E3 2002Dr. Muto impressions

We check out Midway's multiconsole 3D platformer.

Midway's upcoming 3D platformer Dr. Muto is aiming to show off the fun side of gene splicing and the destruction of planets on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. In development for nearly two years, the game seems to be coming together nicely. We had a chance to sit down and check out an early version of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game and were pleased by what we saw. Offering a solid mix of established platform elements with character morphing, courtesy of the aforementioned genetic experimentation, Dr. Muto is looking quite promising.

The game puts you in the role of the good doctor whose name graces the title. Muto shares many of the traits that distinguish history's great minds: a phenomenal intellect, glasses, a styling white lab coat, and really bad hair. What sets Muto apart from the likes of Einstein and the other members of the brain pack is that Einstein never blew up a whole planet by accident. While the incident is surely a tragedy, it must be noted that Muto's laboratory managed to survive the planet-busting blast, which is surely a sign of some brilliance. You'll take control of Muto as he heads out to rebuild his shattered homeworld, using the time-honored tradition of jacking your neighbor's stuff. Fortunately you'll find four other planets nearby--the junkyard world of Totltec, the water world of Aquem, the smog-choked Flotos, and the mine-laden world of Mazon. Each planet contains a portion of the resources Muto needs to rebuild his planet. Unfortunately, exploiting the four worlds won't be a walk in the park thanks to the presence of Muto's arch nemesis, Professor Burnitall, who really enjoys seeing his rival humbled.

The basic gameplay in Dr. Muto is pretty straightforward for a 3D platformer. You'll make your way through 22 levels that are spread out among the four planets, and you'll be armed with your newest invention, the multipurpose splizz gun. Along the way you'll collect a variety of items ranging from the expected, such as elements you need to rebuild your home and health boosts, to the useful, such as power-ups, genetic data, and plans for more gadgets. You'll also do your fair share of exploration and puzzle solving. You'll be faced with brainteasers that run the gamut from simply finding a key to using native creatures called gomers to solve slightly more complex puzzles.

While you'll encounter a sizeable horde of enemies as well as hazards on each planet, you won't be entirely helpless or alone. Your splizz gun can be used to grab enemies and items as well as dole out a healthy amount of punishment. More importantly, the splizz gun lets you extract DNA from specific creatures, which will eventually let you morph into a variety of forms. While the forms won't be winning any beauty contests, because of the patchwork nature of their appearance--think of a stitching job that Dr. Frankenstein would be proud of--they are extremely useful. Over the course of the game you'll eventually gain the ability to morph into six distinct forms, each with distinctive abilities. The mouse form provides you access to areas a full-sized Muto couldn't hope to venture into. The gorilla form affords you all the strength of a hairy piledriver. The guppy form lets you dive through the deepest waters. The spider form lets you scale walls, spin webs, and do everything a spider can. The squirrel form lets you fly and dive-bomb enemies with explosive legumes. Finally, the horsefly form lets you creep into the tiniest places in the game with ease. In addition, you're aided on your quest by two companions: Al, an artificial intelligence, and Jankey, a hulking idiot savant who is a whiz with machines and uses the plans you collect to create new gadgets for you to use in your adventures.

While the doctor is capable of a great number of moves, the game's control scheme keeps things simple and accessible by offering a very flexible but basic control layout that is easily adapted to whatever form he happens to end up in. You'll be able to jump, shoot, morph, and use items with ease thanks to the intuitive layout that doesn't take much time to pick up at all if you're familiar with playing platformers. A first-person mode will let you scope out your surroundings as you explore, which ends up being extremely useful for spotting the many hidden and challenging items the game has to test the skills of veteran gamers.

Graphically the game is looking quite polished due to its lengthy development cycle. The PlayStation 2 version features incredibly clean, detailed textures and a great deal of eye candy, such as real-time shadows and particle and lighting effects. The frame rate is quite high in spite of the activity onscreen that can sometimes include huge pistons and other machinery plugging away as you maneuver through areas dispatching enemies. Loading is kept to a minimum to ensure the game's pace is constant, thanks to effective use of streaming. The doctor and his foes are nicely detailed and animated, especially Muto's other forms, which are very interesting to watch because of some funny bits of idle animation. Our time with the Xbox and PS2 versions revealed that the game was nearly identical on both platforms in terms of graphics and gameplay performance. While we haven't been able to see the GameCube version running yet, the team has stated its intention to ensure that the game runs equally well on every platform it's released on. Seeing the results of that commitment in the Xbox and PS2 versions leaves us with high hopes for the GameCube version.

So far Dr. Muto is looking quite promising with its polished graphics and gameplay. The morphing ability adds a bit more depth to the game than the standard platformer has and certainly kept us interested during our time with the game. Dr. Muto is slated to ship this winter across all platforms. Look for more on the game from the show floor and in the coming months.

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