Mimic Arena: Review
+ Amazing premise that is implemented to near perfection
+ Diverse range of level design and game types
+ Game types can be customized for endless variety
- Controls are shocking: needs to go to Analog instead of D-Pad aiming
- Absolutely no graphical or controller customization to speak of
- Animation and art style can be hard on the eyes at times
Platform(s) available: Xbox One, PC
Platform reviewed: PC
When it comes to local multiplayer party games, the video game landscape has moved past the trivial niceties of having to actually be in the same room in, and share a couch and screen with, another actual human being. It sounds factitious for me to say it in such a way, but online multiplayer has left the humble subgenre by the wayside. In recent memory, there have only been a handful of games that have attempted to seize the style of multiplayer and give it a healthy new injection. Games like Towerfall Ascension, Speedrunners and Gang Beasts have fared reasonably well on the PC, and adding another dimension to the genre is Mimic Arena, another such style of game developed by Tiny Horse Games.
The game is a 2D platformer-shoot’em’up with up to four players competing with each other in three different game types. Sounds pretty straight forward so far, but with every type of game that warrants party play, it requires something that makes the game unique, and at the core of Mimic Arena is the concept of “mimics”. Mimics will copy the actions that you took between your spawn and your death, along with all of the shots fired and dodges made. These are integrated into each game type with a cleverness and freshness that I haven’t seen in a party multiplayer in a long time, and playing it with a friend, and finding out the implications of your mini-mes running around indiscriminately, is a hilarious moment.
The game houses three game types: Deathmatch, Survival and Infiltration. The first two are standard fare: reach the score, or be the last man standing respectively. What becomes a bog-standard 2D shooter is turned on its head with the introduction of the mimics. In Deathmatch, the mimics that eventuate from spawn to death can earn kills for you if your opponent is not quick enough, but can also be shot down and count towards your opponents kill count, leading you to be oddly protective of your clones. In Survival, however, the mimics are there as extra things for you to dodge alongside the stage hazards, and the actions of your clones can affect both your opponent and yourself. The two game types devolve quickly into snap judgements and fast-paced gameplay, and makes for an addictive experience.
The best of the three modes by a country mile is Infiltration: a mixture of Capture The Flag and Escort. There are two zones on either side of the map, and players must reach the other player’s spawn area. Once they have done that, the path that they took, and the actions on the way, are played back by their mimic, which the player has to defend until it reaches the end zone to pick up the point. The fact that you have to defend the path that you took opens up endless strategic options: do I play hard defense and prevent the other player from scoring, or do I go in hard and fast to pick up as many points as possible? It is enhanced by the map design: there is a small map pool, but each one is designed to create a different challenge for the players depending on the layout of the map. From vertical walljumping to large open spaces, there is enough variety to make the game playable for a very long time.
To facilitate the combat, different weapons appear on the map for you to pick up. Your standard shooter bounces off of surfaces for trick shooting and strategic planning, and can be charged for greater range. Other weapons include a railgun, a shotgun that shoots three pellets in a fan that ricochet independently, a shruiken/boomerang that does damage along its path and reflect shots that hit you as you launch the projectile, and a cluster bomb that shoots pellets out from its bast radius. With some exceptions, all of these weapons can be charged for added effect. My only gripe with the weapons is that, by comparison, the railgun is incredibly overpowered, for reasons I will explain shortly. The variety of weapons is interesting, with bonus points given to the shruiken’s reflective properties, and certainly adds to the chaotic nature of the mimics and their presence on the map. It is however mitigated by the fact that the different weapons are not immediately distinguishable to new players at a glance until they are fired for the first time.
What really hurts the game are the controls, and the game loses a lot of points simply because of the clunkiness of the controls. For a game that relies on precision, I cannot think for the life of me why the developers decided to only allow for a digital control scheme. The game only allows you to fire in eight hard directions, and the characters and projectiles are slightly too small for the maps that allow them. If this were a cooperative bullet hell game where accuracy was not too much of an issue, I could let it slide, but with the introduction of Infiltration as a game type and the reliance on accuracy to hit Mimics as they zip around the map, the players need to be able to precisely draw a bead on a target instead of waiting for it to cross into the eight places where they can hit things. It seems criminal that the game does not use a twin stick format for moving and shooting, and the game suffers because of it.
My other gripe the game is the bare nature of its menus and explanation of things. There are no graphical options to speak of, and no way to rebind controls for players. On top of that, there is almost no explanation of any of the core aspects of the game types, and what little there is, it is vague and only briefly visible during load screens. My friend constantly commented on whether or not this game came with an instruction manual for what everything was supposed to do. My guess is that this game is designed with the pick-up-and-play mentality that most games in this genre have in mind, and if the game was on consoles – and it has an Xbox One release to boot – I would agree with what Mimic Arena was pitching to me. However, this is a PC game with absolutely no graphical options to speak of, and a party game with minimal explanation of what anything does, which is very poor form.
Overall, Mimic Arena is a game with an amazing idea with an interesting way of doing it that is absolutely crippled by its controls and presentation. What should have been mounting excitement for the game is mitigated by the frustrations that I had when the controls began causing issues, and the mounting anger when I discovered there was nothing I could do about it. This game would work amazingly as a console/Steambox title with an overhauled control scheme, because the calibre of creativity is almost worth the price of admission. I enjoyed what I saw, but it needs a serious overhaul in terms of controls and customization for me to recommend it wholeheartedy. If you enjoy your 2D shooters and are after something that scratches that itch, I would recommend Mimic Arena with those caveats, and even then, I would point you to the console version, where the biggest weaknesses of the PC release can be easily hand-waved.
This review is based off a review code of Mimic Arena, provided by Rose City Games Consulting.