The Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation give us some of the greatest games of all time. With systems capable of using full 3D, everyone wanted to take advantage of it. Nintendo managed to very smoothly transition some of their best franchises to 3D, with titles like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Sony came in strong with brand new franchises, like Crash Bandicoot and Oddworld. 3D gaming was revolutionary, and the sixth console generation was in instrumental step in forming the groundwork for later great console games. But lost in the flood of 3D titles was the potential for advanced 2D gaming.
The new consoles were stronger and most companies put that power towards wowing audiences with that fantastic Z-axis. This resulted in a lot of growing pains for many franchises and projects. But there were some games out there that took advantage of the greater processing power of the new consoles. Games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Megaman 8 on the PlayStation stand out as titles with high quality sprite work and animation, with excellent speed and control that built on top of their respective franchises. The N64 received some classic 2D games like Killer Instinct Gold, and Yoshi’s Story. Today’s game is an example of a game that tried to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D. It made use of 3D graphics for set pieces and backgrounds while relying on 2D animation and sprites for the characters. From the developer Treasure, and a pre-Square merger Enix, it’s Mischief Makers.
While traveling the galaxy, the Ultra-Intergalactic-Cybot-G Marina Liteyears, and her creator, Professor Theo, decide to visit Planet Clancer. While Marina is out scouting for possible danger, the Professor is kidnapped by the Evil Empire, who has targeted Clancer for conquest. As Marina sets out to rescue Theo, she discovers the planet in turmoil, with intergalactic gangsters terrorizing the natives and the Empire’s army laying waste to the countryside. To make things even worse, the galaxy’s mightiest warriors, the Beastectors, have fallen under the Empire’s control and have made Marina their target. Now it is up to her to rescue Theo, save Planet Clancer, and take down the Empire.
The game’s story is very simple, and like many older games really only serves as a framing device to move things along. However there is much more to the story than the premise. Most of the minor characters you encounter are used to great effect in later levels for tension or comedy. The whole game is fantastically humorous in a way that feels like an early nineties anime, with a lot of ridiculous action and speed lines galore. It all has great pacing and is very fun. Now this isn’t Shakespeare, and the comedy is often absurd, but it’s the kind of thing you can turn your brain off for and enjoy like an episode of Looney Tunes.
This game is a 2.5D side scroller. It plays like most classic platform games like Mario or Sonic, but makes use of the N64’s 3D capabilities to make the levels more dynamic, or to have scenery from the background come into play as an obstacle. This is also one of the few games in which you can only use the N64 D-Pad. I’ve always though the D-Pad was a little awkward to use on the N64 controller, but the game is responsive and plays rather smoothly.
In each level you must reach the goal, or complete some objective to continue. This is done through running jumping, or the main trick in this title, grabbing. Similar to Super Mario bros. 2, Marina’s main attacks come from grabbing items and throwing them at enemies, or by picking the enemies up and throwing them at each other. When moving around you can use Marina’s jet pack to boost for greater speed and longer jumps. Using the boost is kind of hard to get used to. You do it by either pushing the C buttons, or by double tapping the D-Pad. Tapping the pad is harder to do, but it does grant you more speed than the C buttons and that can be important for some of the later challenges, however it can make your jumps hard to control and leave you constantly jumping around just to reach a hole of platform.
Throughout the game you will find gems that have different uses depending on the color. Red gems are currency, and can be used to get a hint on how to beat a level or used to continue from a checkpoint upon death. Blue and Green gems refill your health. Marina has a pretty good-sized health bar, and can be filled three times over. When it empties it will immediately start from full if you have a spare, but if it completely goes you will have to use red gems, or go back to the stage select. Lastly, every stage has one hidden gold gem. These give you a large boost in health and are either hidden in the stage, or require you to fulfill some challenge, such as beating a boss without getting hit. Getting these gold gems is the only way to see the true ending, and if you don’t have enough, you will only be teased with a portion of the ending cutscene.
In terms of graphics I would have to compare this game to the Donkey Kong Country. Most of the assets are pre-rendered 3D models and backgrounds that have been digitized into sprites. On the one had, this can make things look a little shoddy, but the character animation is quite good and varied. The N64 provides very colorful environments, and many levels use simple 3D effect to make things more interesting from time to time. Most of the scenery you interact with is made up of blocks with the distinctive Clancer face. It’s a little weird, but it is something you stop noticing after a while. The N64 also allows for a lot of larger character sprites for the bosses. The music is very nicely done. It has a sort of techno feel, but uses a lot of nice bass lines that give it a good beat and feel. A lot of the tracks are catchy. There are also some well-used voice clips that give the characters and environment more personality.
This was a very enjoyable game. It is one I have loved since childhood, and even then made me pine for more advanced 2D games on the system. The game was not really pushing the envelope at the time, but I cannot imagine it working nearly as well in 3D. It probably could not have been as vibrant, or the characters as well animated. Treasure often put out nice little obscure games, like Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy on Sega Genesis. Mischief Makers was another hidden gem that has been sadly underappreciated. It was very entertaining to revisit and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan of classic 2D gaming.
Screen Captures from mobygames.com