Too Long; Didn't Play: Super Mustache

This month is officially Movember on TL;DP. I will be playing games with prominent soup-strainers to raise awareness for prostate cancer and other men's health issues. If you're of a mind, and can spare a few dollars, why not head on over and help spread the health?

Sponsored By: My iron-clad resolve to maintain a theme, no matter what.

Time riding the mustache: 30 minutes

This week, we’re going all out with the mustachiest of mustachioed protagonists: Super Mustache!

Pencil Review

Do you know why platformers usually have controller support?

Then please let the developers know, because they sure as heck don’t.

Handlebar Review

I generally don’t like to pan games. Reviews are too subjective a thing to make bold pronouncements like “This game is bad.” Very few games are actually bad. Most of the time they’re just misunderstood.

What’s truly heartbreaking, though, is a game that can’t get out of its own way – a game with flaws that overshadow its inner goodness. If the truth is where the sculptor’s chisel chipped away the lie, this sort of game is one that could have stood a few more whacks from John Linnell’s mallet.

The controls, for example, are classic: run, shoot, double-jump. They’re responsive, and each move has just the right amount of oomph behind it. They’d be spot-on, except for the fact that they don’t work with a standard Xbox 360 controller. Playing this sort of game with the arrow keys is like trying to play a piano while working the foot pedals with your tongue, but that’s the only way to do it.

Which is a crying shame! There’s a serviceable, even good, game in Super Mustache. It’s a little bit Mario and a little bit Mega Man, resulting in a side-scrolling platformer with a rocking MIDI soundtrack and featuring a protagonist who can shoot a gun while also jumping more than a quarter of an inch. As a long-standing nemesis of Mega Man (you might know me as Unpopular Man. My gun shoots opinions that make people sad. It’s only effective against Sheep Man.), I approve of all of that wholeheartedly.

The game is trying to evoke classic NES platforming, and it does that. The graphics are simple, but they look good for a modern-retro (or is it "retro-modern"? I can’t keep that straight.) game. The only thing missing is the sprite flicker. The developers even nailed that wonky effect of so many classics in which moving platforms move past non-moving ones but neither of them seems to notice. It’s endearing in it’s own way, and I’ll even allow myself to assume it was deliberate.

The level design is another one of those lies that the sculptor’s chisel failed to incise. There are a few block-pushing puzzles that have, well, let’s be nice and say "unconventional" solutions. Some timed-jump sections with retractable spikes are not timed well, making the game harder than it needs to be. Again, if we’re judging the game by 1989 standards, it’s right up there in difficulty. By 2016 standards, however, it just serves to remind us that the reason 1989 games were so hard was because everyone was still figuring out how to do level design. I’d be able to get past it, literally and rhetorically, if I could be playing with a controller. Alas, it’s not to be.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the controller support, and why I keep coming back to it, is because it’s a Unity game. It has a controller configurator built into the splash screen, and there’s a menu screen that allows you to set which button does what.

Neither of them work! The Unity Standard splash screen has nine control inputs that don’t actually make any sense. (Joy Right, Joy Up, Up Key, Submit, Submit, Cancel, Cancel, Key Right and Key Left) but if you select any of them and push a controller button, nothing happens.

The in-game configurator is worse, because not only does it have that problem where the buttons are named things like “Controller Button 14” but also has the problem of completely locking the game when you access it. When you try to change a controller setting, you’ll get the dialog asking for the new input, but none of the buttons actually do anything, so the game just sits there and waits for you to press a button it can’t hear, like an incredibly patient person on a conference call who doesn’t realize they’ve muted your line while they wait for you to answer a question.

The part that makes me sad is that it’s a small, ninety-nine cent game from a small developer, so it’s unlikely to ever get full controller support. It wouldn’t be a bad game but for the inability to play with a controller, but it’s hard to recommend it without that basic feature.

Then again, the soundtrack is good, so you can always just leave it running in the background while you collect trading cards. That’s gotta be worth a buck, no?

Will I continue waxing my eloquent mustache?

Gosh, I want to. I really do. It’s a charming game, but I can’t get past the control scheme.

Is it the Devil Daggers of retro games featuring Burt Reynolds look-allies?

I’ve said before that difficulty takes two forms: intentional and unintentional. Super Mustache clearly falls into the Unintentional category. The game is hard because certain systems don’t work, and because the level design is, to be constructively critical, under-polished. That makes it ineligible for the coveted Devil Daggers-Equivalent award.

But I tend to look charitably on games that are clearly so in love with the games they’re trying to ape. Therefore I’ll give Super Mustache a five. I will not, however, give the scale upon which that five rests. Make up your own, if you wish, but my keys are silent.

Comments

Does Unity support the older DirectInput API? Based on the configuration options and the fact it's not working with a 360 controller (which uses XInput) maybe that's what was going on?