Whether you like it or not, the penguin has become the mascot for environmentalism and the perceived dangers of "global warming". Recently, Hollywood heavies, feeling guilty for their excess and wantonness, have thrust the loveable penguin upon us to champion their latest pet cause, depicting this flightless bird as a helpless victim of humans who choke him into extinction with their industry and greed. In a rare moment of civic responsibility, however, the developers at Sunrise Games use the penguin to raise awareness for a larger, more legitimate threat to our planet and way of life?alien invasion.
Attack of the Mutant Penguins encourages young people to question their environment, to wonder if all organisms are what they purport to be, and to put on the sunglasses of truth to see that aliens walk among us.
The premise is as follows:
After picking up a television transmission from earth, aliens from the Bleurgggh galaxy decide to disguise themselves as the dominant species seen in the broadcast. The problem is that these beings?despite their advanced technology?are not very bright. After only catching a glimpse of a wildlife program, they assume that earth's chief inhabitant is the penguin. Realizing their mistake, the faux-penguins then try to pass as humans by wearing clothes, but this only makes their initial mistake look even more ridiculous. And so with the aid of real penguins defending their marred integrity, two "champions of intergalactic do-goodery" named Rodney and Bernard do their best to rid earth of its latest infestation.
Now, this well-devised story seems like the stuff than can make for a great comedic game, and comedy is not easy to pull-off in this form of media. The problem, however, is that this story is nowhere to be found on the cartridge itself; it appears on the box and the manual, but not in any opening cinema or even a text scroll. Most games that have cinemas have hackneyed and unimaginative plots that usually involve some kid avenging his father's death?but with Mutant Penguins, the developers missed a grand opportunity to showcase their creativity.
In addition to its original story, the game itself is creative and refreshing, especially when juxtaposed with the rest of the Jaguar library. It looks like an overhead adventure at first, but you quickly realize that you're playing a strategy/puzzle game. Using several devices and switches, you must lead good and bad penguins in various directions so that a balance scale (dubbed the "Doomscale") does not tip in favor of evil. If it does, the game is over. Leading penguins on different courses may remind one of the classic PC title, Lemmings, with automatons thoughtlessly walking to their salvation or death. And it is particularly amusing (albeit sick) to watch them queue up in front of a spinning blade ready to decapitate each of them in turn. While Lemmings had a point-and-click interface, here you control one of two characters; Bernard wields a frying pan and Rodney has a baseball bat. You must scurry quickly to open treasure chests and build machines with the aid of gremlins (little blue things that look like Sonic the Hedgehog) and pull levers determine the path of the penguins. You can kill them yourself if you collect three letters that spell either "P-A-N" or "B-A-T", but you must power-up these weapons with special orbs in order to make them fatal. Luckily, everything is explained in the game with the aid of tutorial textboxes.
The first couple of moments in each level are the most vital. This adds to the game's unique quality since most games have levels that progress in difficulty, but as patterns emerge and traps are set, your character become merely the caretaker of the grounds. You must have an immediate game plan to succeed, and so you are allowed to survey the layout of each playing field with a very helpful "peek mode." You can scan the terrain at your leisure with the d-pad. Like a golfer walking the grounds prior to a shot, you should take your time to look around to ensure success.
The most glaring drawback of Mutant Penguins is its memory save feature. For every five levels completed, you are rewarded with the ability to start from any previous stage. So for example, if you fail level 9, you have the option of replaying levels 1 through 6. It grows quickly tedious replaying old levels in order to complete the one you're stuck on. Some levels are uninspired and overly easy, but you must repeat them to get back to that one impasse. The awkward save feature makes the twenty-levels seem long enough, which is a shame, because given a better save option, I can see one never wanting this game to end. The second time around, however, when the patterns of each level are learned by rote, you can appreciate the cutesy factor of this game and watch penguins dressed like cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, or Elvis Presley waddle to their bloody doom.
When you finish all twenty-levels, you can still entertain yourself with the "Pandemonium" mode in which there is an infinite number of enemies. In Europe, where this game had more popularity, gamers still brag about their highest number of penguin/alien kills in one sitting.
Mini-games are dovetailed between the levels. They are fun and play an integral role in main stages; the better you perform in these games, the more good penguins you will start with on the scale at the beginning of the next level. One of three possible mini-games is chosen at random: Penguin Attack, Penguin Range, and Penguin Control. These games are classic tests of hand eye coordination, and retrogamers will especially appreciate the Galaga-like "Penguin Attack."
Most Jaguar Games that rely on traditional 2D playing fields still hold up today?Rayman, Raiden, Canon Fodder?and so does this. After playing Mutant Penguins, you may wish Atari had prioritized this type of game over the clunky polygonic experimentations that most remember as the touchstone of this console with unrealized potential.