Multidude: One-Player Co-Op

Have you found it difficult to get together with friends lately, perhaps due to a global virus pandemic? Are you missing the joy of cooperating with your fellow dudes, and open to an electronic surrogate? Then do I have the game for you.

Multidude is a short puzzle adventure by Russian developer RetroSouls. It was originally released for ZX Spectrum in 2014, then subsequently ported to NES the following year, at which point it was picked up by Mega Cat Studios for a packaged release.

It’s also part of the Mega Cat Studios Collection 1 for the Evercade retro gaming system, and that’s the version we’ll be looking at today. Bring on the dudes!

Multidude doesn’t really have a story. The packaged ZX Spectrum releases on cassette tried to make it something about “multiple personalities”, but really this is nothing more than a game about getting cute little pixel-art characters to the exit, usually by combining their various capabilities.

The game does a decent job of introducing each of these characters in their own dedicated levels at the start. One can break through the floor; another can break through blocks; another still can ignore gravity and turn hollow blocks into solid ones; yet another can slide blocks around and one last one can turn hollow blocks into a level exit. All you have to do on each level is make use of each of the “dudes'” capabilities to get each and every one of them to one exit each. Easy, right?

Initially, yes. The early puzzles are extremely straightforward, but also highlight ways in which you can back yourself into a corner without proper forward planning — particularly when dealing with the characters that are able to move or create obstacles. As the game progresses, however, things get more and more complicated as the dudes need to work together to succeed. And, by extension, the stages get more and more satisfying when you do eventually figure out the solution to each challenge.

It’s an extremely simple game at heart. The only controls you need are the directional pad and a single button to change which dude you’re controlling; from there, it’s all a matter of understanding what each dude is capable of, and how best to make use of those abilities to clear the stage in conjunction with one another.

By about halfway through the game’s thirty stages, you’ll reach a point where the game removes the training wheels and encourages you to experiment a bit for yourself. Specifically, there’s a level where you’ll be required to make use of a mechanic that the game hasn’t explicitly taught you up until this point; without it, the puzzle will seem impossible, but you’ll only find it through indulging your own curiosity and trying some things you hadn’t tried before. Once you know it, however, you can put this new knowledge to good use in the subsequent stages.

You have plenty of scope to explore a bit. A generous stock of lives allows you to make a few mistakes or restart a level — though there’s no continue option and no password system, so if you mess up too many times you’ll have to start all over again. Given the brief length of each level — and the game as a whole, for that matter — this isn’t a huge deal, but since you’re not scored on time taken, lives remaining or anything like that, the lives system does feel a little extraneous.

It’s also a bit of a shame that a few features from the original Spectrum version were seemingly cut from the NES release found on the Evercade cartridge — most notably the level names. On the Spectrum, each stage had a name that offered a clue as to the approach you might want to take, but on the NES, you’re simply thrown right in with no context. Again, not necessarily a bad thing given the game’s nature as an abstract puzzle game that encourages experimentation with its mechanics, but it can leave those with tired brains feeling at a bit of a disadvantage sometimes!

The Spectrum version also has considerably more interesting music (assuming you have a Spectrum that supports sounds beyond beeps and clicks, of course); the NES release, conversely, features a short four-bar loop that plays over and over. It’s unobtrusive and atmospheric, but after a few stages you will find yourself craving a bit of variety — especially as the backgrounds and colour schemes don’t change throughout the game, either.

To be fair to Multidude, though, the game was clearly never intended to be anything other than a “microgame” that players could blast through and enjoy quickly; while Mega Cat Studios does indeed sell a NES cartridge of the game and you can buy it as part of the Mega Cat Studios Collection 1 for Evercade, both the original Spectrum version and NES port are completely free downloads from RetroSouls’ website that anyone can enjoy at any time just to fill an afternoon with something a little different — and it was never intended to be anything more than that.

And in the case of the Evercade version in particular, the short levels and brief runtime of the game as a whole makes it an excellent handheld puzzler, particularly when you consider it’s part of a much larger compilation filled with a variety of very interesting titles to explore. In many ways, I suspect it’s a very representative example of what we can expect to see much more of on the Evercade when it comes to “modern” releases: short, snappy, to-the-point games from small teams that aim to evoke feelings of nostalgia for classic platforms while perhaps incorporating some of the lessons learned over the course of the last 30-40 years or so.

In other words, while Multidude probably won’t be the reason you buy the Mega Cat Studios Collection 1 for Evercade, nor the reason you will recommend it to others, it’s definitely a worthy inclusion, and a game well worth spending a bit of time with — if only because that four-bar musical loop is one of the goddamn grooviest things you will ever hear come out of the NES’ sound chip!

Tips and Tricks

You’re mostly on your own with this one as figuring things out is part of the fun, but I will share one helpful nugget of information with you: dudes can climb up each other when they’re standing in the same space!

More about Multidude
More about Evercade 08: Mega Cat Studios Collection 1
More about Evercade

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