“A young moustache enthusiast goes on an adventure to climb the highest flying mountain in search of a magical moustache gel”. That is the description of this game, provided by Steam. If indie developers were ever going to reach the pinnacle of perplexing concepts, this is it. In terms of what direction developer Nauris Amatnieks could take with such an idea, Moustache Mountain offers a premise that wouldn’t carry many limitations. You might be disappointed, then, to learn that it stands on a much simpler plane in terms of what it actually offers, but it’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. As a matter of fact, it is quite addictive.
Moustache Mountain presents itself as a simple platformer, designed in a format that sees the player control the unnamed “moustache enthusiast” as he jumps through a series of puzzling stages, ultimately in attempt to reach the magical moustache gel in its final stage. That’s as much backstory as you’re given, and realistically, it’s as much as you need. The story, the level design, and the ultimate goal will inevitably become the last things to concern you, as the 8-bit styled mountainous background, and accompanying sprites eventually become imperceptible once you find yourself frustratingly restarting stages in an attempt to continue onto the next.
Moustache Mountain’s hook is in its design choice – its 2D stage setup and challenging, levelling difficulty makes it an addictive gem. Games that have followed this format before (namely Super Meat Boy) have found more success than anticipated because they take one aspect of gameplay, refining it until it becomes a perfect example of how it should be executed. In the case of Moustache Mountain, it is the balanced pace in gameplay and stage design that challenges your ability, offering a difficulty level that will certainly trip the player up, consistently maybe, before carrying out a successful attempt.
What sets Moustache Mountain apart from the likes of Super Meat Boy is its added challenging elements. You have three lives to complete a stage, and if you don’t manage to survive through them, you’re thrown back to the start. This is frustrating enough, and if their wasn’t already enough incentive to try and survive, once you do die (and you will), the stages are turned into alternative versions of themselves once you respawn. Stages can be mirrored, upside down, or they may stay the same, but you will never get the same sequence of stages again once you die. So much for strategy.
Of course, the game doesn’t throw you to the wolves straight away. The first handful of levels slowly introduce you to the game’s mechanics, presenting relatively simple areas that are designed to get the player familiar with the controls (simple spacebar and arrow control, but supports controller input, recommended for the later levels if you don’t want to physically destroy your keyboard in frustration). The following stages introduce you to the mechanics you’ll end up using to avoid death later on, such as wall jumping, long jumping and slowing down mid-jump to avoid impalement. All of these are crucial tools in making sure you avoid all the creative ways that Nauris Amatnieks has created to challenge the player’s ability (spoiler – they’re brutal, and often result in a lot of pixelated blood).
Moustache Mountain is a welcome addition to its genre. One of the reasons Super Meat Boy was so popular was that it stood on its own as a unique indie release with a simple premise and controls. Moustache Mountain attempts to recreate the chaotic addictiveness that the former was so successful for, and it does so with improvements; and, despite the inevitable rage-induced quitting that it will cause, it also has a greater sense of accomplishment once it’s been beaten.