M.U.L.E. Returns

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Players:
4
Multiplayer:"Coming Soon," but only 1 player at press time
AI:Yes, 1 level
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:
MULE Returns
Price: $4.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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M.U.L.E. Returns, 3.4 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

Geeks of a certain age well remember M.U.L.E. for a couple of firsts. It was the first board game designed from the ground up for a computer, and it was the first computer game purpose-built for 4 humans to play at once. After reigning supreme on the Atari 400 for most of that system’s life, the game was ported to a series of later computers (including current Macs and PCs) with varying degrees of success. Will this reboot set fire to the store?

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Gameplay

MR places you on the distant planet Irata (Atari spelled backwards…ah, the 80s) as one of four colonists. Over 12 turns (6 in a beginner game) you will help develop the colony while trying to become the most profitable colonist on the planet.

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Each turn begins with each player being granted a plot of land on a semi-random map – the central column will always be the river, but other spaces are random. Each space is ideal for generating one of three basic resource types – food, energy, or smithore, a catch-all metal used to produce the game’s namesake labor machines – with a fourth luxury good available in Tournament games.

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Once land grants are assigned, you’re off to the store to get a Multiple Use Labor Element, and outfit it for the type of resource you’re producing. You then go and install it on its plot, and possibly re-outfit existing M.U.L.E.s to change a plot’s production. You get bonus production for adjacent plots and for similar production types. Random events may then befall players, and production is auctioned off.

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After the requisite number of turns has passed, whoever has the most money wins. However, the overall health of the colony is also judged; it isn’t a true victory unless the colony also does well.

Implementation

MR is inconsistent in how it has been updated. On the plus side, the music and graphics have a modern, professional level of polish while still remaining true to the source material. There is no interactive tutorial, but pop-up messages guide you through your first game, and do an adequate job of explaining the basics. The controls, however, are not always terrifically implemented. Your avatar will always follow your finger, and in the open map this isn’t as much of an issue, but it’s very easy to get hung up on an edge in the store, which can cost you precious time of which you never have enough.

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The biggest change is that player turns now happen simultaneously. In the original, your standing would determine which order you got to take your turn, which was important if there was a limited stock of M.U.L.E.s; now it’s simply first come first served. The M.U.L.E.s can also get somewhat finicky about whether or not they’re on the plot when you tap to install them – given the imprecise controls, that can wind up costing you a turn of production if you aren’t careful. The biggest disappointments are the number of times you’ll see the loading screen (too many) and the fact that multiplayer is not yet implemented – ironic, as M.U.L.E.’s designer explicitly built the game with 4 live players in mind.

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Verdict

Once multiplay is implemented, there’s nothing wrong with this game that a bit of spit and polish won’t fix. While the app does a competent job of presenting an inherently multiplayer game in a single player package, there isn’t enough variety in the AI to really make this a viable long term solo experience – to be fair, this was also a failing of the original, but the original had multiplayer support out of the box. There’s nothing wrong with getting a bit of practice in, but economic auction games demand human drama, and MR is sadly no exception.

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