PLATFORMING NINJA ACTION ** Many levels of platforming action! ** Climb walls and slash enemies! ** Get collectibles and go for fast times!
Mute Crimson is an awesome platformer with tight gameplay, interesting style, excellent music, and a great sense of humor. The cheap look, fashioned in black-and-white with red accents and pixelated blood splatter, and sparse animation sully the initial reception, but it's done well for the most part. The retro style, typically the safe haven of the new artistically-challenged game Developer, grows on the player, partly because of the things the blocky ninja says, but also due to elements such as his cute running waddle and centipede-like wall crawling animation. The simple, high contrast graphics help keep the focus on the levels and their obstacles, but it also can lead to some confusion such as in the fourth world where the patterns on the metal (safe) blocks looks too similar to the design on the laser firing squares, a mix-up which is particularly annoying as the game likes to stack large numbers of them side-by-side. There are at least a couple of points such as in world 6-4 where the arrows indicating the direction of a conveyor belt are reversed, clearly an error since the bulk of them are correctly labeled. Enemies have basically no animation whatsoever, crude figures which look more like obstacle placeholders than an enemy to threaten the player. The ninja himself whips out his sword in a single frame, and his spinning jump and sprite box dimensions can make it tough to determine how he'll react at times. For example, platforms which can appear way too high for him to mount following a jump such as during the fight with the fourth boss (a cameo from Derosby's first XNA title, Null Divide) are perfectly scalable; the ninja's disjointed, stiff movements may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but players will adapt to the display in short order, allowing them to revel in the wonderful gameplay to be had here.
With 46 plus levels, each with a hidden collectible item to collect, Mute Crimson offers plenty of gameplay to the player. Levels are separated into distinct worlds focused around the introduction of some new gameplay element. In world 2, Derosby makes us contend with the wind while platform jumping a la Ninja Gaiden 2 or Curse of the Crescent Isle while world 5 does the gravity thing as is all the rage among platformer kids these days. Mute Crimson has keys to collect, portals to jump through, crumbling blocks to hurry across, forced scrolling segments to endure, and more, and none of it feels remotely tacked on. As charming as the ninja or as striking the art style may be, Mute Crimson excels thanks to its excellent control and delightfully devious level design. It's challenging enough to make it through all six worlds to the ending, but it's another matter entirely to locate and grab all of the collectibles hidden in the game. By the time the player makes it to Stage 4-5: Southern Cross and sees the lasers covering a good 80% of the screen, he or she will have little problem cramming the ninja into the tiniest of gaps to advance; however, trying to nab the item on 6-5 is quite difficult for an already challenging game, just one of many points leading to lots of replays while trying to figure out what tactics are needed to succeed. While there a few parts where memorization is required, Mute Crimson is nowhere near Aban Hawkins & the 1000 SPIKES in that regard, instead allowing players to survey the environment and proceed without blindsiding them with hidden traps and the like. Mute Crimson is tough but fair, and that's too much of a rarity these days when it comes to challenging platformers.
Mute Crimson offers plenty of checkpoints to keep things from feeling too stressful, and infinite lives and a level select ensure that players will have all the opportunities they desire to beat the game at their own pace. The game keeps track of how quickly the player has beaten each stage, but there is no leaderboard -- not even a local one beyond the saved best times. Fake achievements are handed out for beating the game, grabbing the collectibles, and gaining a completion time under some set limit. Going from the short list of awards, it would seem that Mute Crimson can be beaten in under 35 minutes, but of course getting to that point will take at least a couple of hours to first playthrough to the game and acclimate oneself with what challenges lay ahead. Options let players adjust the screen size or turn off the dialogue (?), but I really wish Merge the Memory Bit Studios had included a soundtest in there as Nathaniel Edwards' music is quite good. I love the laid back themes found in the caves of Stage 3 and the low gravity world in Stage 5, and while the loops may be too short to warrant a Download release, soundtrack is still good on its own. I'm always for composers who know that music should focus on melody and arrangement rather than jamming as many beeps and blips into an audio cut as possible, and the understated soundtrack is welcomed listening, especially given how often players will have to hear it as they repeat sections again and again.
Mute Crimson is a loving tribute to those great Japanese games of old, offering solid gameplay along with great Engrish lines such as "How can a ship bleed? Space, it is time." in an archaic shell. It may -- OK, it does -- lack the artistry of Limbo to get people to overlook the black-and-white graphics and 8-bit style, but for platform fans and those who value gameplay over everything else, Mute Crimson offers terrific value and depth even if modern graphics aren't part of the package.