A cute and squishy little game which feels a bit confused.
Having gathered a few friends around a TV and Switch I booted up slampunks’ 2D platforming racer and the initial impression was a good one. Muddledash looks completely unique. Its quirky little octopus characters flaunt funny little limbs with their squishy bodies flopping around an equally cute and blobby world.
It thrives on this aesthetic with its simple colours popping out against serene backgrounds. Any nursery would be improved vastly with screenshots of this game plastered across its walls. It manages to successfully keep this special, toddler-like feeling in spite of its procedurally generated levels and, as my friend pointed out, it’s because the levels end up feeling quite samey very quickly.
Muddledash’s simple, goofy look is mimicked by an equally basic and slightly wonky premise. Controlling one of up to four octopuses on screen, you’ll race your friends up and down slopes, jump over bits of grass and through rotating cog-like obstacles which try to impede your racing, and globules of jelly which propel you, all the while hoping you can be the first to make it to the finish line with the little birthday present on top of your head.
As the present acts as a key to reach the end of the level and separate winners from losers, an interesting mechanic is put into play. As everyone races along the 30-40 second levels, one player will be carrying the parcel, trying to race out ahead of everyone else and stop them from snatching the puzzle back – each player can flick one of their limbs and knock the prized possession out of the other’s suction-cupped hands. While a nice idea which created some frantic moments of people losing the parcel and for it to basically be knocked back and forth from each player, a tactic was quickly devised by the rest of the players due to a couple of unfortunate systems.
If one person gets too far ahead in Muddledash the other players will respawn right near the person in the lead. This led to a lot of the people I was playing with not even bothering to go for the person with the parcel. It even got to the point where people would stop playing and just wait for one octopus to take the present to the end of the level and seize it right at the end and win from there. The fact that the person who wins is the one through the door with the present at the end means the majority of the game felt fruitless and had people quickly bored.
A commendable part of Muddledash, though, is the fact it doesn’t make a big deal about who wins and who loses. There are no rankings in this game or points carried over from multiple races. Basically, whoever wins the race gets a bit of confetti and is raised on a platform for a bit. It’s nice to see a game which wants it to be about the thrill of the race rather than how well someone has done; it’s just disappointing other aspects of the game stop this.
At this part there’s absolutely a point to be made that maybe this isn’t an experience designed for twenty-year-olds and that’s fair. From its look, its lack of focus on competitiveness and its respawn system, all hint at something crafted for young children.
I’d agree with this too, if not for the controls, which are quite clunky. In spite of the fact that there’s very few of them. One to jump, another to hit and the last to dash (as well as stick to move). Yet even with only four controls, often myself and my friends (who have played multiple games, particularly on the Switch) found ourselves struggling as we tried to figure out how leaping actually works. It’s a little bit obtuse.
However, in spite of the various problems Muddledash has, it’s hard not to like, mainly down to its squishy aesthetic combined with a chaotic soundtrack which helps nudge players into whacking each other. Hearing the ping of metal as the present is knocked from one octopus’ arm to another is quite lovely. Combine this with an upbeat, almost techno backing track and Muddledash sounds nice, if a little repetitive at times.
Muddledash is a curious little game which still has me unsure of what or who exactly it’s for. It’s certainly not for those who want to play for an hour straight or who love to watch their friends sulk as they dramatically crush them. But there is definitely a family or a pocket of the gaming community who will relish this splodgy little game.