What is a M.U.L.E.? It stands for Multiple Use Labor Element, the robotic backbone of the economy on planet Irata which is about to be colonized by members of different alien races. And, well, from human history, we all know what 'colonisation' implies: Grabbing land before anyone else does, exploiting it for profit and when you've milked it dry, move on – leaving political and economical chaos behind.
OK, so the long-term socio-economic aspects are not really part of this game. It is even completely unknown whether the planet has a native population to start with. It all plays rather like a board game: Each player can acquire one square piece of land per turn which they can then choose to develop to produce one out of four trade goods: food, energy, coal and gems. This is where the eponymous M.U.L.E. comes into play: One of these devices need to be deployed on each square. Otherwise, no produce.
If you look over the shoulder of a core or hobby gamer today, you will surely find a gamepad in their hands. Such a controller is a must-have equipment and even the showpiece of every console. Further bundled with a sensational game title, the console appears as an irresistible package in the stores. But in the 80s, strange flowers sprouted here and there. At that time the joystick was still very popular and the home computer sector could not be imagined without it. Such a joystick was then also included with the Atari XE console. But for the overall package, Atari even included a keyboard for "advanced games" and – to get to the point – a lightgun. The toy in futuristic design was the means of virtual pest control in the included game Bug Hunt. The novel firearm, together with the launch title Bug Hunt, was the driving force behind Atari's first computer-derived console release. This seems very daring nowadays, since the control via controller is so natural. But in its time, the Atari marketing department apparently saw an advantage in the versatile usability of its console. The XE Game System was supposed to offer real arcade feeling with the help of this lightgun, which you could otherwise only get for many coins at the slot machines. Later, Nintendo also produced a lightgun called Zapper for the competing NES and marketed it together with the game Duck Hunt. In the end, it was clearly the NES that won the race for market share and the lightgun has largely disappeared, not least because of the lack of cathode ray tube monitors. So, did Atari bet on the wrong horse on the usability side, or was perhaps even the game offered in the overall package the drawback? An answer is purely speculative of course, but I mounted the horse, put on the cowboy boots and strapped on the shooting iron.
Last year, LucasArts closed its doors. Instead of spreading even more malice than already out there about them not having produced good games for many years anyway, we would like to go back to the beginning of this development studio under the name of 'Lucasfilm Games'. One of their first two games called itself Rescue on Fractalus.
The first thing you may notice about this title and what probably made you wonder about the other games from this studio, too, is that there seems to be no connection with the 'Lucas' name brand. Everybody would have expected something along the lines of one of the most famous science fiction films of all times, wouldn't you think?