It says something about the state this game left me in when I bought it in 2015 and finished it in 2017. The thing is, when I returned to it, I couldn’t remember why I’d originally stopped playing. Repressed memories are a funny (and slightly terrifying) thing. But before we get to that, let’s cover the basics. Mute Crimson+ is a hard as nails platformer bringing something akin of the original Ninja Gaiden to the modern-day with significantly less cheap BS. but maintaining the level of difficulty that had established its reputation. Seeing this and identifying it as a challenge, I took up the offer.
First impressions were good! The control felt great, if a little heavy, but obviously intentionally. I was impressed by the nicely animated sprites and the badass music to go alongside it. (The soundtrack is easily one of the best parts of the game, it always has the right thematics for the stage and left me humming long after finishing the game.) All you have at your disposal is the ability to run, double jump, slash and climb. No special powers or ranged attacks, just you, your sword and a lot of obstacles in your way. As much as “hard but fair” has become a cliché now, it’s done pretty well here!
Checkpoints are generous for the most part and lives are infinite, levels are pretty short but flow immediately into the next as to retain flow. It auto-saves at your current level and old ones can be visited again if you wish. A single hit is all it takes to defeat you but the same applies to enemies. (Except bosses obviously.) The only difficulty spike that vividly comes to mind is during the later sections of the game the checkpoints become a little less generous which can be annoying if you do multiple segments, die and are forced to repeat the tasks you’d already finished. But nothing’s too hard.
The game also has a pretty good sense of humour. Purposeful mistranslation litters the cutscenes before and after bosses, which you think would get old quick but it’s written so well (or badly, as it were…) that it’s always a nice treat for reaching or beating the finale of a stage. The bosses themselves aren’t that special, the typical 3-hit boss design. However, despite the simplicity of the win condition, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. They will most assuredly keep you on your toes as each is more relentless than the next, so you’ll be too busy dodging and leaping through the air slashing to care.
Let’s jump to when I was returning to the game, I continued from the main menu onto a level named “I Hate Lasers” and it all came flooding back. You may come to the easy conclusion it was the level that turned me away. But no, the lasers were the thing I liked most about the level as it was the most consistent thing. No, the thing that had me entering a primeval feral rage I didn’t know existed was dying due to my control being stolen away from me and this was for one very distinct reason. The game doesn’t have 8 directional movement. This results in MANY deaths when using a stick.
This isn’t a problem in the simpler stages, but when things start getting finicky with climbing up walls, leaping back and forth while climbing and landing on a single floating block, it becomes a torture method. I spent easily over an hour dying in the same spot over and OVER and OVER just because the game couldn’t distinguish Left from Up when making critical jumps between spikes and above lava. It’s always when you think you’ve done it too. One more jump and you stall in mid-air, killing you. Even when I got past that evil bit, there was a cheap shot lying in wait for me.
Upon jumping to the safe area (safe-ish considering the rising lava) a dog darts at you and in my fear-stricken panic of the thought of losing my hard-earned progress, I dodged the dog but spent so long correcting myself to land again in my flurry of jumps that the generic sword guy enemy just walked up and stabbed me. This moment lit an undying fire in me. The game was no longer for fun, it was a cackling demon that I’d slay if it was the last thing I’d do. When I was done I probably looked rabid, foaming at the mouth with rage. I definitely felt like it by the time I reached the credits.
Not having 8 directional movement in a game today is just needlessly slapping the player in the face. NOTHING WILL CHANGE MY MIND ON THAT. I’m playing on a 360 controller and if you’re going to say: “Idiot! why don’t you just use the D-Pad?” I’d like to let you know I’d rather take the Ninja’s sword and commit hara-kiri than use that fossilised dinosaur crap that you had the guts to refer to as a “D-pad”. They’re not supposed to be made out of stone but Microsoft thought it would be more fun winding me up than making a functional part of a controller. I DESPISE that thing.
Also, do you remember those warnings inside of game manuals? The “If you don’t take breaks every 15 minutes you’ll explode, the world will implode, everyone will die and it will be all your fault!” warnings? Yeah, well, this is the one time I needed that warning and I wouldn’t have scoffed, barked in laughter and continued playing. During extended sessions it gets to a point where the stark contrasts take their toll on your eyes and you can’t focus on anything, like a fuzzy, blurry sort of blindness. A pretty good indicator that maybe you should come back to it later. That said, I like the style.
After beating the game and talking to a friend about the issues I’d been having, he asked if I’d tried my PS4 controller. I told him the notion hadn’t even crossed my mind and I wasn’t sure if it would even be compatible. It was, but the bindings were all screwed up. Fortunately, the devs had the foresight to imagine such a case and you can fix it within the options screen. Below this paragraph you’re reading was the first thing I wrote after trying the PS4 controller for the first time. I was going to adopt it into something more well thought out but it does a pretty good job on its own.
“Edit: OH MY GOD THE DIFFERENCE A GOOD D-PAD MAKES. To test the PS4 controller, I ran a few levels and it seemed easy enough so I fought the final boss instead and did it in two tries. TWO. TRIES. Yeeeeep. MMMMMMMM SO GLAD I PLAYED IT ON A 360 CONTROLLER FIRST…” I hate that I can’t shake this stigma I’ve now got for Mute Crimson+ because overall it’s a very solid game. I look at it and think back to the nightmares of the 360 pad instead of the moments it made me feel like an unstoppable badass on a mission. I wish I’d played on the DualShock first.
After you’ve completed the main game there’s not much else unless you didn’t collect all the golden coins on your first run. Though you unlock the original Xbox Live indie game version of Mute Crimson, a “doom clock” mode (which is basically forced speedrunning), a boss rush and a limited lives mode. Ignoring the SLIGHT blunder of not having 8 directional movement, for a game developed exclusively by the two brother dev team Iced Lizard Games, it’s a pretty damn impressive feat. Just, for the love of god, if you try it use either a PROPER D-PAD or just use the keyboard itself.
Trust me. You’ll need it.
P.S. – I tried two different 360 controllers, both of which would be very dodgy around diagonal input. So, if it’s on my end, just know I had damn good reason to believe I could only move in four very strict directions.