Retrospective: Mutant Storm Reloaded • Page 2

The art of blasting.

Robotron also has enemies you can't shoot sprinkled in among those you really have to, and Robotron has that kind of energising claustrophobia that comes when you can fit the entire arena onto a single screen (with very few exceptions, all of Mutant Storm's battlefields are similarly snug).

But Mutant Storm is also Asteroids at times, as those devastatingly irritating tinfoil meteorites you encounter early on in proceedings bust into smaller pieces and start to fling themselves dangerously around the map. It's Defender too - and a million other copycats - with its precious stock of smart bombs. Frankly, there's even a little bit of Contra or Mercs in some of the split-shot power-ups you encounter as you blast through.

And yet, throughout all those quick changes, it never stops being Mutant Storm either.

Mutant Storm started out in life as a downloadable PC game - a weird and rather niche delight from PopPom, the two-man team who left the safety of the studio system to commit themselves to making weird and rather niche delights full-time sometime around 2000. After creating Space Tripper, a blistering neon deconstruction of Defender, PomPom turned its attention to Eugene Jarvis's robotic follow-up.

Mutant Storm was sufficiently eye-catching to make it onto Xbox Live Arcade - the original one, on the original Xbox. At that point, with the 360 powering through its own development cycle - Microsoft was probably just starting to work out how to make the disk drive really noisy, and ensure that the CPU got incredibly hot and broke all the time - an upgraded port for launch day was inevitable.

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I would not like to kiss anything in this screenshot.

Inevitably awesome, that is. Along with the 360's pad ensuring everyone who played the game had a relatively reliable control device for twin-stick shooters in their hands - I'm aware that some people prefer the keyboard setup, but I've never been able to truly click with it - Reloaded brought with it warping, wafting visual flourishes and PomPom's first go at a proper score. It sounds a bit like the music from Mass Effect played through a sponge.

But at the core of the Mutant Storm experience there are things that have little to do with high-definition displays and improved particle effects. The heart of the game is still the scoring system, which sees you earning increasingly powerful multipliers if you can survive long enough, and its big sister, the Belts.

Belts are the way you chart your progress through the dark art of Blastikkidoo - I'm shocked to see that Blastikkidoo doesn't have its own Wikipedia page, incidentally, especially since stuff like Scientology gets one. Ranging from White all the way up to Black, each belt you unlock tightens the screws a little, making the enemies more aggressive and responsive, and generally cutting your life expectancy in half.

Survive 10 or 20 levels on Black Belt settings and you can feel pretty happy about things, 30 to 40 is the equivalent of winning a Nobel Prize - one of the good ones, too, like Chemistry - and getting all the way through to the end lands you with a personal telegram from President Bartlett, delivered to your door in the beak of a dove.

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