Mu-cade is a new shoot-em-up by the master of shmups, Kenta Cho of ABA Games. He pitches his game as a “smashup waggly shmup”, which is, by itself, reason enough to check it out. With Mu-cade, Kenta has introduced physics into his formula of hardcore shooting games. The result is a great physics game (even if it will kick your ass in five minutes or less).
A Note on Controls
Before I continue the review, I should point out that Mu-cade begs to be played with a dual-analog controller. It is possible to play with the keyboard, but you don’t really want to. The controls match those of games like Geometry Wars. One thumb stick controls your movement and one controls your direction of fire. If you play on the keyboard you simply lose fidelity and the ability to aim at precise angles. Get a PS2->USB converter, an Xbox 360 USB controller, or something. You’ll be glad you did.
Demented Sumo Gameplay
Mu-cade’s how to play section in the documentation reads in its entirety as follows: Keep your ship from falling down and push enemies out of the way. It’s an elegant premise for a game. You control a snake-like ship on a rectangular playfield. Other centipedes regularly spawn and shoot at you. You don’t have a health bar, and shots don’t do damage. Rather, shots push things around. You die if you fall off, and you kill enemies–and add their segments to your own centipede–by pushing them off.
The only other action available to the player, in addition to shooting, is the ability to forfeit your tail. In exchange you are given a few seconds of mega-powerful shot. The longer your tail was, the longer this duration. When things get a little too hectic it can be advantageous to drop your tail to hurriedly dispose of your aggressors. Killing enemies grows your tail length again.
Also, you only die if the “head” of your ship falls off the side. When your tail gets long enough it will regularly dangle over the edge. This is harmless and sometimes actually useful–if your tail is hanging over the left side of the stage you can basically absorb any rightward shots without much recoil; your over-the-edge tail will basically act as an anchor. Other times, though, too much of your tail will fall over the edge and start to pull the head of your ship in after it. If you don’t realize this and jettison your tail quickly it will be game over before you know it.
Enemy centipedes quickly grow in strength. The game plays out like an old school arcade game. There are no levels; no breaks. Enemies increase in number and strength until you finally succumb to death’s sweet embrace. Things start to get crazy at the three- or four-minute mark. Enemies begin shooting a lot of shots in various patterns. It rapidly becomes a struggle to stay on the game board.
When things heat up, having a long tail practically becomes a requirement. A longer tail means more mass, which means you’re able to absorb more shots without flying all over the place. You can also wrap yourself around blocks and other centipedes in order to make it more difficult for attackers to bounce you around. When you do disconnect your tail out of necessity you really need to build it back up again as fast as possible. I’ve noticed that finding myself tailless is a good recipe for an early demise.
ABA Games is one of the few developers I’m aware of that uses the fledgling D Programming Language. Kenta has developed his own markup language to describe bullet movements, too, which enables him to easily describe various shot patterns and the like. The physics in Mu-cade are powered by ODE.
Mu-cade is a slick physics game and an example of how physics can be used to embellish well-trod genres. It’s a neat game and a good challenge. I have yet to pass the 5-minute mark. How far can you get?