Navigate a massive cave in the mysterious Muscle World.
Muscle World is a game of careful resource management
Suffer now! And live the rest of your life as a champion!” It’s an inspirational quote I’m thinking of pinning to the fridge—or perhaps over the toilet, in case of curry the night before—and I have the grueling Muscle World to thank for it. It’s a quote that spurs you on every time you dare to rest inside its (possibly endless) cavern, before your pants-clad avatar picks himself up to resume his arduous journey.
What, exactly, is your mission here? Why have you clambered into this labyrinth, wearing nothing but your tight underwear? Muscle World isn’t the type of game to simply dish out easy answers. Instead, the real story lies in the process, as you push yourself ever harder to reach the farthest reaches of an inhospitable cave. While there are enemies to fight—more on those later— Muscle World differs from most RPGs in that combat isn’t the focus. Climbing takes the spotlight, and good god is it tense.
We’ve been spoilt by the Uncharted series, where clambering up a mountain is as effortless as slicing the proverbially heated knife through butter. It’s not that way here at all. For one thing, you’re not climbing sheer walls, but gradually crawling across the ceiling, using your arms to monkey-bar between distant islands hanging in the gloom. Make it to one of these respite areas, and you can drop to the ground and go off in search of a mat to spend a night on, or pills you can gobble to enhance your stamina, before hopping back up to the ceiling to resume your journey.
However, every action comes with a cost. As you crawl along the roof of the world your stamina will drain, second by second, your character falling into the void when it hits zero. Kicking and leaping will make your energy deplete faster, so you’ll want to avoid unnecessary exertions at all costs.
Don’t look down
From the outset, then, Muscle World is a game of careful resource management. You need to constantly push yourself, as exercise improves your strength and leads you onwards to the rest of the cavern—but you also need take a break and explore on foot now and again, hopefully finding one of those precious mats. Your stamina won’t recharge without one, making it all the more terrifying when you’re low on energy and spy another climber shuffling your way.
Yep, turns out there are other gym bunnies making their way through this horrible cavern, and they seem to move slightly faster than you do. In a tussle you can only kick, as can they, and after a desperate few seconds of fumbling one of you will tumble mercilessly into the chasm below.
What the hell is this game? This enigmatic, atmospheric roleplaying game that feels like this generation’s Yume Nikki. Its testing nature and chilly atmosphere evoke FromSoftware’s peerless RPGs, but in its systems and structure, its eerie world and its dead-eyed gymgoers, Muscle World feels gloriously new.
You’ll need resolve, but your reward is tense exploration and combat in a wonderfully unsettling world.
It kicks off with you chucking a mysterious idol into a fireplace.
The rivals in your spacious gym doubt your commitment.
It’s frightening when another climber starts chasing you.