Back when Renegade Kid’s Mutant Mudds hit the 3DS, it was something of a novelty: the system had been out less than a year, the retail scene was coasting on Mario, Zelda, and Star Fox, and the recently opened eShop was practically cobwebs—Mutant Mudds was almost the system’s best digital-exclusive game by default. While not among my very favorite games on the system, it holds up well today for its tight platforming, delightful throwback aesthetic, demanding-but-reasonable challenge, and inventive use of stereoscopic 3D (okay, maybe that last part was cribbed from Virtual Boy Wario Land.) Add multiple free updates worth of additional content, and Mutant Mudds remains an easy recommendation for the 3DS.
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is, in many ways, more of the same, and that’s not a bad thing. Players longing for more of Renegade Kid’s specific brand of platforming action will feel right at home with Super Challenge, even while they’re scratching their heads over whether this is a new game or not. In reality, it’s closer to an expansion pack than a sequel, with 40 brand new stages featuring the same mechanics as the original but built around newly themed worlds and more original tunes from series composer Troupe Gammage. As before, half of the stages are hidden carefully (but not too obscurely) for players to seek out, and though they continue the Mutant Mudds tradition of paying homage to earlier game systems, they’re limited this time around to Game Boy and Virtual Boy color schemes. This could be because most 3DS fans aren’t familiar with the CGA-powered graphics of early ’80s computer gaming, as in some of the earlier game’s hidden stages… or it could mean that CGA-themed stages are coming as DLC at some future date.
Where Super Challenge differs from its predecessor is in the level of skill it demands from players. Mutant Mudds was challenging in the way it pushed players to understand the nuances of its engine—often demanding the execution of pixel-perfect jumps, for instance, or asking them to process information on multiple platforming planes—but Super Challenge can feel downright absurd in its difficulty, with the simplest mistakes leading to instant death. While a lot of this can be chalked up to the fact that there are spikes EVERYWHERE, Renegade Kid’s latest is never cruel like, say, Nicalis’s 1,001 Spikes (which is similarly obsessed with razor-sharp death traps). But Super Challenge does revel in its over-the-top difficulty, with a death counter racking up player kills gleefully as you progress. At the time of this review, I’ve died over 300 times, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to wear that like a badge of honor or a dunce cap.
Of course, nobody’s saying Mutant Mudds Super Challenge should be easy; the game’s extreme difficulty is right there in the title, after all. But I do find that the prevalence of death traps detracts from one of the game’s greatest elements: its level design, which has been improved organically over previous iterations of the series. Renegade Kid’s been building this type of game for more than half a decade now, and it shows: from nonlinear vertical stages that encourage exploration to multiplane masterpieces that play with depth perception, there’s some exceptionally clever stage design happening here. You’ll just have to dance around a whole lot of frustration to experience it.
Where the game really stumbles is in its implementation of bosses, which seem fun and interesting as they’re introduced, but are so unyieldingly rigid in the approach required to defeat them that I’ve died sometimes 30-40 times before finally nailing that last lucky shot and breathing a sigh of relief that I’m finally done with them, rather than celebrating a minor victory. There is one boss I genuinely enjoyed playing against: the method required to beat him is fun because it evolves throughout the battle. I actually felt like I was learning something there. I wish all the bosses were so well designed.
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge can sometimes be difficult to a fault, but it’s also a celebration of gaming’s past, present, and future, with 20 secret characters to unlock that run the range from Renegade Kid’s own avatars (including one from an as-yet unreleased game), to characters from other indie favorites, to genuine retro gaming icons. Once you figure out how the developer has hidden these characters, they’re pretty easy to find, and unlocking each of them is a great reminder of the gaming experiences that exist for those of us who prefer to play outside of the AAA sphere. But aside from the character icon on the file select screen, there’s not really any indication of their existence in the game, and if you’re not following the developer on Twitter, you’re unlikely to simply stumble upon them. Perhaps this was meant as a throwback to a bygone era… one in which gaming’s greatest mysteries unraveled on elementary school playgrounds and in the pages of Nintendo Power. Who knows? All I know is, after I finally located my first secret character—after already having completed 95% of the game—it was frustrating to think that a simple button press I didn’t know about had kept me from unlocking the true rewards in the secret stages I’d so painstakingly completed earlier. The thought of going back to some of these stages wasn’t always one I relished—again, this game is hard, and that doesn’t always translate to fun— but the prospect of seeing what new characters were hidden deep within the game was always enough to push me through.
So, yes: Mutant Mudds Super Challenge lives up to its name, in more ways than one. And for those players looking for a real challenge, it’s one of the best options on the eShop. But for those just looking for an entertaining platformer with plenty of callbacks to the good ol’ days, there are better places to start. Like, for example, the original Mutant Mudds.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is based on final review code provided to us by Renegade Kid. The game released on Thursday, March 17th, 2016.