Friday, July 22, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 22

The Mutant Virus

Before we get going I have two stories tied to this game that I must share with you:

First, be very careful if you are obtaining the ROM for this game somewhere on the internet. First of all, I think it is still illegal to do so, and second of all due to the name, some people have apparently found it hilarious to go ahead and tack on a REAL computer virus to the file.  So if you download the ROM for this game please be very careful.  A guy I know named natS downloaded the ROM for this game and got the virus and it screwed up his laptop royally.  So be careful out there.

Second story.  When trying to track down a real copy of this game, the only place I could find one was a second hand store a bit out of the way and run by a very nice, but somewhat country-fried fellow.  When I inquired about the game (in a glass case) and its price, the fine gentleman told me, and I quote, "yeah, them Turtles games are getting harder and harder to find.  I think this one is one of the more rare ones. But I'll let you have it for $8."  That's right, somehow Mutant Virus has fallen under the TMNT brand umbrella.  Very interesting.

Now, on with why Mutant Virus is the ninth most evil game in the NES library.

See this screen:
Get used to it.  You will see it a lot if you ever decide to take on Mutant Virus.  The game is just flat out hard.  Take a mind bending puzzle game and mix in some thrust based action (think Gravitar, or Thrust + for the Atari 2600) and you have a really tough video game that will tax your brain and your motor skills.

The basic premise behind Mutant Virus centers around a computer virus that is threatening to destroy all of the world's computers.  You are a technician who can shrink down to tiny size, enter the computer and fix the damage caused by the virus as well as destroy the virus itself.  You do this by "shooting" a form of counter programming at the infected areas.  Doing this in key sequences of code, or at clutch replication points for the virus, will cause your "cure" to spread and cleanse the computer's systems.  You can obtain other cleansing tools as well the deeper you delve into the CPU.  Direct contact with the virus will drain your energy and ultimately kill you, so you must keep your distance and maneuver around the digital plague by using your thruster backpack.  Since there is no discernible gravity at your tiny size, you must rely on the thrusters and your own inertia to move you about the CPU.  To make matters even worse, there is a time limit for how long you can take to cleanse each area of the computer.  Take too long, the virus spreads and the world's computers are finished.  That is one great set up for a game!

And don't let the first level deceive you, this game gets mega-hard, mega-fast.  The first level is kind of like an intro level to get you used to the controls and the basic idea behind the game.  Unfortunately, it is also far too easy and doesn't give you a true feel for what you are about to encounter.  The second level starts off with a bang and drops you right into a very tricky puzzle.  The puzzle designs are what give Mutant Virus its strongest difficulty.  The puzzles are devious in that there is usually a simple solution that can wipe the virus out in a matter of seconds if you know exactly where to strike the second you enter a room.  However, learning where that point is and how it cripples the virus usually takes at least an hour of getting it really, really wrong.  Furthermore, fighting the virus and figuring out the puzzle can be a long and frustrating task.  As the virus spreads out through the room you will find you are fighting it on multiple fronts and that often an area you thought you had locked down has instead flared back up and now threatens to take over the entire room.  I can only imagine this game is much like fighting a fire in a seven story building.  Every room has clutch points where the virus pools or replicates.  The key to solving a room usually involves finding these points and figuring out how to cleanse them, all the while keeping the remaining virus at bay so that the clutch point is not reinfected.  I cannot tell you how many times I had a room nearly cleared only to lose the whole thing to one wandering strand that I could not keep under control.
It might look like I'm winning here, but I am totally not

Mutant Virus is made of up four levels, each comprised of several rooms, all infected by the virus.  When you enter each room, the virus begins to spread, and to make matters worse, while you are battling the virus in one room, the viruses in the other rooms will continue to work.  Take too long and it is game over and you'll have to start the level again.

Puzzle challenges aren't the only source of difficulty in Mutant Virus, the controls are also a source of frustration.  Thrust controls are finesse controls.  A little nudge here or there and your inertia can send you across the room.  This means that a simple trip around a ninety degree corner can be a two minute ordeal.  I have never been very good with thrust controls.  Never.  Too much finesse, no room for error and not enough control for me to feel comfortable.  So Mutant Virus is extra hard for me, simply because of the control scheme.  That said, the thrust controls make the game challenging even for those not crippled by them.  Most of the puzzles ask you to hit very small targets with your cleansing spray and lining up that shot with thrust controls can be a tricky thing to do.  Avoiding the ever-spreading virus can also be a challenge when you are being surrounded with only a small safe zone to hover over and your thrust controls jostling you this way and that.  Just navigating the playfield can be half the battle in this game.

I played Mutant Virus for the full five hours and maybe a little more.  There were several moments where I had a breakthrough and thought I had figured it all out, only to have the virus laugh at me and crush all of my hard work in seconds.  I managed to get nearly to the very end; I think the second to last, or maybe even the last room on the final level.  I managed to do that once.  You see in Mutant Virus, just because you were able to solve the puzzles once, that is no indication that you can do it again, ever.  After getting to the final level successfully a few times, I soon found myself stymied on the third or even second level.  Puzzles I had down pat were suddenly alive and angry again.  It was as if the game had figured me out instead of the other way around.  And even once you get proficient at the puzzles, the time limit can be a killer.  Several times on the final level, I was trucking along fine and then BAM!  I was out of time and had to start over.  The game on the whole is relatively short, but the puzzles are devious enough to make for a long day if you try to beat it.  And I do think the game is beatable with a lot of practice and ten times that much patience.  I did not have that patience and was soon becoming irate (we have discussed my anger management issues in the past...).  I really enjoyed the game and hope to tackle it some day, but the unforgiving nature of those wicked, wicked puzzles secure Mutant Virus's spot at #9 on this list.
I think some kind of Mutant Virus had a party on Carter Braxton's face. Mr. Braxton could not be reached for comment.

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