Can you survive An Unholy Return: The 31 Games of Halloween?
M.U.L.E. Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Rating: 85%
M.U.L.E. M.U.L.E. M.U.L.E. M.U.L.E.
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Every element of M.U.L.E. feels like it was specifically designed to keep Nintendo Entertainment System owners as far away as possible. While other science fiction-based games involved fighting aliens and blowing stuff up, this four-player board game was more interested in developing land and using your mechanical mule to pack valuable products to and from the local shop. Even the cover evoked the spirit of Christopher Columbus and other great explorers of yestercentury, something that isn't nearly as exciting as fighting space monsters when you're 10 years old.

But despite the lack of explosions and heart-pumping action, I was determined to tame M.U.L.E. Unfortunately, this 8-bit strategy game lacked a proper tutorial mode. Oh sure, the game came with an instruction that tried to explain the nuance, but it didn't take long for my eyes to glaze over. Despite some stumbles, I managed to come to grips with M.U.L.E. and discover a video game experience unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was the moment I realized that video games could be a lot more ambitious than ninjas and pirates.


I haven't thought about M.U.L.E. in years, instead focusing on a lot of games that are easy to parse. But recently DreamQuest Games got a hold of me and asked for my thoughts about their just-announced game, Alpha Colony: A Tribute to M.U.L.E. While certainly excited for this tribute game, this question forced me to go back and give my Mount Everest of video games another look.

As challenging as I make it sound, M.U.L.E. is a surprisingly simple game to explain. You are one of four people who land on a planet. The idea is to pick a plot of land, colonize it and then use it to produce food, energy or smithore. You'll use your mechanical pack mule to haul everything to the local shop, where you can turn around and buy and sell your products. At the end of each turn, random events will befall each player's colony, which is what makes this game so challenging.


The problem with NES version is that it doesn't explain anything. Instead it hopes you memorized the instruction manual. Once you get the basics down, M.U.L.E. becomes a tense game of strategy. And once you get done explaining how the game works with your friends, it also becomes an incredible four-player experience. When everybody knows what they're doing, M.U.L.E. is on par with Settlers of Catan.

The graphics are bad to the point of being distracting. Fans of the Commodore 64 original will argue that the NES game is stunning in comparison, but I can see how the simple presentation might be off-putting to some. Most of the game involves staring at a map and hoping nothing bad happens. The visuals may not have held up, but the core gameplay is as strong as ever.


M.U.L.E. on the NES is a tough sell in today's society, especially with Alpha Colony: A Tribute to M.U.L.E. (hopefully) headed to PC and Mac. It's not much to look at and the game could do a better job telling you what's going on, but this is a genuine classic. This is one of the few board game-style products worth buying on your Nintendo Entertainment System.
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