How people found the time back in 1983 to create a game between fending off dinosaurs and foraging for fruits and berries I'll never know, but the game of M.U.L.E. not only wound up being very good, it also wound up being a very influential multiplayer video game. M.U.L.E. is a turn-based strategy game of economics where 4 players compete to colonize an alien world for profit and the good of all human-and-alien-kind. Of course, these days, very few people still possess Atari 400/800 systems, let alone enough people willing to be seen with them to play a game on it. Luckily, thanks to the dedication of Turborilla and Blue Systems, a great gift has been bestowed upon us in the form of Planet M.U.L.E., a free and faithful remake of the original classic, eager to show you the wonders of crystite and the hazards of cat-lizards. Ain't space grand?
The premise of the game is thus; you and three other players are dropped onto the alien world of Irata to begin building a colony. But not with teamwork. Oh no. It's not only a race against the clock, but a battle for land and resources against your fellow gamers. The M.U.L.E. is, incidentally, a Multiple Use Labor Element, and you'll come to rely on them almost as much as you could wind up hating them. M.U.L.E.s are needed to build the facilities you'll use to grow or mine the resources to use and to sell, and they can occasionally turn on you. As will, you'll find, the economy; the prices your resources fetch change each round, according to supply and demand. If you find yourself short on essential resources, your means of production may be hampered or the duration of your next turn may be reduced. And if you don't sell enough smithore back to the store, for example, there may not be enough to make new M.U.L.E.s for you to work with.
While the basic Planet M.U.L.E. gameplay and controls are very simple to grasp, relying on the [arrow] keys for movement and the [space] bar to perform actions, the game itself is quickly revealed to be surprisingly tricky to win. At the beginning of the game, each player is given a single plot of land to work with, and a limited amount of time to work each round. At the end of each round, you'll get a chance to sell off what you've managed to make, but this, too, proves difficult. Do you sell off all your crystite now? Or do you hold on to it for another round, risking theft or other downfall, and hope that the price is better next time? And what about food and energy? Are you making enough to keep your fledgling colony up and running, or are you going to have to resort to buying supplies from other players and hope they don't gouge you too badly over it?
Although M.U.L.E. is intended to be a multiplayer game, if you're ashamed of your smithore capabilities, or just think other people are weird, you can start a "training" game and fill the remaining player slots with computer A.I. However, M.U.L.E. is at its best when shared with friends (or rivals) who can rejoice in the discovery of a rich deposit of crystite, and hoot at your misfortune when a meteorite destroys your mining facility. Since a full game will take around an hour-and-a-half to complete, you may as well spend it with people you like instead of cold, unfeeling circuitry. Although, hey. If you can describe your friends that way, who are we to judge?
If you can't find enough people to play a game with you, the official website offers a forum for players to meet and make arrangements to get together and play. Don't be shy. Even if you've never met your competitors before, we think you'll find space pirates to be an excellent source of bonding. Yes, you'll need to create an account to play, but the process is swift, painless, and non-invasive. If, of course, the idea of turning your tender, nubile e-mail address over the the wilds of the internets is an unsavory one, you're out of luck. Don't worry, we'll be sure to have extra fun for you, friend.
Analysis: I'm not usually a big fan of remakes. Either they wind up completely missing the point of the original title, or they're so faithful I find myself wondering, "Well, okay, why don't I just play the original instead then? What's the point?" While the point here is obviously "You can't play the original, Dora. DUH.", Planet M.U.L.E. is a success not only because it captures the spirit of the original, but because it looks and plays so well.
If you don't make good use of your time and cash early on, it can be difficult to catch up to other players later in the game. Since turns are so short, you can find yourself doing a lot of sitting around, watching other players take their turns. The game actually does a fairly good job of injecting new events and balancing the market so that the game keeps feeling competitive rather than routine. Racing to outbid your fellow players for a new plot of land, or to claim one known to be rich in crystite, is not only fun, it's a good way to make new enemies. Hurray!
At the time of this writing, M.U.L.E. has only been released for about a week, and the initial offering is a little buggy. The servers occasionally lag, connections can be unstable, and the game can hang from time to time on the shop or auction screens. Players having trouble connecting to each other to play should have a look at this section on troubleshooting, especially if they're behind a router. However, the team behind Planet M.U.L.E. has already shown themselves to be extremely dedicated to polishing it, as though reviving a decades-old game wasn't proof enough, and are hard at work already on a patch to solve the problems.
Easy to pick up but difficult to master, M.U.L.E. winds up being a very rewarding experience for players with the patience to put their time into it. Best played with friends and a healthy competitive spirit, it's a faithful remake of an old classic that just may become a new one. Just make sure you have your evening free before you start, and always remember to keep one eye out for the Mountain Wampus.
Update: Version 1.1 is now available. It addresses many bugs and complaints found with the initial version.
Download the free full version
Mac OS X:
Download the free full version
Download the free full version