MOP: Operation Cleanup is a post-apocalyptic infini-runner that manages to both underwhelm and wow players at the same time, with an emphasis on the former. Underneath its cutesy and well-done art style and presentation, you’re left with a game that relies on only one button (most of the time) and seemingly random occurrences that only pushes its fun factor so far before you’re left with an ultimately mediocre adventure. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here…
To begin, MOP is about a robot who likes to pick up garbage and Mario his way through enemies (That is, jump on top of their head to cause their untimely demise). Beyond that, there isn’t a ton of story in MOP. What MOP really wants to be beyond a story is a message; We need to recycle and take better care of the environment. In that regard, it works overtime to get that across, from the universal recycling logo appearing at the end of every level, to the very nature of its objectives, which revolve around collecting garbage and jettisoning it from the planet in a trash can-shaped rocket. As an active environmentalist myself, it’s a message I wholeheartedly agree with. However, it can feel a little overbearing with how in-your-face it is with its less than subtle imagery. Overall, if you really want to break it down, Wall-E did the exact same thing as MOP eight years ago, but better. Even so, MOP is a valid attempt at helping push the recycling message.
The overall presentation outside of its message is commendable as well. While, in the end, you’re playing a flash-based game on a console capable of running circles around most cellphones and mid-range PCs that this game should have been released on, MOP has a unique look to it that continues to evolve throughout the short adventure with its unique enemy designs and interesting environments. The protag-o-bot itself is one of the better robotic designs I’ve seen in gaming recently. However, the nice style has its drawbacks. There will be foreground objects that block your view. It’s a nice touch visually, but in a game where you have little control over the character’s movements, you will often walk into enemies and traps that are borderline invisible due to being behind by foreground objects. While this can be stated as a design choice to help up the difficulty of the game, it usually just feels like a dirty trick placed by the developers to pad out gameplay.
Oof. The gameplay. As mentioned, most of the game is controlled with a single button. The protag-o-bot moves on its own while you sit there and tell it when to jump or double jump. In each level (of which there are 50 total), you are presented with a series of objectives, usually boiling down to kill every enemy and collect each piece of trash. This style of gameplay has worked very well before (Bit Trip Runner 2 comes to mind), but it’s usually accompanied by some kind of music that button presses are in time with. The music in MOP is almost completely ambient, meaning there’s not a lot for you to time your jumps with. Regardless, it’s straightforward most of the time. I never could shake the feeling that the game was playing itself, though. Jumps often need to be pixel perfect as well. A lot of enemies have awkward hit boxes. I would sometimes land on top of one only to end up taking damage myself. It’s also frustrating to miss a jump, as protag-o-bot just keeps bouncing off the wall, making the jump you missed all the more difficult to make.
Fighting enemies becomes an issue in the late-game as well. Many of the enemies in the final zone blend into the background, almost guaranteeing they get a hit on you in your first few attempts through a level. While memorizing patterns in platformers is nothing new, the game pulls a 180 on you in its final moments against the boss of the game. Honestly, I have no problem discussing this spoiler as it is the absolute worst part of the game. You climb an infinitely tall tower hitting buttons along the way to shoot a pursuing monster. The problem here, is that the tower is randomly generated. In a game where you have almost zero control of a character and requires pixel perfect precision, an RNG has no place to show up. But, show up it does. You’ll often be forced to take damage because you have no other option, or you won’t hit one of the buttons fast enough due to protag-o-bot’s casual saunter. Hell, you miss most of the buttons because protag-o-bot isn’t even walking in the right direction. It took me about 45 minutes to beat the boss, with my last run only taking about a minute or two. It is entirely luck based, and served to just sour my already middling opinion of MOP. And even in those final moments where the RNG gods shine upon you and you land that final hit, you are treated to an entirely underwhelming still image before being kicked back out into the menu.
At just under 10 US Dollars to purchase (the game is currently £6.49/$7.50 on PSN), I find it incredibly difficult to recommend MOP: Operation Clean Up. MOP is little more than a cellphone game trying to cover itself up on a big name console. In fact, had the game been released on a more fitting console such as the Vita, my opinion may be slightly different. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about MOP. Its presentation and design are worthwhile to experience. But, its extremely below average gameplay and its unbelievably abysmal ending sequence have absolutely zero payoff in the end. While there is certainly an audience for this kind of game that will definitely appreciate the higher production value associated with MOP, everyone else should probably avoid this game. If you really need a casual mobile game to play, Angry Birds is free and can be played on anything from a ten year old iPod to a Roku.
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