Remember the days when faux-futuristic spacemen blasted their way through alien hordes in pursuit of some alien villain or kidnapped dame? Redro Games does, and their tiny team have provided a window into that era with Super Mustache, a retro little platformer in the vein of Commander Keen or Crystal Caves. The hirsute captain starring in this flick needs to defeat an evil robot who has conquered Uranus, and will leap, shoot, and walljump until he gets there. Set twenty four years from now, protagonist Captain Super Mustache evokes a pulp novel seen through a NES lens.
The first thing you might notice picking up Super Mustache is the attractive pixel style and quaint animations. The second thing is that its English is kind of bad, reminiscent of a poor Game Boy localization. The game hardly has any text, so it’s not any kind of issue, but it immediately sets us off on a trip into the old days of gaming, warts and all. On the plus side, like many old games, the music is quite good and usually fits the action at hand. If you end up retrying a level over and over, it might get repetitive, but overall there’s quality there. Some of the themes and even the sound effects seem vaguely familiar somehow, and I get the feeling Mr. Mustache takes his spaghetti with extra mushroom, if you catch-a my drift.
The choice to include ‘?’ boxes, in what can, at best be described as an homage to Mario, didn’t really impress me. IMore often than not it just put another few seconds between collecting a powerup and moving on. Sometimes they hide things besides coins and hearts, like an invincibility bubble that’s a real treat in tougher sections, but then it’s basically blackmailing you into checking every single one in case there’s anything good. Not a great use of time, or fun enough to justify it. A lot of antiquated systems and Nintendo-like flavors are sprinkled throughout the essence of the game, sometimes to its detriment. For example, a point tally is kept throughout the game, but like in most modern games it’s a relic of arcades and, ironically, mostly pointless.
The lives system is similarly archaic, and frustrating since it’s pretty easy to screw yourself over by pushing a block the wrong way or collapsing some vital yet irreplaceable platform. Losing your lives sends you back to the start, and although the levels are generally short, it feels like an arbitrary setback. You can earn more lives by collecting a hundred golden coins (mamma mia!), but since there aren’t any actual quarters changing hands, there doesn’t seem to be a real need for the system at all. Captain Mustache has three hearts worth of life before he dies, instakills notwithstanding, and can sometimes find hearts to heal up with. This was actually pretty forgiving, since I’m generally accustomed to dying immediately upon touching a pit of spikes, and having the chance to jump free just kept surprising me in a good way.
The little mustachioed captain is funny enough to play as, and he’s almost cute when he winces while charging forward or firing his little gun. I don’t know if the developer meant to be making a joke about the planet Uranus, but it’s easy enough that I’ll let you make your own here.
Some sprites can be hard to pick out of the background, and even some enemies have this effect, requiring a bit of trial and error. Bottomless pits sometimes have their “bottoms” set irritatingly high, killing you before you have the chance to make a totally reasonable double jump to safety. Combining some of these factors with the lives system means that an inauspicious start to a game will probably be better concluded by ripping your own mustache out and starting again with a full set of lives. I encountered a minor glitch where it was difficult to select the level I wanted to play. I can’t say if that was the control scheme or a programming fault, but it certainly wasn’t smooth going.
Some of the mechanics are strangely hidden. Mustache’s crouch lowers him about a pixel or two, and I didn’t realize you could actually dodge enemy bullets with it (they’ll pass through you) until a sign recommended the maneuver during a certain section. Likewise, you’re actually able to pull the movable teal blocks by standing close enough to them and backing away, a helpful aid when a puzzle gets gummed up, but neither openly advertised nor particularly well implemented. Springboards bounce you higher if you hold jump, but this interferes with your double jump, and is again not advertised or taught to the player directly. It doesn’t even do a great job of letting you know which walls can or can’t be walljumped from. A lot of little problems that you’ll definitely notice, but I found them to be overall forgivable, as long as your expectations are in the right place.
I enjoyed Super Mustache well enough. it’s rather rough around the edges, but if it had come out in the 90’s it would probably be someone’s favorite nostalgic title by now. The problem is that the sort of rough edges we all expected in that era are really noticeable today. The lessons designers learned in that era really are better off listened to than ignored, and several facets of modern, smoother design philosophy are missing here. On a fair playing field, Super Mustache would still lose out to 1991’s Commander Keen, despite the decades in between. Still, most platformers never retailed for 99 cents, and that’s a pretty good deal for what you get. In fact, it’s free to play on Android, much like the shareware of yesteryear. There are certainly worse things on Greenlight to spend your time and money on. Combined with the availability on Android and Steam’s good price, Super Mustache is a nice choice for anyone who loves retro platformers or wants a taste of the good old days in a modern wrapper.
A predictable platformer with some rough edges worthy of 1990's shareware. Worth the price and the time, and you wont spend much of either.