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


5 responses to “Saturday Spotlight: Mustache Armies”

  1. […] planned to write about something as experimental, unique and interesting as Mustache Armies this week, especially after getting this series off to a weak start by missing last week (I was at […]

  2. Gregg B Avatar
    Gregg B

    Ahh! This reminds me of Isochronous which HM and I played at the EG Expo last year.

    In Isochronous you have 3 rounds to 'layer up' an attack on your opponent's castle using a different class unit per round. Of course, your opponent is doing the same so you're trying to out iterate each other as you play. The last round decides the victor. It was fucking great and one of my highlights of the expo. It's a shame Team Iso haven't released it yet! Anyway, this sounds really interesting as well and I could see multiplayer working a treat on it.

    I think you said on ED that Reus plays out in 30 or so minute bursts? I'm kind of liking these games that are broken down into digestible chunks. I've been playing 10000000 on Android (seriously, check that out, it's great) and that has a similar sort of rhythm to it where you play for a while and make some progress that goes towards your next play session, instead of each play session being isolated from the last. So you're not necessarily progressing through separate levels per se, but you're pushing further into a single space, if that makes sense? You could say it's grindy in that you can't rely on skill alone to complete it in a single go, but this approach does allow you to refine and optimise your actions with each play session so you get better at the early game which in turn bleeds into the later. It's also a good way of introducing, moderating and achieving content.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      IsoChronous sounds pretty awesome – I'll have to give that a look-in when it's released.

      Yeah, Reus starts out with 30 minute sessions, although further progress allows you to choose 60 or 120 minute sessions (meaning you can develop more advanced resource types and villages). Those 30 minute chunks have just flown by thus far!

      I recall Tom Chick giving 10000000 a solid review but noting that it was undercut by some annoying mobile-related issue… but I also recall him saying a month later that they'd resolved it. I'll take your recommendation and investigate the game!

      1. Gregg B Avatar

        I really want to play Reus but at the moment I’m wondering exactly where it’ll fit into my very loose schedule! Metro 2033 (to get to Last Light), The Swapper, Driver: San Francisco, Anachronox… eeeearrgh.

        10000000 is pretty damn flawless with regards to the controls. In fact, at times I’m sure it’s managed to register my touch even when my finger has left the screen dragging a row or column. My girlfriend even said the same! She’s been playing it on her relatively slow Huawei phone and I’ve been playing it my Nexus 7 and aside from some slow down on her device, it’s been silky smooth on mine. Definitely worth a look, it’s dirt cheap too.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          Oh, you're playing Anachronox? How's that working out?

          I was doing fairly well at avoiding new games but last night I couldn't resist getting State of Decay. It sounds pretty interesting. I've wishlisted 10000000 though, so once I've cleared a few mobile titles I'll give it a pop!