The Friday Game: Mega Mash
Over the last few years, the London-based designers at Nitrome have built a reputation for themselves as a team that works quickly and cleverly. With little fuss, the studio’s created a stream of pretty Flash games, all of which hinge on smart mechanics and elegant implementation. Mega Mash, the developer’s latest offering, is one of its most ingenious to date – not that you’ll notice the effort, of course. Nitrome, as ever, makes it all look pretty effortless.
The central conceit is extremely simple. Mega Mash presents you with seven different games, all stored on the same imaginary cartridge. There’s a problem, though: the imaginary cartridge is starting to show its age, and those games have begun to blend into one another. You’ll be playing through Carrot Story, then, a straightforward 8-bit platformer that’s come right out of the Mario mould, and you’ll suddenly find yourself transformed into the little spaceship from Xolstar 3, and will spend the next few seconds battling through a slowly scrolling asteroid field. A few moments later, you might be an urban ninja or Blastman Joe, a rugged hero navigating a claustrophobic maze armed only with heavy explosives.
Each transformation brings its own mechanics with it – in the first few minutes alone you’ll discover that Carrot Story’s rabbit can pick up blocks, the ninja can fire off a grappling hook, and Blastman Joe can blow through walls with his bombs. For all the talk of glitches, what eventually emerges, as new games get added to the template, is a fairly intricate puzzler-platformer, where you can overcome obstacles in one game by stepping, briefly into another, and using its hero’s special moves. No genre is safe: now and then you’ll even be transformed into colourful Tetronimos in order to lay fresh networks of steps across otherwise unscalable cliffs. It’s inventive, and, on occasion, deviously complex, stuff.
Such cleverness aside, what’s really lovely about Mega Mash, though, is how warm and familiar it all feels. Whether it’s Bomberman or Tetris, Nitrome’s lawyers must worry that it’s always tap-dancing on the edge of IP infringement, and yet the studio brings more than enough of its own ideas to bear on the project, both in the way it repurposes old properties, and in the way it creatively chains different character’s move sets together so that you’re always learning something new. Videogames have mined nostalgia like this before – most notably in the likes of the DS’s extremely lovable Retro Game Challenge – but rarely with this much sophistication, and such an unusual level of clear-headed intelligence.