For reasons we can’t fully explain, we’ve been drawn to epic adventures with a mouse in the lead. Castle of Illusion, American Tale, Secret of Nimh, Redwall, Mouse Guard: there’s something of the underdog story about a mouse taking on the rest of the animal world, and we’re a sucker for it. When Micetopia arrived in our inboxes, we found the gravity well pulling us in again.
Micetopia is the tiny tale of a mouse called Rich, who is out practising his archery when his hometown is invaded. Monsters kidnap the townsfolk and – for reasons unknown – drop them off at scattered points in two separate dungeons. It’s down to you to get them back, with only your trusty sword at your side (inexplicably, you never think to bring the bow you were practising with). Shakespeare this is not, but it’ll do.
Micetopia is a Metroidvania through and through. The dungeons have you jumping and hacking through single-screen rooms, building up the boxy map that could have been ripped directly out of Super Metroid. Some rooms are blocked until you’ve gained an ability that gets you past them, while others contain a short-ish boss encounter and a mouse hostage. Get the rodent back to your hub village, and they’ll be more than happy to teach an ability to you. Back in the dungeon you go, using the ability to overcome the previous obstacles.
There’s not much else to tell you. Scattered around the dungeons are portals to pocket-levels, with a fountain piece if you reach the end. Get all 10 and you can rebuild the fountain for a wee surprise. The town will also house shops – once you save the mice that run them – where you can spend the little snot-coloured gems that fly off enemies. These give you the expected damage and health upgrades.
Congratulations! You now know everything there is to know about Micetopia, and that’s its overriding flaw. For an explorative platformer, it’s barebones to the point of being skeletal, and it invites the conversation of how much you should expect from a budget game (Micetopia is £4.99 at the time of writing).
This is a short game – only a couple of hours from front to back. The two hours are stretched thin: there are only a handful of enemies in Micetopia, and they repeat endlessly. That’s not always an issue, as anyone who’s played Left 4 Dead will attest, but they’re painfully one-note. For example, the most common enemy in the first dungeon is a crab that doesn’t actually move; it’s effectively a spiked block with a face. Even the bosses have a repertoire of only one, maybe two, attacks, which isn’t enough for a passing grade in Boss School.
There’s not much variety in the design of the dungeons, either. Some run vertically while others run horizontally, but we couldn’t recall any of them to draw them on the back of a napkin. They’re just kind of unmemorable and there. Even the pocket-levels are similar to the rest of the dungeon, when they could have been an opportunity to kick loose and do something original. Don’t get us wrong, there’s some joy in switching the brain off and treating Micetopia as a combat gauntlet, but when you are getting bored in a two-hour game, it’s a signal that something’s wrong.
If Micetopia felt joyful to play, a lot would be forgiven, but there are hefty holes in the cheese. Rich has an impossibly small attack arc, like he’s scraping opponents with a sharpened fingernail. It means you’ve got to get up close to every enemy, but collision detection and latency feels wonky, so you can probably guess how that goes. The bow you’re given, about a quarter of the way into the game, can only be fired left and right, and can’t be used while jumping. When you’ve got bats coming at you from the ceiling, the bow is a chocolate teapot. Oh, and if you’re standing on the same spot as a target, you can’t hit it.
These issues feel bizarrely obvious. Shops won’t tell you the price of things, so you have to keep checking to see if you’ve gathered enough snot gems. It sounds like a small thing, but you get zero choice of where you teleport in the dungeon: it’s always the last portal you used. So, if you happen to use a portal at the end of a long dead-end (note to designers: you never need a portal at a long dead-end), well, you’re stuck there. We even had the misfortune of pressing ‘Start Game’ on the main menu, instead of ‘Continue Game’, which overwrote the single save slot that Micetopia offers you. Sure, the game’s as short as a vole, but that sucks.
There’s an argument that Micetopia might be a ‘My First Metroidvania’ for younger players, and there’s something to that. It’s an easy game, even with the control foibles, and it’s always clear where you haven’t been. Feel free to give it a punt if you’re looking to get someone on that great Metroidvania ladder, but games like Ori or Yoku’s Island Express are a more worthy gateway.
Micetopia on Xbox is a cute platformer that doesn’t dare to try anything new, difficult or deep. It’s what happens when you cut all the flab from a Metroidvania and then keep on cutting. It feels bad to dunk on such a harmless little game, but your money really is best spent elsewhere.