Admittedly, Dr. Muto looked interesting at first. Stylistically, it could have turned the platform genre upside down. Instead, the game ended up as nothing more than a half-hearted production. It lacked the focus and the daring to take a great concept to its logical conclusion. The end product contained a few inspired moments, but the developers ultimately came up with a conventional platforming experience that was not only lacking in imagination, but was also poorly executed on many levels.
This is perhaps one of the most disappointing experiences I've ever had in gaming simply because Dr. Muto's premise showed so much promise in the beginning. Muto is an antithesis to the more ubiquitous, cute and cuddly, fuzzy and bankable platformers currently available. As his name suggests, Dr. Muto is a mad scientist with the ability to morph into various animal forms. Muto's appearance is refreshingly unattractive, and the animals he morphs into are even more so, generally taking on the shape of repulsive creatures, like spiders and rats. Often humorous, the transformations have a perverse quality about them too. Muto's gorilla morph for instance, resembles a botched, patchwork experiment, having multiple eyes the way a spider might. I had high hopes for the game because very few platformers seek to create the kind of creepy and surreal world Muto attempts. Nor do many platformers come up with a gameplay mechanism as inventive as morphing.
Where Dr. Muto went wrong was in Midway's inability to take the game's premise and create a cohesive gaming experience out of it. Naturally, viewing the world from a rat's perspective would be far different than seeing it the way a human does, and Muto's diverse forms should reflect this. In one scenario, Muto might run through a clean, well-lit laboratory, and then change himself into rat to investigate a dark and grungy hole in the wall. Yet the look of the levels and the way they play out often don't reflect how eclectic Muto's morphing ability is. Most of the levels are draped in the same, drab, brown hues, no matter what area is accessed. And all the areas are played the same as manner as any other conventional platform game. No matter where players are in a level, they can expect to jump or climb, hit switches, and not much else.
Morphing is highly underutilized overall, mostly serving as artificial keys. Certain morphs are required in order to access certain areas in the game, but beyond that function, there is really little use for Muto's morphing powers. Each form only offers one basic attack, two at most, and the requisite jump, all of which adds up to a very limited experience. There was one inspired moment in the game however, where as a spider, Muto was able to scale an enormous tower, the camera bobbing sideways and upside down as it followed the action. But hardly anything else is worth noting.
The world of Dr. Muto doesn't show any cohesion either. Though the levels all possess the same, dark, drab look, not one managed to convey any kind of personality. An environmental theme was apparent, with canisters of industrial waste lying about and giant pipes spewing black oil, but Dr. Muto never really generated any sort of emotions with regards to it. I wondered whether these worlds were supposed to be disgusting or funny. The lack of direction left me feeling ambivalent in the end. Much like the levels, Midway did not seem too sure about the kinds of reactions they wanted their characters to invoke either. The enemies that lurked about were generally inconsistent, sometimes appearing as animal, other times as mechanical, and all seemed to straddle an uncomfortable space between cute and weird. Muto himself wasn't even the mad scientist Midway billed him as. He came across as more of an eccentric inventor following in the footsteps of Disney's 'Absent-Minded Professor.' Again, I wasn't sure what to think. Was I supposed to find his human persona endearing? Or was I supposed to pay more attention to the creepy morphs?
Perhaps the greatest disappointment was how poorly the game was executed, despite it being such a conventional platformer. The most annoyingly bad design choices were made with regards to the collecting aspect of Dr. Muto. The developers, in a fit of lavish excess, gave the game far too many items to collect, both in type and in number. There were keys, isotopes, scrap to build special weapons, scrap to build something called the Genitor 9000, something called a terra, and the DNA collected from various animals that enabled Muto's morphing. What's more, many of these collectibles numbered in the hundreds, or in the case of the isotopes four thousand two hundred and fifty. The ensuing onscreen clutter was a genuine eyesore, with breakable boxes appearing all over the place, and hundreds of collectibles floating listlessly in any given level. Constant gathering wore away all my patience by the second level. Even the most exploratory treasure hunters will likely find Dr. Muto to be a collector's hell, never mind what a person who doesn't like collecting will think.
The controls and the camera both exacerbated many of the gameplay problems, as neither of them were done very well. The controls had a sludgy, unresponsive feel, like skittering on ice. And the camera was absolutely horrendous. Much of the time the camera swung over to the front of Muto, blocking out the action. It happened with such frequency I found myself adjusting it every few seconds. The most annoying feature of the camera, though, was its spontaneous habit of going into what looked like a first-person view whenever Muto walked into a corner. Every time that happened (which was a lot), I completely lost my bearings. In cramped areas full of enemies, the camera problems proved devastating to Muto's health.
There is much more I could say about the game too, including Muto's annoyingly squealy voice, but at this point everything else is just detail, and it would become asinine to go over those aspects. Suffice to say that Midway had a great idea in Dr. Muto and did not have the necessary focus to bring out the game's full potential. Still, I would like to see a sequel to Dr. Muto, if for no other reason than to see the game realize at least some of that potential.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.