Saturday Spotlight: Mustache Armies

Mustache Armies #2

The odds are pretty good that everyone who regularly reads Arcadian Rhythms already knows about Ludum Dare, but for the benefit of passers by and my mother: it’s a game development competition that’s been running for over a decade. Every competition is themed and competitors have two days in which to build a game that fits that theme. Participants vote on the winner, who receives kudos among the indie dev scene and a complimentary fondue set.

Ludum Dare #26’s theme was “minimalism” (optional secondary theme: “potato”) and it saw the highest number of submissions yet – over two thousand three hundred, a thousand more than the preceding competition last December. Whether it’s the booming indie scene or the higher profile of Ludum Dare, the rapidly-growing competition is producing some extremely interesting new titles and providing exposure for a lot of fine videogame talent.

Into this fracas wides Arcadian Rhythms and a new series, Saturday Spotlight, which hopefully will be more regular than some of our previous series. The intention is that each week I’ll present a short piece on a short or small game that I think is worth your time, or that I think is a sufficiently interesting failure that it’s worth devoting a few words to.

I’m launching with Mustache Armies, which happily fits into the first category. Developed in collaboration between French developers TurboDindon (who need to update their website) and 2D artist Sephy, it boldly ignores the secondary potato theme. Some may regard this as a terrible mis-step but I’m inclined to applaud their courage for ignoring the current tuberous fad. That said, when you lose at the game there is an animation of the developers pelting your broken dreams with yams.

The basic principle of Mustache Armies is that the player starts out controlling a soldier armed with a slow-firing pistol and they must progress from left to right through a level densely populated with an opposing moustachioed army. Killing enemy soldiers earns you cash, and when your lowly soldier is eventually killed you can use those funds to upgrade to someone a bit better.

Mustache Armies #1

So far, so standard. Mustache Armies’ clever idea is that when you start your second and subsequent runs, the actions of your previous soldiers are played back. Each time the player-controlled soldier dies it’s back to the start, but for the next attempt you have one more soldier working alongside you. It’s a pretty simple trick with obvious origins in recent-ish platformers like The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom as well as the ghost lap features of hundreds of old racing games. As far as I’m aware, though, recording and playing back player avatar actions to produce a composite army is a new take on this.

It’s not long before you’re dashing through the level with a dozen or more soldiers, sweeping the weaker enemies ahead of you, but the game starts throwing tougher opponents at you: big guys with miniguns, tanks, helicopters… and that perennial Arcadian Rhythms favourite, the giant mech. Taking these down does of course earn you more cash, which you can spend on your own war machines…

A couple more things to note about Mustache Armies: its level design is extremely minimalistic with only a couple of platform tiers, the unit design – as you’ll have seen – is utterly charming and obviously at least part-inspired by Valve’s work on Team Fortress 2, and the sound design – as you won’t have seen – is equally brilliant, with every sound effect produced by a human voice. Pew-pew! There’s also a rather fine piece of martial music to stir you on, which marries well with the rhythm of the game.

You can play Mustache Armies by downloading it from the Ludum Dare site here.

Mustache Armies #4