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The deceptively simple deep gameplay mechanics of Muffin Knight

A look at the mechanics of Muffin Knight, a relatively small game, that offers variety through intrinsic game mechanics instead of large amount of assets or procedural generation.

At first glance, MK looks a lot like one of the very first Mario games, but with updated graphics.
One screen, 4 buttons and muffins to collect. Yet, as this is a modern game, to be enjoyed on such modern platforms as Android and IOS devices, additional layers are added to provide greater depth and entice the player to engage with the seemingly simplistic premise over extended time periods.
Initially the game offers little explanation or story, controls are shown and the one primary and sole goal of collecting delicious baked treats is pointed out, but that is all the handholding the game provides. Comparatively fluid and speedy, the player character, the namesake Muffin Knight equipped with bow and arrow and clad in greyish armor is dropped off on a small screen with two visual levels, one “top floor” and the “ground floor”. A muffin will appear at a random location and the knight must dodge or eliminate slower moving sheep and rarely winged sheep on his way to the object. The ground floor has a hole in the center in which enemies can fall, upon which they will respawn in “angry mode”, red, moving faster and taking more hits. This dynamic eventually results in a much denser enemy population if left unattended, especially in the earlier smaller levels this can lead to player detriment much quicker.

Muffin-Knight_2

 
Once the muffin has been picked up, the character randomly transforms into one of the initially available characters; Gnome, Mage or Archer. Each equipped with a different weapon type and differing stats, they are all still close to the knight in terms of overall handling and dynamic.
Upon collecting a threshold number of muffins new maps and characters will be unlocked and points awarded, to be spent on character upgrades, perks or player lives. A star rating system for each map is provided, higher ratings depend on the total of collected muffins for each run.
The meat of the gameplay depth hinges on the very temporary instance each character is being played. Muffin to muffin without any method of foreseeing the next, possibly horribly unwanted character. Later additions, such as the Unicorn, even add new tactical options since the Unicorn’s weapon is rainbow poop, which can be strategically placed on the map in varying quantities and will not disappear when switching to the next character. The Cyclops creates a small black hole that will suck multiple enemies into the abyss, the Pumpkin detaches his head and rolls it downwards and so on.
While the only surface level gameplay objective is to collect baked treats, the randomized character generation adds complexity based on preferred playstyle, current gamestate and player planned progression. As constantly eliminating all threats soon becomes an impossibility, the player will have to negotiate between time spent on destroying targets and reaching muffins, yet another strategic layer, that can vary greatly with each collected morsel, since, as mentioned above, some characters are vastly more efficient at eliminating multiple enemies or disrupting enemy paths than others.
Perks such as double jump or the ability to jump on top of sheep/ghosts/goats etc. without dying bring another option of potentially drastically modifying the gameplay experience due to earlier mentioned restrictions the game imposes by default.

The goal of this writing is to illustrate the possibility of creating a deep, engaging and potentially long lasting experience with the use of very few assets, little story and limited “progression”.
Many games, such as Bejeweled or Candy Crush saga are comparatively limited in terms of gameplay depth or require the production of additional assets in the shape of storytelling and other content such as maps, characters, items and so on.
Where other games limit the player to the execution of one basic repetitive action, MK provides options, where other games increase the filesize and or provide longevity by the addition of content, MK provides intrinsic variety.

Recently, many developers have chosen to offer unlimited replayability by implementing procedural generation, a content creation method, that does not require most assets to be handcrafted and keeps the experience from getting stale, by providing the player with, albeit similarly patterned, fresh content ad infinitum. MK circumvents that mechanic by, again, providing intrinsic variety.
Ultimately, an interesting model for a game and definitely a lot of fun.

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