The Mikey Series: Awesome Platforming, 4 Ways
Mobile gaming has played host to a countless number of platforming heroes, with no less titans than Mario and Sonic starring in adventures on the platform. When it comes to homegrown talent, however, Mikey Shorts is easily among the top of the heap. He was the star of four successful games, and with the gameplay varying between each installment, it’s his iconic mug that ties them all together. How did Mikey come to be such a familiar face for mobile platforming fans? Well, the same way any platforming hero becomes famous: quality games.
While BeaverTap Games, the developers behind the series, had no prior game development experience before creating Mikey Shorts, it’s clear that they knew both exactly what kind of game they could make, and what kind of game they wanted to make. As big fans of speedrunning platformers, the team had a good idea of what qualities were important in such a game. They also seemed keenly aware of their limitations and, as it was a spare-time project, could work on the game until they were satisfied with it.
Much of the team’s focus went into developing controls that felt good and worked well on a touch screen. As Mikey could only move left or right, there was no need for a full virtual directional pad when a couple of arrows would suffice. His actions were limited to jumping and sliding, which each got a dedicated virtual button. Considerable play-testing went into determining the best position and size of said buttons, but players are nevertheless given the option to adjust them as they see fit. That work was not in vain, as the reliable controls are one of the key elements to what makes Mikey Shorts such a fun game.
Interesting given the development team’s origins as high-level score attackers is that Mikey Shorts offers something for players of any skill level. Each of the main story’s 24 levels is rather low-pressure if you’re simply trying to reach the goal. You can’t be killed by enemies, and only falling into a bottomless pit will result in any sort of setback. Even in that case, it’s a light slap on the wrist at worst. You’re sent back to the previous checkpoint, where you are free to try again as many times as you need to. The main levels are timed, but you can take as long as you want to clear them. Exploration is encouraged with hidden collectibles and generous amounts of coins laying outside of the fastest path.
Admittedly, the player who seeks only to reach the goal in each of the 24 main stages will find a rather short experience waiting for them. But those extra collectibles give players a reason to revisit stages, and the coins they pick up can be exchanged for various disguises that can be used to customize Mikey’s look. There are quite a few of these disguise parts. A player dedicated to unlocking them all has quite a task ahead of them. Whether or not the player chooses to engage Mikey Shorts beyond these aspects, the game still has a lot to offer.
Now, for any players that choose to dive in deeper, an even greater wealth of rewards can be found. The Challenge Mode adds a considerable number of stages to the game, 60 in total, and tasks the player with clearing them under a strict time limit. Should you fail to reach the end in time, you’ll have to start the stage again from the beginning. If you have some experience with platformers, you’ll likely find this mode to be reasonably challenging without being too severe. You can’t afford too many mistakes, but you don’t need to be perfect by any means.
The ceiling still goes higher. Your time on each stage is recorded, and you will be assigned up to three stars based on how quickly you make it through. This takes a bit more skill and will likely require you to replay a few stages to figure out where the best route is. You don’t have to worry about picking up coins or grabbing the hidden Golden Shorts to earn three stars. You do still need to touch every statue, however. Earning a full three stars on every stage in both modes is quite the undertaking, and the fun can keep on rolling after that if you get into a competition on the leaderboards. Who knows? You may meet a future business partner!
The sequel to Mikey Shorts could easily have been phoned in, especially with a mere one-year gap between its release and the original game’s launch. Build some new levels, throw in some new disguises, and you’d have a game many people would have been happy to buy. But Mikey Hooks chooses to make some big changes while retaining most of the core qualities of the original, and it’s absolutely to the game’s benefit. The biggest change is the addition of the grappling hook, which allows Mikey to swing from specific points in each level. Grappling is a simple matter of pressing, holding, and releasing the jump button again in mid-air. It slots in nicely without disrupting the solid controls that were the backbone of Mikey Shorts.
Other less obvious changes are present and important. Mikey now has a health meter, which is necessary because there are now enemies and obstacles that can hurt him. Health-replenishing hearts are strewn about each stage, so you really have to work to run out of health as long as you’re not in a hurry. Of course if you’re an experienced player, you probably are in a hurry, giving you a lot of incentive to not take hits. Another change benefits the speedrunning element of the game. The grappling hook offers many more potential paths through each stage, so the requirement to free friends from statues has been moved to non-timed story stages instead of the main stages.
The Challenge Mode was switched out for a new Race Mode, which gives the player six stages to try to record their best times in. That may sound like a small number, but these stages are much bigger and more complex than anything seen in the rest of the Mikey Shorts games. Figuring out the optimal route through each of them will take quite a bit of time and experimentation. With a familiar structure, Mikey Hooks checks off all of the same boxes as the original game while bringing in enough new things to keep the overall experience fresh. As a speedrunning game, it’s even better than the original and is arguably the best in the series.
With the third game, BeaverTap Games seemed to want to really change things up. Certainly, going back to the well too many times can be a risky move, and from a creative standpoint the developers probably wanted to try something new. Mikey Boots is a very different game from the first two, though it still features many of the same elements players had come to love. The speedrunning aspect is still here, and the overall look of the game is similar to the previous games. There are hidden Golden Shorts to find in each level, and coins can be exchanged for a variety of disguises.
The biggest change in Mikey Boots is that instead of running and jumping through stages, you’re now zooming through the air on a pair of rocket boots. Mikey (or the optional female character) cannot stop moving, and will fall when the boots aren’t activated. Pressing the left side of the screen will give you a bit of elevation and move you to the left, while pressing the right will move you to the right. Not all of of the ground is unsafe in Mikey Boots, but a lot of it is. You need to quickly master staying airborne without colliding with anything dangerous. It feels a bit like Joust, Balloon Fight, or Flappy Bird.
Rather than offering two different modes, Mikey Boots consolidates all of its levels into the main mode. Levels are grouped by difficulty rather than by world, and the highest set of levels needs to be unlocked by earning a certain number of stars. The three-star system is still in play, giving the player a reason to get through each level as fast as they can. There’s a lot less room for finding your own path this time around, with the focus placed on making tight corners and maintaining momentum.
As a result of all of this, Mikey Boots is a much more difficult game than the previous installments. For the experienced player, there isn’t a huge difference in the intensity of the challenge, but novice players will find this a bit strict compared to the more breezy atmosphere of Mikey Shorts and Mikey Hooks. It’s certainly advised that you play these games in order even if only to face a gentler difficulty curve on the whole. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a stiffer challenge, and the change-up in the play mechanics makes for a thrilling, novel adventure.
The fourth and so far final game in the series, Mikey Jumps, deviates even further from the original games in certain ways. This game came after a period of experimentation for BeaverTap Games in which they had produced a handful of smaller free-to-play titles. The mobile gaming market had shifted considerably, and if Mikey was to return, he would have to move with it. The speedrunning aspect that had arguably been the seed of the series was excised completely.
Instead, the game focused on tight, bite-sized platforming challenges. Levels are much smaller and considerably more numerous, with 400 to play through in all. Mechanics from all three prior Mikey games are brought back in Mikey Jumps. While Mikey auto-runs forward at all times, he can jump, use his grappling hook at specific points, and after finding a pick-up, engage his rocket boots all with a tap on the screen. Some levels focus on one of these mechanics, while others combine them for some truly interesting set-ups. A later update that increased the level count also added a warp mechanic to the game, giving Mikey Jumps a gameplay element to call its very own.
With the hidden collectibles and speedrunning aspects removed, the core challenge in Mikey Jumps comes from making it through each set of stages without running out of lives. There are still lots of unlockable disguises, and there are now six different playable characters you can choose from. The overall difficulty curve is reasonable, but the game gets devilishly tricky as it progresses. Getting through all of the levels is quite an achievement in and of itself, but those looking for something further will enjoy the Infinite Mode. It delivers a random assortment of levels one after another until you run out of lives.
Each of the Mikey Shorts games is different from the others in significant ways, but all of them offer up enjoyable action that makes them hard to put down. The goofy look on Mikey’s face, the bizarre unlockable disguises, the rock-solid controls, and the excellent level designs tie all four games together in fine fashion. It’s interesting to play through all four games in order just to appreciate how BeaverTap’s design philosophy evolved over the years, and it sure doesn’t hurt that they’re all tremendous fun.