Sunday, January 30, 2011

Game Review: Mischief Makers

Mischief Makers
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Treasure
  • Platform/Release: Nintendo 64, 1 October 1997
  • Genre: Action, Platformer
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Battery, 2 files
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$5-15)
On the day I started writing this review, I learned a surprising fact: video game publisher Enix had their North American branch office closed from 1995 to 1999.  The reason for this was that their previous works for the NES and Super NES, including the Dragon Warrior (now known by its international name Dragon Quest) and Actraser series, were selling too poorly in the US and Canada to warrant further business in the region.  So, you can imagine how well their 2003 merger with Squaresoft helped them.  Anyway, this story surprised me because there was one game released during that empty period which I have always associated with Enix: Mischief Makers for the Nintendo 64.  Their name is prominently displayed during start-up, even in the American version, so they must have published it, right?  Nope, turns out Nintendo sold it in North America as well as Europe.  It's not the first time they saved a game from not being released, and it wouldn't be the last.  But are we really lucky to have it on the market after all?  Let's take a look.

Mischief Makers is a 2-D action-platformer developed by Treasure, known for theirwork in action games like Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga.  You play as the Ultra-Intergalactic-Cybot G Marina Liteyears...  Yeah, I'm not gonna bother you with that.  *ahem* You play as robot girl Marina and must repeatedly rescue her creator, Professor Theo.  Way to give us a gender reversal from the norm.  After the professor gets captured the first time around, Marina goes after her and gets thrown into the middle of a war involving the Clancers, the lifeforms of the planet Terran.  On her way to the bosses who kidnapped the professor, she must search for warp stars which taker her from one level to the next.  While the environments fall into the cliched climates like the plains, volcano, and snowy mountain, more than once in a while you'll be thrown a curveball by the contents of the levels themselves.  In one you're climbing up a tower constantly swaying left and right, in another you have to ride a missile to the end gate, and one of the levels is an athletic festival, with the professor as the prize.  Yeah... have fun with that.

50% of what you'll be doing in this game.1
Marina's main gimmick lies in how she attacks enemies and interacts with objects.  It's not like Mario, where you jump on baddies to bring them down, no.  The only way to defend yourself is to pick up things, then shake or throw them.  You can bet the game is loaded with puzzles designed around this mechanic, as are the bosses, which aren't always the most intuitive affairs.  Your biggest aid during boss battles is a blinking, beeping cursor which shows up for only a second at a time and tells you what to grab, but you might not know what to do with it, unless you really, really pay attention to the hints you can purchase a couple of stages beforehand.  Mischief Makers' control scheme is unique for the Nintendo 64 in that it doesn't use the Control Stick in any way, shape, or form.  Nope, you'll have your hands on the left and right handles, moving Marina with the Control Pad.  Double-tapping a direction on the Control Pad fires up her rockets which boost her in that direction, but it's much easier to use the C buttons for the same purpose.  A tip of the hat to Treasure for giving us that workaround; just be aware it's less effective at times, especially during the aforementioned athletic festival.

3D capabilities get their time to shine.1
The visual style of Mischief Makers is... well, as weird or weirder than everything I've described thus far.  Almost everything that isn't nature-made sports the hollow face of the Clancers, which in turn was inspired by the Haniwa pottery style of ancient Japan.  If you were freaked out by the hills having eyes in Super Mario World, you may not get any sleep after playing this game: it's kinda like that, only potentially creepier.  (So do what I do and just don't think about it.)  Nearly everything drawn on-screen is a pre-rendered CG sprite; 3D objects are used tastefully sparingly.  As for the sound direction... it's even weirder than the graphics.  While the melodies themselves evoke 80's songwriters like Phil Collins - and coming from me, that's a good thing - the instruments they chose to play the tunes are all squeaky and silly.  Let me help you picture it better: it's like they threw a Fuzzy from Yoshi's Island at the N64's sound card!  Given the game's Saturday-morning anime aesthetic, this decision sounds like it could work in theory, so the soundtrack is more of a love-it-or-hate-it affair.  Occasional voice clips pile on the camp even further, should that even be possible.

If the fans' reactions are anything to go by, Treasure has some high standards attached to their brand name, but for the most part Mischief Makers meets those expectations.  It's weird, sure, but don't let that scare you off; it plays well and provides a fair bit of challenge.  While the individual stages are short, there are over fifty of them, and you'll get some replay value out of this game if you choose to invest your time hunting for Gold Gems or scoring A-rank times or better.  While I shouldn't - and won't - reflect it in my rating, Mischief Makers deserves props for being a 2-D platformer, a rarity for its generation.  As such, I don't think Nintendo of America is praising themselves for choosing to bring this title out of Japan, but that's where we gamers come in.

Graphics: 4 face blocks out of 5
Audio: 2 face blocks out of 5
Control: 4 face blocks out of 5
Design: 5 face blocks out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

1Mischief Makers. Hardcore Gaming 101. Ret. 2011-Jan-30

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