I can appreciate killing time with a good physics-based game every once in a while, especially if it requires me to solve puzzles along the way. Aside from an interesting gameplay trailer, I knew nothing about indie developer Nitrolic Games’ Mortar Melon on the Wii U eShop. So I decided to give it a try.
Immediately upon launching the game, I was greeted with mellow jungle music and an equally themed menu screen that begged me to tap the “Play,” “Options,” “Challenge,” or “High Scores” button. Before diving in to play, I navigated the rest of the menu, but I’ll cover those areas later on. The object of the game is simple: Use your wicker-woven mortar to launch a juicy watermelon into a similar basket on the other side of the screen; the left analog stick on the Wii U GamePad controls the strength. Of course, there are obstacles that will test your aiming and timing skills. Luck plays a big part at times, too, with your succulent fruit teetering back and forth on a ledge until it ultimately finds its resting place. But that’s just one example of how luck can play out.
Each of the three main stages (the in-game dialogue also refers to them as “Worlds”) offer 24 levels, and progressively introduce new gameplay mechanics and clever puzzle design. The first stage, inspired by a jungle wilderness, familiarizes you with the basics. The second stage, desert-themed, and third stage, ice-themed, cumulatively incorporate all fundamental gameplay aspects. For example, you’ll have to break through blocks with your melon or launch it through multiple warp portals to land your fruit in the basket. But Mortar Melon doesn’t end with just melon.
Limes, apples, oranges, and bananas are strategically placed throughout levels. While not required, you can still collect them if you desire an added challenge and some sweet points; collecting the fruit also contributes to an overall star rating for each level. One star is “Sweet,” two stars is “Fruity,” and a perfect three stars is “Juicy.” One challenge you won’t have the option of escaping, however, is fruit-hungry spinning saw blades. Their cold, steel teeth are just waiting to rip your rind to bite-sized bites. And they’re all over the place — in nearly every level. Patiently waiting. To eat.
But unnecessary fruit and hungry tools are the least of your worries. Mortar Melon suffers from multiple development issues that quickly changed my mildly sweet experience to a sour one. My biggest complaint is the game’s horrific frame rate. I’m not sure what causes it, but I vivid recall a few times when my melon took a few minutes to soar from one point to another after launching it; I managed to drink half a can of Red Bull while I watched the melon skip and bleep and stutter its way across the screen. When this occurred, I was forced to restart the game because it became unplayable and was painstakingly tedious. While I manged to complete the game’s 72 levels, the struggle to endure the frame rate issue was agonizing and very frustrating. Even when the frame rate doesn’t slow the game down to a screeching halt, it’s still terrible. The original version of Mortar Melon, which I downloaded from Google Play, was a much more enjoyable experience — clean, crisp graphics, seamless gameplay and, most importantly, a silky-smooth frame rate.
Then there are other issues that splattered my experience. If the game stayed idle for too long on the stage clear screen, an error occurred and the game completely locked up. I was forced to shutdown my Wii U by pressing the power button on the console; attempting to power down by pressing the power button on the Wii U GamePad proved to be useless. The game literally locked everything up. The background for a certain few levels never properly loaded. Instead, only sections of the landscape rendered — making it look like this. In the game’s Miiverse community, one player reported that the loading image for a level stayed visible even after it was already fully loaded and playable; I never experienced that personally, however. Finally, there’s one thing that absolutely drove me bananas about Mortar Melon. Every time you launch your watermelon, the GamePad rumbles. The worse part is there’s no option in the game to disable Rumble; it’s enabled by default. Instead, I was forced to access the Controller Settings menu to disable the function. If anything, Rumble should be disabled by default with an option to enable it in the game’s option menu.
In all fairness, Mortar Melon isn’t just a direct port of its original version. The developer did take the time to add a few extra features that take advantage of Wii U. For example, after players complete the game they can compete for a high score — that automatically posts to an online leaderboard — in Challenge mode for each of the three main stages. Those eager for the ultimate challenge can take on all stages at once, with no breaks in between. In-game accomplishments can easily be posted to Miiverse by tapping an icon. Miiverse posts made by others playing Mortar Melon are often displayed during the stage clear screen — which I thought was a nice touch.
Mortar Melon is a concoction of puzzles, physics, and an Angry Birds-style of gameplay. It’s an example of a poorly optimized mobile port that suffers largely from severe frame rate and development issues, and some pesky bugs. You’ll likely find that it doesn’t offer anything new or inventive; games like this have been around for more than a decade and most are now free. Mortar Melon didn’t win me over, and it certainly wasn’t the basket of fruit I had hoped for. My advice is to look elsewhere for a more enjoyable indie experience because this one’s better left on mobile devices where it belongs.
Mortar Melon, originally developed by Mudvark, was ported to Wii U with additional features by Nitrolic Games. It launched in the North American Wii U eShop on August 20, 2015 for $5.99.
Review copy provided by Nitrolic Games