Max Mustard review: a very cool VR platformer

I’ve played a good chunk of the VR game Max Mustard and I can confirm what the other reviewers are saying about it: it is a very entertaining VR platform game. Let me explain to you why.

Gameplay

Max Mustard is a platform game. As in all the platform games, your purpose is jumping on platforms (you don’t say), collecting coins, killing a few enemies here and there, and rescuing something at the end of the level. Rinse and repeat for all the levels.

In Max Mustard your purpose is to rescue some cute creatures that have been made prisoners by some evil guy: there are 3 little ones scattered around each level, that you must find and free by destroying their cages, and then at the end of the level there is a big cage with inside 3 big ones (I guess their mothers) that you open by pulling a big lever. When you have opened the big cage, you have won the level. The small creatures that you have freed make up for the completeness of your success (is like having from 1 to 3 to stars in the other games). Hopefully, you manage to free all the small creatures in each level, otherwise, you can still replay that level and hope to maximize your score.

You may wonder who these creatures are and why you are freeing them. Well, honestly, I don’t remember. There is a story behind Max Mustard and it is told via letters that you can read before starting or after ending each level. But the story is so useless that I forgot everything about it. I would say that the story is one of the only two drawbacks of this cool game.

The other drawback is the point of view. Max Mustard is a platformer that you play in 3rd person. The 3rd person point of view is decided by the game and you can not change it. What I mean is that it is not one of those 3rd-person games where you are always behind the main character and so you have its same point of view, just translated. It is more like the old Resident Evil games, where the game decides from where you have to see the scene. The problem is that sometimes this point of view is uncomfortable to see where Max is, and I’ve let her die more times than I hoped for just because I couldn’t see where she was, or I get confused with controls. For instance, sometimes you make her jump high to get some coins on a platform, but the point of view remains at ground level, so you have no idea where she is, and while you move her, maybe she falls from the platform and dies. Or you jump, but the point of view is too close to her position, so you are not comfortable seeing where she is landing and you make her fall and die.

Here you can see an example of this behavior: she’s on a platform and I can not see her

I also found it a bit confusing that the movements are in absolute coordinates, something I like in traditional computer games, but I find it a bit weird in VR. What I mean is that in the game your point of view is fixed and it faces the forward direction of the level and the movements of the character are done in absolute coordinates, that is, if you want her to move left, you have to move the thumbstick left, if you want her to move forward, you move the thumbstick forward, and so on. But the direction is the absolute direction, not your direction or Max’s direction: if she’s facing towards your right hand, and you press the thumbstick forward, she will rotate and start running in the direction to advance in the level, even if her “forward” direction was towards your right. This makes sense, but sometimes made my brain go a bit fizzy because I had to move her thinking about my point of view and not her point of view.

After having described the drawbacks, let’s get back to how the game works: as in all platform games, you can run in all directions, but ultimately you have to go forward until you reach the end of the level. The path forward is scattered with enemies, that you can defeat by jumping on them (like in Super Mario) or by a melée attack (an ability that you have to buy in the shop). The path forward is not linear, and you must jump on platforms to go from one point to the other. If you fail to jump correctly, you usually die and you have to restart from the last checkpoint. During the path, you also find coins, that you have to collect to buy stuff in the store: you can gain coins by finding them, by destroying some special blocks, or by killing enemies. During every level, there are usually around 3 checkpoints, which are represented by big buttons with the letter C printed on them. These are fundamental to reduce the frustration given by the game: usually, there is a checkpoint after a difficult chunk of the game, so you can be sure that once you have passed it, you don’t have to spend a lot of time to redo it again. Jumping happens with a button of your controllers, and if you keep pressing the same button while you are in the air, you activate a jetpack that for a few seconds keeps you in the air, so that you can land more distant and also redirect your landing direction. The jetpack is fundamental to winning this game because it lets you calibrate better the jumps.

max mustard jumping
Jumping and activating the jetpack in the game (Image by Toast Interactive)

Sometimes Max hits a special block and you are provided with some sort of gun. And when I say “you”, I mean exactly you, the player: you have to keep the gun in your hand and shoot to support Max. There are a few types of weapons you are awarded: for instance, one shoots bullets, and the other one acts as a powerful vacuum cleaner, and sucks all the bonuses that are around. The experience of shooting to help Max is fun, but it happens quite rarely and it doesn’t help in creating any bond with the character. It’s just a fun diversion and nothing more.

max mustard gun
Holding the gun and shooting enemies (Image by Toast Interactive)

Combat in general is nice but nothing special: the enemies are quite dull and once you learn how to properly jump, you usually kill them pretty easily. Combat against enemies and getting some coins lets you do something different than just jumping on platforms, but it is hard to die because of them. The only exceptions are the enemies that are strategically put so as to disturb you while you are jumping on platforms. For instance, you have to jump fast between two platforms, and an enemy is in the middle and shoots at you and it kills you. For this reason, I have found the 3 hearts you have for health mostly useless: since rarely enemies kill you, the fact that you have 1 or 3 hearts, rarely makes a difference.

A screenshot of the game: the yellow thing you see at the end of the path is the big cage you have to open to win the level (Image by Toast Interactive)

The levels of the game are divided into four sets, with every one of them ending with a boss fight. You select the level you want to play on a 3D minimap in your lobby. Between the various selectable levels, there is also the shop, where you use the coins to buy some goodies like the ability to jump for longer, the ability to perform a melée attack, more coin rewards for killing enemies, and so on. There are also some bonus levels: the first one, for instance, is about shooting with your guns at all the targets that you see in the shortest time possible: the faster you are, the higher the reward in coins you get.

The time to complete the full game is around five hours. You can see a (poorly recorded) video of me playing the game here below:

Sorry if the point of view is not great, but recording on Quest having good framing is not easy.

Why the game is pretty cool

Now you may wonder why I said that the game is cool, considering that the above is the description of a pretty average platform game. Well, let me explain to you what makes Max Mustard special.

First of all, the game is well crafted: the graphical style is nice and cute, the sounds are good, there are no weird crashes, and so on. There is also a fun attention to detail: when you are in the lobby, for instance, you can activate the toaster, make some toasted bread, and then eat it. When you shoot with your gun, you don’t shoot bullets, but you shoot plungers. The game has a fun and cute style and it is executed very well.

max mustard screenshot
One of the cute creatures that you have to rescue (Image by Toast Interactive)

Then there is the difficulty level, which in my opinion is quite well balanced. The game is not easy or frustrating. Yes, there are some moments where I got frustrated by repeating the same part of a level for 20 minutes, but having challenging parts is part of the platform genre. And anyway, I always managed to succeed in winning the levels in the end. If there are no difficulties, a game is not fun, and this game challenges you with some complex parts, alternated with some easy chunks: challenges help you feel more satisfied when in the end you win.

There are also various “little side quests” to get coins. Sometimes there are some diversions from the straight path that you can follow to get some extra coins: if you are skilled enough, you can try going for those routes and have even more challenges than you should have. At every level, there is also an extra time-based challenge that makes the letter M A X M U S T A R D appear following a path that is hard to follow, and you have just a few seconds to grab them all and complete the challenge: it is pretty fun, even if sometimes you die trying to complete it.

These are blocks that change every time you jump: if you don’t think carefully, you jump into the void.

But the real thing that makes it shine in my opinion is the variety. In every level, you don’t know what the game designers have invented for you. In one level the platforms disappear after some time, in another, there is low gravity, then there are platforms that turn on and off following the music, platforms that change direction when you jump, and so on. Sometimes you are given the gun with which you can help Max, other times you find some special goodies in the level, like some boots to jump super high, and they modify your way of playing. At every level, there is a new challenge that is different from the others. It is crazy how many different ideas the developers had. The game never got boring for me, because every level was challenging. And this also kept me hooked, because at the end of every level, I was curious to discover how they crafted the next one. You know, a game is fun if it keeps you in a state of flow, where you feel challenged, but not too much to fall into frustration: I think this game totally nailed this.

max mustard special platform
One of the many special types of platforms (Image by Toast Interactive)

Graphics and sound

As I’ve just said, the game is well-polished and all the multimedia elements reflect this. The graphical style is cartoonish and cute: every element in the game, including the enemies, looks cute and funny. Paradoxically, the only one that does not look cute to me is Max, which instead seems pretty badass. Scattered around the levels there are also a few easter eggs like some commercials with some fun sentences (there is even a piece of the game where you do the Richie’s Plank Experience, which was the previous game from the studio). The game features visual and audio effects for everything that you do, from getting coins to jumping on enemies, and this contributes to making it feel very polished.

The cartoon style fits well with the Quest, and in fact, on my Quest 3, I had no problems with frame rate.

As for the sound, it is very pleasant as well, both for what concerns the soundtrack of each level and the sound effects. Sometimes the audio also becomes part of the gameplay: there is one level where the platforms appear and disappear following the rhythm of the music (and that level is pretty hard, too…).

Turn the audio on, and enjoy this mindblowing level

Controls

You control Max with your controllers. The right hand is my dominant one and these were the controls for me:

  • Left thumbstick: move Max in all directions (she moves in the direction of the thumbstick)
  • Right thumbstick: snap turn of my point of view (purchasable as a feature in the shop and useless most of the time)
  • A button (right controller): jump
  • B button (right controller): melee attack (purchasable as a feature in the shop)
  • Grip button and trigger button of the right controller: grab the gun and shoot with the gun (when a gun is given to you)

The game supports right and left-handed people. The controls are pretty good once you get used to them… the only problem is that, as I’ve said before, getting used to the fixed point of view and the control of the direction in absolute coordinates requires some time.

Immersion

max mustard review screenshot
Isn’t this world beautiful? (Image by Toast Interactive)

It’s hard to talk about the sense of presence in a game with cartoon graphics and 3rd person point of view. Of course, this is not a believable reality that can suck you in. But the cuteness of the world, united with the challenging levels that put me in a status of flow, was able to keep me for a long time inside the game, enjoying my time there.

Comfort

This game has an external point of view from the main character, and it follows the main character pretty loosely, so it doesn’t accelerate fast. This means that the game is pretty comfortable and I felt no sickness. There have been just one or two moments where there were pretty fast movements (e.g. at a certain point, Max falls down from a very high place), but apart from that, it was comfortable. I guess that unless you have a very very high sensibility, you can play this game without any issue.

Price and availability

The game is available for €29.99 on the Meta Quest Store.

Final impressions

Max getting ready to jump on a few platforms (Image by Toast Interactive)

Max Mustard is a very well-executed VR platform game. It is polished, it hits the right spot of difficulty, it is incredibly variated, and it is cute. It is not perfect and there are a few things that could have been improved (e.g. the story), but still, it’s a game that I found very fun and that I’ve enjoyed playing for the last few days. The price is slightly high for the 5 hours of duration, but it is in line with the quality of the game. Personally, I would recommend it. I’m not a big fan of platform games, but I still loved it and I think that this says a lot about this experience.

(Header image by Toast Interactive)

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://skarredghost.com/2024/04/28/max-mustard-review-vr-platformer/