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Max Mustard | Review 59

Max Mustard | Review

VR Platformer Mixes Mario & Astrobot

When I first started playing Max Mustard, I fell into the same routine that I often do.

I began by dissecting the individual components of the game, weighing their merit, cataloguing their strengths and weaknesses, comparing elements with notable peers, and mentally scribbling down a list of bugbears to discuss. It was a tedious business, really.

After my first session, I had amassed a reasonable list of irksome traits, but I was enjoying myself. Diligently, I continued. A short time later, however, something unexpected occurred. Even though my gripes remained intact, they barely registered anymore. My former complaints now seemed trivial—the small and petty nonsense that bearded folk say to appear credible.

By this stage, I knew better, for I was no longer Pete, the reviewer. Transformed, I was now Pete, the 7-year-old sitting cross-legged on my loungeroom floor playing Super Mario World. I was Pete, the smelly 15-year-old dodging my homework to play Crash Bandicoot again. Finally, I was Pete, the 44-year-old forever child standing inside a video game while Max Mustard gently reminded me to sit down, shut up, and have fun. 

ASTROBOT OR ASTRONOT

Max Mustard is an immersive 3D platformer that mixes inspiration from games like Super Mario 64 with the universally loved Astrobot Rescue Mission. Developers Toast Interactive have aimed to deliver an experience that captures the charm and excitement of a traditional platformer, fused with the immersive elements that only VR can provide. For the most part, they have succeeded. 

Max Mustard launches straight into the gameplay, offering only the most rudimentary preamble before having you bounce your way into the fray. The game is intuitive from the first instant, a fact that Toast Interactive seems to be counting on, as the game offers almost nothing in the way of a tutorial. Instead, a masterful combination of the genre’s most notable conceits eases the player into the action with the unconscious comfort of putting on a well-worn pair of slippers.

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Within moments, you will find yourself guiding your plucky heroin through a range of cleverly creative and forever-changing obstacles as you work your way towards…something. Thanks to an entirely superfluous narrative set-up, I don’t know your character’s motivation, nor do I care. Max Mustard gracefully (and perhaps unintentionally) sidesteps the need for cramming in a redundant plot and proves that when the gameplay is so utterly delightful, none of that stuff matters.

BOUNCY, BOUNCY. STILLETTOS ARE A NO NO

Max Mustard is a well-designed and expertly delivered platform experience. From the first bounce, the game focuses on simple, intuitive controls that “feel” good. As in most classic platform adventures, the protagonist can jump on their opponents or use a spinning attack to vanquish them. There are a few other attacks, but these feel more like window dressing than meaningful additions to the gameplay. Jumping and jet boosting will get you through almost every challenge.

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What sets Max Mustard apart in the ambiguous world of “feel” is the implementation of weight and bounce. Traditional platformers are all about timing, and how Max jumps, bounces and uses her jet boots are delivered more or less perfectly. Jumping on boxes or enemies results in a pleasingly buoyant response, and mastering the glides and pseudo double jumps administered by the jet boots is simply joyful.

ASTROBOT OR ASTRONOT

The level design in Max Mustard is fantastic, with each stage offering a new range of environmental traps to navigate. For a game that exists entirely to see players jump from platform to platform, there is plenty of variety to prevent things from becoming boring. The difficulty is pitched just right, offering enough challenge to be compelling and achievable enough to never become frustrating. Throughout the game, every interaction remains consistent, fun, and fair.

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Mixed into the traditional 3d platform faire is a smattering of first-person interactions that are the hallmark of modern platformers in VR. Rather than the interactive puzzles of the Moss franchise, Max Mustard implements these elements in more of a carnival shooting gallery style affair. Although there were a few sections where this worked, overall, they felt less like a thoughtful blend of first and third-person gameplay and more like an obligatory addition to justify the game’s place in VR.

This is not to say that the game is bad. Far from it, Max Mustard has provided me with the most enjoyable third-person platform experience I’ve had in decades. It’s excellent; it’s just not setting a new benchmark in hybrid VR gameplay. 

GRAPHICS & SOUND

Max Mustard has a great visual style reminiscent of the classic 3D platformer of the late 90’s. Bright and vibrant environments are well defined with a clear visual language that makes everything easy to interpret, no matter how busy the screen gets. The camera is set closer than many similar games, which makes seeing everything slightly challenging at times, but it goes a long way towards immersing the player in the game world. 

Where Max Mustard trips over slightly is in its delivery of character. Max herself lacks the small interactions and details that make you connect with her in the way that characters like Quill or Astrobot did. Sure, Max will look at you while idle or walking nearby, but she does it with the absurdly lifeless intensity of a ventriloquist’s dummy, and it just runs short of completing what is, otherwise, some really top-notch art direction.

The sound is similar insofar as it is broadly very good but just missing something that stops it from being excellent. The sound effects are spot on, landing all the right notes to immerse players into a living, breathing game world. The end-of-stage music is gloriously triumphant without being cheesy or annoying and makes that sense of satisfaction from completing the level all the more impactful.

However, with no voice acting, most of the game’s sense of sonic character rests on the soundtrack, and while there are moments that really work, for the most part, the score feels slightly muted. There is nothing wrong with it per se other than, at times, the music lacks density or urgency in a way that muffles the playful, energetic tone that the game otherwise creates.   

FINAL BOSS

Max Mustard is a delightful platforming experience that melds heartfelt nostalgia, rock-solid mechanics, and the wonderment of modern technology. Despite some broadly superficial shortcomings, Toast Interactive has delivered a masterclass in solid fundamentals. Put simply, Max Mustard is about as close as I’ll ever come to stepping into the dreams of my 9-year-old former self, and I’m all the happier for the experience. 

CONCEPT: 7.5

GAMEPLAY: 8.5

GRAPHICS: 8

SOUND: 7

LONGEVITY: 7

OVERALL: 7.5 (LOL)

Max Mustard | Review 67
Max Mustard
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