Retrospective: Mutant Storm Reloaded

The art of blasting.

I tell myself that I pretty much hate Achievements. Sure, a few games have used them beautifully - to guide the eye of the player, to offer a gentle shove towards hidden fun - but so many more seem to delight in getting it all wrong.

They either dole points out for ludicrously simple tasks, leaving you faintly patronised, or they use them to tempt you, vindictively, into empty displays of mindless repetition: treasure hunts that never end, or kill-counts only obsessive-compulsives will ever notch up. You want me to shoot 100,000 enemies in the nuts? You shoot 100,000 enemies in the nuts. Hey, and start with yourself, eh?

Pa-plink! I hate the way they pop out just in time to break the spell of those rare dramatic moments (You've found out you were adopted! 50 points!). I hate the way they turn up to distract you or obscure your view of the radar at crucial points in a battle. Most of all, I hate the way they seem to want to change the way you move through games, turning everything into a grind, into an inventory list, turning play into a particularly energy-intensive form of shopping.

That said, when you find one that genuinely means something to you, all those potential irritations fade away. For me, it's Black Belt Grandmaster in Mutant Storm Reloaded: complete all 89 levels in Adventure Mode on Black Belt starting from Level 1. 35 points.

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Slimy and a bit icky? It must be Mutant Storm.

And, ironically, it's one of the worst: a slog through a campaign that's already difficult enough without an additional layering of meta challenges. But Grandmaster got to me because I felt I owed it to the game: I owed it to the craft and care and sheer gooey imagination on display in every one of those brutal arenas, I owed it to the memory of all that fun a meagre 800 Microsoft Points bought me, and I owed it to a title that, frankly, was too delightfully, wilfully weird to ever make it as a megahit. I couldn't do much else for Mutant Storm, then, but I could do this.

Actually, I couldn't.

Or, at least, I haven't been able to do it yet. Mutant Storm is hard. It's really hard, in fact. Luckily it's also thrilling, constantly surprising, and possessed of a wonky beauty that makes it unforgettable. How can you best describe those Day-Glo caverns and slippery, slobbering monsters you'll find inside them? It's a bit like finding yourself in the midst of a parasite disco staged within the womb of a jelly baby. Lovely!

And, yes, as a twin-stick shooter, it's kind of like Geometry Wars, which means, inevitably, that it's kind of like Robotron 2084. In fact, Robotron (when I finally hit two million on it, I'll be able to call it 'Roby', as if it was an old friend) is the clear template for almost all of Mutant Storm's structure.

Like PomPom's title, the arcade classic breaks its action into rooms, and throws enemies at you in fiercely calibrated waves - albeit waves that have been fiercely calibrated by the game design equivalent of a drug-crazed SS commandant.

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