During the straightforward introduction stages, Grass Cutter lives up to its not-particularly-ambiguous name. You could even lazily describe it as a grass cutting sim, tasking you with casually mowing every square of grass within a small garden while avoiding hazards and keeping an eye on the battery gauge. This is the game at it most basic, leaving you to wonder how it’s going to carry itself from start to finish with such a simple premise.
Thankfully, it also lives up to its subtitle. It isn’t long until new twists are added, completely altering the core concept. The introduction of grass monsters – a by-product of a failed fertiliser experiment – give it a Pac-Man-style ‘maze game’ twist, while the newfound ability to destroy them bombs adds a neat Bomberman-style slant. Then comes the Boxxle/Soukoban block shoving puzzle elements, prompting you to push blocks in the right order to create makeshift bridges over water.
It isn’t stingy with new ideas either. Almost every stage includes something new, be it a power-up, enemy type, a different kind of hazard, or a boss battle. Stages gradually become larger too, while puzzles become devious to the point where you can quickly mess things up by shoving blocks around incorrectly.
While it isn’t long until stages start to span multiple screens and feature dozens of hazards – some of which can instantly destroy your mower (or cow, if you prefer) – the difficulty level is almost constantly the right side of challenging. This is because every stage feels as if it has been thoroughly tested, with the monsters harmoniously marching along their pre-set paths, and the hazards shrewdly placed. Moving hazards require an acute sense of timing.
Sure, you may curse after getting caught within a bomb’s blast radius, but like Bomberman before it, there’s only yourself to blame.
It usually takes a dozen attempts to beat a stage, working out the best order to tackle things while memorising the enemy patrol patterns. Grabbing a power-up can instantly improve chances of success, with an extra life being the most beneficial of all, and the fact that power-ups are both dished out and placed at random generates a sense of urgency.
Adding to this, there’s a garage full of additional mowers to unlock and experiment with, some of which have unique skills such as the ability to summon bolts of lightening.
Cows (as well as the other grass chomping animals) can poop on command, meanwhile – dropping a stinker in an enemy’s path will “disable” it for a few precious seconds, leaving you to mow the grass they were walking on. It should be obvious by now that Grass Cutter – Mutated Lawns doesn’t take itself seriously at all.
It all amounts to something surprisingly great – a curiously compelling experience, in which the crude visuals are the only obvious downfall. Even the upbeat music exceeds expectations, complete with dramatic boss battle music that only heightens the silly premise.
Best of all, Grass Cutter – Mutated Lawns isn’t trying to be anything more than the sum of its parts. It’s a simple, inexpensive, retro throwback that proves the simplest ideas in gaming will always be evergreen.