Astro Bot, is it you?


Max Mustard review: Astro Bot, is it you?

Image: Toast Interactive

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Today sees the release of a promising new platformer for Meta Quest. Is Max Mustard a hit?

Anyone who plays VR games knows that platformers are in short supply. Lucky’s Tale (2016), Ven VR Adventure (2020), and of course Astro Bot Rescue Mission (2018) immediately come to mind. The latter set the bar extremely high and is still considered one of the best VR games of all time five years later.

Starting in 2023, a new form of VR platformer emerged, where you play from a first-person perspective and with your arms. Prominent examples include Outta Hand, Toss, Stilt, and No More Rainbows.

Max Mustard does not follow this trend and is a classic platformer that shows its hero from a third-person perspective. I played through the game on Quest 3 and here are my impressions.

Max Mustard: Review in a nutshell

Max Mustard is a solid platformer with beautiful graphics and precise controls. As a platformer, however, it wasn’t challenging enough to keep me hooked until the end.

Max Mustard is suitable for you if …

  • you love platformers,
  • are looking for a child-friendly game without violence and
  • like to play in between or while sitting down.

Max Mustard is less suitable for you if …

  • expect VR or platforming innovations,
  • are looking for a challenge and
  • aren’t into stylized graphics.

A beautiful art style

Max Mustard features more than hand-crafted 40 levels, four bosses, and a series of mini-games. In platform style, you move the main character across four maps, choosing the levels as you go.

The first thing that stands out is the graphics: the comic style and colorful worlds are immediately appealing, as is the likeable hero who moves through the levels in a beautifully animated manner. By Quest 3 standards, the game’s rendering resolution is on the low side, but the studio promises an upgrade in early April. For now, the VR game looks like a Quest 2 title on the new headset.

Another quality of the game that is immediately noticeable: Max’s controls are smooth and precise, allowing me to jump safely from platform to platform and always land on enemies’ heads. It’s a real pleasure to run and jump through the worlds with Max.

Worlds without secrets

Like in Astro Bot, the levels are tubular. Even though you often move left and right, you always move forward until you reach the end of the level. The camera follows a pre-defined, mostly straight path and supports snap turn. However, unlike old side-scrollers, it never moves backwards. What you leave behind can only be reached by restarting the level.

The camera works fine most of the time. Occasionally Max disappears directly under the camera or behind an object and is no longer visible. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. However, if you want to keep an eye on Max at all times you will have to do a lot of neck work, even if you use snap turn.

In most levels, the goal is to find three cute creatures and free them from their cages. You must rescue enough of them to progress through the game. Most of the pets are right on your way through the levels and are easy to rescue.

You can also collect coins throughout the levels, which you can use to buy new abilities and more health in a shop. The coins are the only incentive to reach every corner of the levels, but they serve their purpose poorly as they are in abundance.

Most of the time it’s not worth risking your head and neck for them, because sooner or later you’ll get the necessary amount of coins anyway. After a few levels I ignored them and just collected the coins I could safely reach.

Not as satisfying as I hoped

The studio has made a visible effort to add variety to the game. New types of platforms are added all the time, and the locations have different characteristics and themes. I particularly liked a cloud and space level.

Here and there you can find a pair of powerful jet boots that allow you to fly farther and higher, and sometimes you can even intervene in the game by using a gun to shoot planes out of the sky or a wind cannon to pull objects towards you. This again reminded me of Astro Bot.

Despite these efforts, the game quickly ran out of steam for me in terms of gameplay. Most of the worlds offer little to explore and no secrets to uncover, and with the exception of the final levels, I felt underchallenged.

In Lucky’s Tale, the world was a bit bigger and there were hidden red coins to explore and timed races that required a thorough knowledge of the levels. Max Mustard mostly lacks such challenges. The game is more inspired by Astro Bot, but does not come close to its ingenuity.

Max Mustard is a solid platformer. The production values are high, and for fans of classic platformers there is no way around it anyway, as there are only a few titles of this kind. But for me, it lacks the spark that would make it a standout VR title.

You can buy Max Mustard for $30 in the Quest Store. A version for SteamVR and Playstation VR 2 will follow in mid-2024.

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