MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL from indie game studio Riverman Media is a rather complicated name for an arcade game that is actually easily understandable. But the creativity and inspiration that motivated such a complex name is illuminated in every aspect of Mul.Mash, like the strange and wild creatures that move through the depths of the ocean, glowing to attract their prey.
Set in a lively underwater environment, the goal of Mul.Mash is to destroy enemies before they reach the top of your screen. Your primary toolset is a pair of paddles which are operated in tandem to keep a ball passing back and forth between them. You direct the balls to hit a continuous stream of underwater enemies to prevent them from advancing, while also collecting coins. As you progress, you unlock different kinds of paddles which provide different offensive and defensive tactics such as arrow shooting, health boosts, and longer guiding lines to improve aim against increasingly more powerful enemies.
I’ll confess the early enemies that were more proto-crustacean were a little icky, undulating and darting around the screen. I felt more comfortable facing off against the clamshells and more fish-like animals. But I definitely had trouble killing the diminutive seahorses and dignified tortoises; no matter how surely they might bring about my death in the game, it’s tough to shoot at a tiny bobbing seahorse.
The game is easy to learn and paced very well, slowly introducing new groups of enemies while bringing back old ones to keep you guessing. Learning the (sometimes deadly) idiosyncrasies of each creature was engaging, and as a bonus, when destroying enemies in certain combinations, you’ll trigger power-ups that send out elemental forces such as frost or fire to demolish those baddies.
As you clear each level, you are offered a choice of three bonuses (which you may or may not have enough coins to purchase at that moment). Each time, the choices are different and include some combination of heath increases, ball speed or other boosts that will presumably help you improve your score. It’s a compelling mechanic that deftly adds another level of strategy to your gameplay; this is particularly pertinent when you have to decide if you want to spend your coins in that moment or save up for a more expensive (and therefore more valuable) option that might not actually be offered again.
As thoughtfully as this game is designed, there is one area that needs some more attention: level progression. The are no milestones in the game, so every time you die, you must tediously start over from the very first level. Though this is indeed irksome, it might be bearable if you could pause the game and return to it. However, exiting a paused game also sends you back to the beginning (which is extremely unfortunate for commuters or other short-session players). And to add insult to injury, when you die, your entire bank is also wiped out. Offer us an option to continue from where we are, maybe by paying with coins we have earned. Or, give us a guaranteed health recharge when we pass a level to help give us some longevity. But letting us die unceremoniously, then sending us back to the beginning, penniless, is just not fun. Even free-to-play games let you purchase milestones or the ability to save progress, because it’s that valuable of a feature. I want to keep playing, but not if I have to do only this for hours on end just to make any progress.
Mul.Mash has beautiful graphics, an immersive soundtrack, and thoughtful design features (progress-saving notwithstanding) that any arcade game fan is going to love. It’s clean, robust, and a gorgeous update on a Pong-meets-Breakout mashup, done well for mobile.