Review: Mutant Storm
Reviewed By: Kirk Hiner
Review Date: December 23, 2002
If you're going to make a game called Mutant Storm, put mutants in it, not spaceships.
There. That's pretty much my only complaint about Mutant Storm from Pom Pom, the company that brought us the fantastic Space Tripper. That game was somewhat, sort of, based on classic arcade games such as Defender. Mutant Storm is more directly an homage to games such Robotron and Smash TV. It even sounds like Robotron. It looks somewhat like it too...or at least what Robotron would've looked like if you'd dropped acid before dropping your quarter.
Or so I'm told. Video games in the 80s were freaky enough...they didn't need any outside help.
So, for those unfamiliar with games of this sort, here's the premise of Mutant Storm; you move and shoot. I could stop there and you'd have everything you need to know, but I'll keep going. I have to earn my paycheck, after all.
The thing is, you have to move a lot, in many directions, and shoot a lot, in many directions. There are a lot of mutants, you see. A storm of them, if you will. You're confined to a game pen of various shapes depending upon the level (of which there are 89), and you have to make your way around it to clear out all of the mutants. They spawn from multiple locations and pretty much head straight for your ship. Some fire at you, some don't. Some move, some don't. Whatever, they all want you dead.
The action is seen from the top down, and it's all confined to one screen. No scrolling, here. You'll be amazed how much action can be crammed into one screen, though. Color, too, but more on that later.
As you progress, the game gets tougher. Yes, that's expected, but it also gets easier. See, as you rack up bonus multipliers and weapons, the mutants get tougher. Once you lose a life, however, your weapons and such are taken away, and the mutants relax a bit until you get back up to where you were. It's an excellent development decision. In many games of this type, once you lose your bonuses on the higher levels where they're desperately needed, you're pretty much screwed. Here, you actually stand a chance to get them back and keep going for a while.
Even better, as you reach checkpoints (every ten levels), you get the option to start from the checkpoint the next time you play. If you make it to level 14, you can start at level 10 next time. No more playing forever to get back to a point where the game challenges you.
Some may find Mutant Storm more challenging than others simply because of the control scheme. In Robotron and Smash TV, you were given two joysticks: one for movement and one for firing. This allowed you to move one direction while firing another. Mutant Storm utilizes the same control scheme, but it's not quite so easily done here. Pom Pom actually recommends two game pads or joysticks, but I didn't even try this. My game pads are too unwieldy to control with one hand, so I stuck with just one Macally iShock. I mean, there is a two player option here, so that would require four game pads. Who has that many USB ports available to use?
So, the iShock. I was hoping to be able to use the D-pad for movement and the right stick for firing, but no such luck. I was unable to configure either the left or right sticks for much of anything, so I had to resort to the D-pad for movement and the right buttons for firing. This worked fine, for the most part, but it required me to simultaneously hold down two buttons to get diagonal fire, and that can be difficult to execute in the heat of battle.
Visually, Mutant Storm may just be the coolest looking game since...well, since Space Tripper. The graphics here manage to be both retro and futuristic at the same time, and that's not easy to do. The colors are bright and sharp, and it seems that as much attention was paid to the explosion and weapon effects as to the mutant ships themselves. This is the way we all wanted these games to look back in the 80s. Heck, it's the way I want them to look now.
It's the backgrounds that really distinguish Pom Pom games, however. Always moving, always flowing, they add an extra, trippy layer to the games that make it seem as if more is going on than there actually is. In Space Mutant, it gives the illusion of a larger playing field...like you're moving when you're not. It's a wild effect I'd like to see in many more games. If I haven't done a good job of describing this, just download the 9 level demo to see about what I'm talking.
Unfortunately, the audio is a bit lacking in parts. The sounds are retro as well, but perhaps too retro. At times, they sounded cracked and distorted on both my Harman/Kardon SoundSticks and my iBook's speakers. Of course, everything sounds cracked and distorted on the iBook. Hopefully, a patch correcting this will be released soon.
Pom Pom know what they're doing. Just like Freeverse Software takes card games we've seen a hundred times over and distinguishes them with personality and visuals, so does Pom Pom with classic arcade games. I hope this becomes a trend with them. Without thinking, I could name off a dozen games that would be amazing if given the Pom Pom treatment, so hopefully we'll see at least one of them next year. In the meantime, Mutant Storm is certainly enough to keep the arcade gamer happy. It's fun to look at and fun to play.
Well, unless you're a member of the MMS; Mislabeled Mutant Society. I don't know, though...perhaps there are mutants piloting the ships. Or maybe the mutant is me. In that case, they did the right thing. Hiner Storm probably wouldn't sell as many copies.
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