Mean-While is a retro action platform adventure out now on Steam for a silly price (as in super cheap), and if you aren’t going to read anything other than the score, it’s an indie title worthy of being in your collection.
If you’re a fan of classic 16-bit platform titles, then it’s hard not to recommend Mean-While. If you’re up for a challenge that tests your patience and abilities, this fits the bill too, without too many rage quits.
That might not be entirely true as this game is hard work with little room for error. However, if you’re prepared to take your time and watch for patterns, progress is achievable, and rewarding too.
Mean-While Review – PC via Steam
Mean-While, from Daniel Bourke and published by Project Tranquil, is one of those indie titles that don’t get too much fanfare in an already crowded market. Fortunately, it was brought to my attention and without trying to cherrypick, thought it would be worth experimenting with.
The concept is amusing as you play two anti-heroes reluctantly working together as they are teleported to each other’s fortresses and have to escape. On one side you have Join Skeleman – a Skeletor-like character because, well, he’s muscular with a skull.
The second is Dr. Dangerous, an evil (making assumptions) scientist and Join Skeleman’s adversary. Both are clearly different types of evil; on the one side, Join Skeleman is a necromancer with ties to the dead, his counterpart a man of science, equipped with a laser pistol.
After a brief introduction and self-aware gameplay tips on how to beat an enemy or use new gear, you’re pretty much on your own, but it’s intuitive, that’s for sure.
With each character you will dart through platforming sections, taking out enemies with ranged or melee attacks until you reach a section that will hold you up and to get past, you’ll need the other person to hit a switch in their section.
Switching between characters can be done on the fly, but every time you do it, you’ll get the title card ‘Mean-While…’ and a voice-over. Granted, the voice-over changes quite often, and amusing, but it does get a little irritating. On top of that, if playing on a controller (which is encouraged), it’s easy to switch to the other player in error.
Join Skeleman or Team Dr. Dangerous?
Both characters have their benefits; Join Skeleman melees and can unlock ranged attacks early on. He’s not much of a jumper, but using a scythe, he can hook onto elevated positions to advance further. The doctor is a different kettle of fish.
His jumping prowess is two parts genius, the other, hair-pulling. You shoot at the ground and from the blast can pull off a double jump. It’s an excellent mechanism for some fun platforming action, but it’s not without its challenges and can be quite fiddly.
That said, it’s the level design that produces the challenge, not the controls – they’re perfectly tight, and I take ownership for those countless deaths.
Another note worth making is there are no lives or continues, neither is this a rogue-like so don’t fear the reaper. If you’ve already killed an enemy, it doesn’t respawn either so totally forgiving if you have to repeat sections, though that doesn’t make it an easy game, just easier.
Presentation-wise, Mean-While is much like a game from the 16-bit era. The visuals are sharp, in context, and the characters are well designed and often give up some witty banter.
Dialogue, of course, is text-based and it does appear a little off as the speed bubbles are ultra-clear and juxtaposed with the almost pixel art aesthetic. They stand out like a sore thumb. These same dialogue bubbles seem to wobble a bit as well, making it mildly disorientating.
The soundtrack is a blast from the past, but it didn’t do much for me. Again, another preference side of things as there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a little on the annoying side, but no hooks that get stuck in your head hours later, my kryptonite.
While I found the difficulty tough but fair, there will be a lot of gamers out there who will coast through, and if that sounds like you, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s a dedicated speedrun option. Except for Goldeneye on the N64, that’s not for me, but it was a decent feature to have. There’s a gallery too. Y’know, to look at stuff.
Mean-While is great if you’re a fan of retro platform games without it being ‘a homage to…’ or ‘inspired by…’. No doubt the developer, Daniel Bourke, has their selection of games that may have influenced this title. Still, it’s a standalone effort with a great game mechanic of switching between two reluctant teammates to reach a mutual goal.