Mr. Nutz Review
In 1994, Ocean Software came up with the bright idea of creating a mascot for the Sega Mega Drive. A genius idea; loads of kids loved the console, and it’s always a good idea to hook them into the business early. So, they set upon coming up with a cute and cuddly fellow with just a little bit of attitude, one that had cool trainers (‘sneakers’ in American English) and could run as fast as the wind. Truly an inspir– wait, this is all very familiar, isn’t it? Hot off the booming popularity of Sonic in Europe (some might call it a Sonic boom), Ocean created their own European-only counterpart: Mr Nutz.
Right off the bat, Mr Nutz will seem like a game just for kids. Unlike Sonic in that the Blue Blur appealed to all ages, there is an overtly kiddy appeal to Mr Nutz; beginning with the extreme and cool Z in place of an S in his name, to the bright and chunky design of the game’s levels, and ending with the names of those places, which range from “Woody Land” (only a kid could read that and not smirk) to “Ice Scream”. That’s not to say adult gamers can’t enjoy it, just that Ocean had a clear idea of their target audience.
As can be expected for the Mega Drive, Mr Nutz is a platformer, and it handles surprisingly well. The controls are precise – not as fluid as in Sonic, but still very smooth, making jumping from platform to platform a painless experience(and you can believe that there’s loads of navigating narrow platforms to deal with). If you’re not satisfied with the default control scheme where A is fire, B is jump, and C is…fire again, the game offers a handful of alternate set-ups, which is a cool feature.
Mr Nutz can dispatch enemies either through the old Mario/Goomba head-jumping technique, through a projectile nut attack; of which the player can collect throughout the level, or a good old-fashioned tail spin manoeuvre. Players will end up making use of both techniques as neither are perfect: the head-jump mechanic is solid, but some enemies either fly too high for you to catch, or will flit around too quickly. The nut attack is better if you don’t want to get too close to an enemy, but some of their sprites have been made too small, making attacking them a nightmare. The tail spin is perhaps the best way to dispatch enemies, but it has a short radius, meaning you have to wait for enemies to come to you, which slows down the game to frustrating levels. Also, despite Mr Nutz’ sprite clearly spinning 360, enemies only get hit in the direction you’re facing, which is an astounding oversight by Ocean. However, when used alternatingly, taking care of enemies in Mr Nutz with the three different methods is a lot of fun.
Perhaps one of the most creative platformers out there, Mr Nuts features a wide cast of enemies, all of which are planted firmly in the ridiculous. We have anthropomorphic apples acting as goomba stand-ins, Scottish thistles acting like Baryshnikov trying to kill you with ballet dancing, killer bees bigger than your bushy tail trying to home in on you, but the absolute best has to be the end of stage 1 boss, Mr Spider. Aside from having a hilarious name, what really takes the cake for him is a straw hat. That’s right, a massive, supposedly-scary spider wears a straw hat while jumping around the stage, looking to make you his next meal. The visual made me lose the boss battle because I was giggling madly. The best part of all this is that Mr Nutz doesn’t try to revel in how madcap it is. “Random” games like Naughty Bear seem to celebrate and shout about it as if to say, “Look how mad I am!”, but Mr Nutz plays it cool, acting like the madness of all the creatures around him is normal. Like Bin Laden wearing oversized sunglasses in Family Guy, his nonchalance makes the game all the more charming and funny.
Mr Nutz doesn’t just look mental, it’s very pretty too. Jam-packed with bright colours, this game doesn’t just satisfy the hands and brain, but the eyes as well. The game just beckons with how shiny it looks; from the sheen of the living apples, to how beautifully Mr Nutz’s tail has been animated. That’s the X factor that truly raises this game up; the way that Nutz and the enemies move is so lovable that you can’t help but have a good time. Kudos to the graphical department at Ocean, as they really helped take this game out of the pits of mediocrity where it normally might have languished without a second look.
Oddly for a game of this type, though, Mr Nutz has peculiar problems with pacing. Players shouldn’t roll into the game expecting a story to rival that of Skyrim, but the levels feel weird in relation to each other. The first one was the perfect length; about the size of a Mario stage, but as you continue, it just feels like the game is getting longer and longer. It’s uncertain if this is due to the game being easy – it’s a “kid’s game”, after all, but as you continue, the levels drag out for longer than they should. Yes, you’ll be having fun for most of the level, but you’ll never shake the unsettling feeling of “Shouldn’t this be over by now?”.
The music is very, very underwhelming, to say the least. The soundtrack is passable in the worst way, in that they sound vaguely good enough to pass as music, but not good enough to stick with you. It is essentially a loose collection of bloops and bleeps disguised as a soundtrack. This isn’t really a factor that should deter players from this game, but you would be completely within your rights to have expected more. Indeed, perhaps it’s a lack of a solid soundtrack that prevented Mr Nutz from transcending to that higher echelon of games, because based on everything else, it should have had at least a shot at being fondly remembered.
Some might have been secretly hoping that the phrase “Nutz to this game” would appear in this review, but to be honest, Mr Nutz just doesn’t deserve it. Cute and cuddly, yet as astute a platformer as they come, this is a real hidden gem of the Mega Drive library. Buy this one for the kids, then when they’re in bed, play it yourself.