MULLET MADJACK Review – Drink Soda, Blow Up Robots

Do not get fooled. Though Mullet MadJack may on the surface appear like an anime OVA-inspired Duke Nukem clone about shooting robot billionaires in the face to sustain your life force dictated by dopamine, it is, in fact, entirely about simple, beautiful math. Ten seconds to live, plus one for a headshot, minus four for getting hit here, plus two for kicking someone into a TV with an upgrade, another minus four for a mistake there, plus two for kicking a drone, and then another plus two for a chain reaction of explosions. A cat and mouse game with time.

In a flurry of half-minute-long segments—ten at a time, totaling five minutes per successful run—you will experience all of the aforementioned chaos and much, much more. Moment-to-moment, second-to-second, the overwhelming color palette of a modernized mixture between 80s anime and 90s shooters, coupled with the perfect sound design of resonating shots, bopping arcadey effects, and a nostalgic synthwave beat all blend to create never-ending surges of unimaginable excitement in what is one of the best roguelikes shooters out there.

Character holding fire katana with a robot very close in frame, and another further in to the right
While you were browsing social media, I was already absolutely owning robots with the blade

Taking a majority of its structural inspiration from an indie shooter classic Post Void and its arcade pacing, “always forward” attitude, post-floor upgrade selection, and life timer, it is pretty clear that with Mullet MadJack we find ourselves on the brink of what will hopefully develop into a sub-genre. I am all here for it, these progenitors are striking directly at the core of modern entertainment expectations, testing just how much can be squeezed out of increasingly shorter bursts of gameplay.

Mullet MadJack expands on the formula by introducing environmental mechanics, stylish, time-stopping elements like glory kills or temporary invulnerability in the forms of the protagonist’s beloved soda. Further levels begin to introduce hazards and death pits, diametrically changing the player’s approach: from furious dash-mashing to room-layout learning. It quickly becomes apparent just how high the skill ceiling really is, and how much player expression plays a factor.

A robot with a riot shield
The game consistently throws in new kinds of enemies and hazards, making mastering each floor a new, exciting experience

Although guns play a major role, melee options from kicks to katanas are just as viable, and can even be thrown like a boomerang. About half of my successful clears on the hardest difficulty (right under permadeath) were achieved by getting up close and slashing my way through room after room. It quickly became apparent just how viable nearly every single weapon is, though this is not to say that the system of randomly choosing upgrades is ideal.

My only complaint with Mullet MadJack is that it does fall a bit into the genre trapping of “waiting for that one thing.” The procedural generation works wonders for the level layouts, which play well into a majority of upgrade paths, but some rewards may prove underwhelming, perhaps even non-noticeable. 3% chance for this, and a 10% chance of that. You are always spamming bullets, and maybe catch a glimpse of a pop-up confirming that they were just activated, but they are not something you can take into consideration in the heat of the moment.

A choice of a perk between a weapon and two upgrades, such as soda drops that give the ability to hold two guns, and a 3% chance for explosive ammo
What are we thinking chat?

This thought makes me wish for some mode where the player could go through some segments more casually, picking and choosing weapons and upgrades. A testing mode of some sort would do wonders for future revisits, though even without it Mullet MadJack is admittedly more malleable than a lot of its contemporaries. The difficulty options provide a fantastic skill curve, removing bonuses from non-headshot kills and limiting item drops throughout the levels. In many ways, each step can be a different, enjoyable experience. Perhaps they should even ditch the difficulty option moniker altogether.

Surprisingly, I found myself very invested in the presentation of Mullet MadJack. Its visual inspiration extends to the story structure, absolutely nailing the style of storytelling found in the 80s OVAs (characters driving investment mainly through design and actions and less so through words, a wildly impassioned speech, sudden mid-way and late twists without much time for rumination as the escape sequence commences) and skillfully conveys its modern themes through quick segments that do not overstay their welcome.

TVs with the same picture of an anime girl and text "Save Her" on top of each
Do it for her

Lots of its environmental and story humor is referential and can be hit-and-miss for some, but it is never invasive considering the overall pace of the experience. Elsewhere, the comedy shines as the macho protagonist throws quips about correcting your posture, proper hygiene and not becoming enamored with authority. Everything is delivered with the intensity pulled directly from the short-form audiovisual feasts of the 80s, all the while playing on the endearing, intentionally overplayed vanity of the 90s. Wrapping it all up are the themes of hyperconsumerism, vague nostalgia-baiting, and the push of short-form content and outrage-farming, treated with the similar no-nonsense, straightforward attitude they deserve.

Mullet MadJack did not cease to surprise me until the very end. While I think there is still room for improvement in this developing formula, on highest difficulties it carries the kind of excitement and polish that few others are able to match. Like any other game released this month, it may get a bit lost in the competition, but be sure to check it out before the awards season. There is a good chance this will be many people’s game of the year contender. It just might be mine.

Mateusz reviewed MULLET MADJACK on PC with a review code.

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