Wut U Talkin Bout is a quick look at overlooked titles in gaming history, or an overlooked intro in a franchise.
Some of you may be thinking “what in the heck is a M.U.L.E.,” while others are probably thinking “Isn’t M.U.L.E. a popular game?” M.U.L.E., released in 1983 for the Atari 400 and Atari 800, was one of the first titles to do four player multiplayer right. It was later ported to the Commodore 64 where it became a hit title on the platform. Unfortunately, most modern gamers never look beyond the NES when it comes to retro gaming. So while M.U.L.E. is recognizable by some, many gamers today know nothing of, or very little about the title.
Probably the easiest way to explain M.U.L.E. is that it is like Mario Party without the mini-games or the board game aspects. Instead of trying to gather stars and coins, players gather resources. The more resources you have, the wealthier you are. Player’s wealth determines the player’s rank within the three other players. To gather these resources, Players make use of M.U.L.E.s, also known as Multiple Use Labor Elements. Each M.U.L.E. can be outfitted with the ability to gather food, energy, or an ore called smithmore. Once placed on a certain plot of land, the M.U.L.E. will then begin gathering resources.
Of course, a game of who can collect the most resources the fastest is no fun. The title makes use of supply and demand economics to spice things up. Players use a certain amount of energy and food at the end of each turn. If the player doesn’t have enough supplies to support themselves, they will find themselves with a variety of negative effects that range from decreased player stamina and lowered output from M.U.L.E.s. Of course, players want to try to avoid this, that’s where buying and selling comes into play. At the end of each round, there are auctions for resources. Players then buy and sell to insure they are prepared for the next turn. To avoid having everyone boycotting each other, there is a store players can purchase items at as well. But that doesn’t mean that the store will always be there to save you.
Unexpected events happen all the time in M.U.L.E. Pirates steal all of the planet’s ore, insects eat all your food, and M.U.L.E.s can even run away. This puts the players in some sticky situations. And if the store is out of stock of whatever item you need, you’re at the mercy of the other players who have excess supplies. Players can rack up the price as high they want, as long as the other players are willing to pay. A normal $50 unit of food may end up at the price of $300, and there is nothing the player can do about it other than face the consequences of whether you buy it or not. Sure, it’s no fun if you’re paying. But if you are racking up the price, it feels great ripping other players off.
I know all of you have a Atari 400/800 or a Commodore 64 laying your house, so you should check it out! But if for some crazy reason you don’t have one of these fine platforms, there’s actually a freeware version nowadays for these new fancy computers we have. You can also find a version of the title for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but depending on where you look, it will run you anywhere between $10 to $30.
While it is ideal to have four players, M.U.L.E. can be enjoyed alone thanks to the title supporting up to three computer opponents. The newer freeware version supports online play, so if your friends are at a distance, you can still enjoy some M.U.L.E. together. But whether you play the oldest version or the newest version, the title is still great fun 27 years after its release.