn't want you to leave, but also can't think of any unique ways to keep you interested.
That's not to say the game is bad, but it does feel a little flabby and overstuffed, and the fact that there are three(!) hidden levels for every main game level means Mutant Mudds Deluxe runs out of tricks much too early.
There's also a checkpoint in each level, which was not featured in the original game, and though you can turn it off — which we recommend you do — it is pretty disappointing that Mutant Mudds Deluxe is second-guessing its own difficulty. Having a checkpoint means you get to be substantially less careful along the way, and there isn't much consequence for making foolish mistakes.
Part of the identity of Mutant Mudds came from its punishing difficulty. Once you remove that, you're just left with a charming but unmemorable platformer, and that's unfortunate. It also takes the bite out of the later levels, subbing in tenacity for mastery. The checkpoint system should have been turned off by default, with an option somewhere to turn it on, instead of the other way around. As it stands, it just makes Mutant Mudds Deluxe feel a lot less confident.
Mutant Mudds Deluxe is still a lot of fun, but it has its issues which prevent it from being the definitive version of the game.
Mutant Mudds Deluxe doesn't feel quite at home on larger screens, but it's still a very enjoyable game. Its crisp visuals and great soundtrack are as nice as ever, but it feels like a handheld experience at heart. The lack of 3D and layered scenery also means that it's sometimes difficult to tell what platforms and hazards are actually on your plane, which can lead to some unexpected deaths. The ghost levels are a nice addition, but the abundance of extra levels is starting to feel like too much of a good thing, and the experience of playing through them gets fatiguing and tedious. If you're dying — ahem — for the ghost levels, then it's up to you whether the cost justifies upgrading. If not, we say stick with the 3DS original.