Imagine that the entire human race abandoned Earth for a few thousand years and went to live on Mars. Imagine they started sending archaeologists back in the year 5000 to dig up the junk we left behind. What would they make of it?
That’s the setup for Mutropolis, a point-and-click puzzle game that gets a lot of mileage out of the misunderstandings the humanity of the future makes when trying to understand our contemporary world. More often than not, I find that humour in video games tends to land somewhere on a scale between ‘not funny’ and ’actively grating’, so it’s a credit to Mutropolis that it has the ability to raise a smile with its jokes about misinterpreted cultural practices and historical figures, and the relative significance of everyday objects lent an aura of prestige thanks to their status as archaeological relics.
A large part of why the humour works is that it is centred around likeable characters. Protagonist Henry Dijon and his colleagues and companions, Micro, Max, Carlata, and co, are not in-depth character studies, but they have endearing personalities and behave in ways consistent with who they are – a character won’t tell a joke for the sake of it if that doesn’t fit with how they would respond. In a game featuring an outlandish plot about a kidnapped colleague, a fabled lost city, and ancient Egyptian gods, they provide the grounding that makes the world and its story work. Just because a game is light-hearted and silly, that doesn’t mean you can get away without applying consistency and care when it comes to creating characters, and Mutropolis gets that.
That consistency and care is lacking a tad across the game’s puzzles. They follow the traditional point-and-click item puzzle format, giving you an inventory of objects that’s added to as you explore locations, and which can then be combined or used to get around whatever it is blocking your progression. For the most part, puzzles are logical, enjoyable, and strike the right balance when it comes to difficulty. However, the game is not immune to the perennial frustrations of item-puzzling point-and-clicks. There was more than one occasion where I missed a vital item I had to pick up, or found a puzzle solution a bit too obtuse, particularly in the game’s second half. Mercifully, these instances are relatively rare and, though frustrating, shouldn’t be enough to put you off a generally well-designed puzzle game.
In contrast to Mutropolis’ archaeologists – who sometimes fail to understand what they dig up from the past, in their excavation of 1990s comedy point-and-clicks – this game’s developers have showcased not only an understanding of what made those games work, but a clear vision of how to apply that successfully in 2021.
The forest isn’t completely filled with peril every step you go. Besides the shadowy An’mu who lend a literal hand, you also encounter a couple of animal allies that come to your aid, including one who initially seems like a threat – but the sight of hunted wildlife strung up is a sign they probably have more to fear than you.
A heartfelt story that’s sadly hollow in execution.
Genre: Puzzle platformer Format: PC / Mac / Xbox One | Developer: Doublehit games | Publisher: Kwalee | Price: £7.19 | Release: Out now