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Mischief Makers Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Treasure
Platform - N64
Type - Adventure/Platform
Score - 7/10

Mischief Makers is almost a throwback to an older style of video game. After more than a year since the launch of the Nintendo 64, the first 2D sidescroller has appeared. In Mischief Makers, you take on the role of Marina, the Ultra Intergalactic Cybot G, out to traverse tricky platforms, defeat evil bosses, and generally save the day. The question is: Given the multitude of 2D sidescrollers on previous systems, what more is there to do?

The answer is grab things. Previous games have been built around shooting or punching or jumping. Mischief Makers is based on grabbing things. Grab objects and have them carry you. Grab other characters and get things from them. Grab enemies' weapons and use their weapons to defeat them. The other major action is shaking. After you've grabbed something, you can shake it to see what comes out. Characters tend to drop objects, while Clanballs and other objects will move or cause things to appear. And when you're done with something, you can throw it away. This extends to weapons, which can be thrown at other targets.

Some plot is probably in order. While the plot can be somewhat complex, on the simplest level, Marina is the robotic maid of Professor Theo, a robotics genius. Prof. Theo's a great guy, except that he regularly gets kidnapped, and Marina responds to his cry of "Help me, Marina!" by grabbing, shaking, and throwing everything in her path. Prof. Theo and Marina have traveled to the planet Clancer for purposes that aren't entirely clear. What is clear is that the planet is ruled by an evil empire, and a group of Clancers quickly shows up to kidnap Prof. Theo. Marina sets off in hot pursuit, and rapidly encounters hordes of Clancers. Some are friendly, while others are enemies. Marina can learn valuable things by talking to some of them, and she can get useful items by shaking nearly all of them. From the Clancers, she will learn about Clanballs, Clanpots, and Clanbombs, each of which she needs to rescue Professor Theo.

The game is broken up into five worlds of about ten levels each. Each world has a different emphasis, requiring varying approaches. The first world is basically an introduction. You encounter some major characters, including Calina, who impersonates Marina to create some havoc, and Teran, a boy with amazing powers. The game also introduces the controls, a necessary step because of their complexity. Marina's moves don't stop at grabbing, shaking, and throwing. She also jumps, has a rocket that can boost her speed, and can use her moves in combinations to achieve special effects.

The second world is a fairly typical platform adventure, with lots of grabbing, jumping, running, and defeating bad guys. The third world gets wacky. Marina gets involved in an athletic competition. I have no idea what hurdles or the long jump is doing in a game like this. But it's in there anyway. This game is weird. I mean really strange. The Clancers look funny, grabbing, shaking, and throwing things is an unusual basis for a sidescroller, and Marina does all sorts of things I would never expect to see in this type of a video game. The athletic competition is just the tip of the iceberg.

The game has a heavy Japanese anime influence. The artwork in the intro seems based on the Sailor Moon series, and various other elements, including the plot, music, humor, and characters have a strong Japanese feel. Anime fans are probably thrilled to hear this, but some people may have objections to the style.

Mischief Makers extends gameplay by giving out letter grades for each level and hiding a yellow diamond on each level. The object most typically given out when Marina shakes something is a diamond. Blue and green diamonds increase her health, while red diamonds can be traded in for extra lives or hints. But there's exactly one yellow diamond on each level, and collecting them is important for the end of the game. The game also grades your performance, based on how long it takes you to complete each level. The first time through, when you're floundering around and trying to figure out how to solve various puzzles, it'll take a while and you'll probably end up with a poor grade, but with some practice, you can cruise through each level and earn straight A's.

I'm not sure how much you can reasonably expect graphically from a 2D game. The environment is sometimes 3D, while all action is restricted to a single plane, and the game sports some cool effects. Rotating the screen was pulled off on the Super Nintendo, but it never looked as good as it does here, and it never zoomed in and out while it was rotating. All in all, the game is pretty. The characters are well animated, the backgrounds look good, and there are some impressive effects. It's not like you've never seen what this game does before, but you may never have seen it done this well.

The sound is pretty cool. The music is sounds very Japanese, which may not be your cup of tea, but it's well done. The sound effects are good, and there's a minimal amount of voice that adds to the game. Prof. Theo's cry of "Help me, Marina!" inspires you to keep going, while Marina's weak "Game Over" when you choose not to continue makes you feel guilty about abandoning her. Most of the conversation in this game is text, and it would have been cool if more of that could have been spoken, since there's an awful lot to read, especially on the early levels.

The control takes a while to get used to, but it works well. Super Mario 64 did a great job of integrating learning the controls into playing the game, and it would have improved Mischief Makers if it did that better. Some levels feel like teaching levels rather than playing levels, and the start of the game is slow as a result. And the game expects you to learn too much at once. I didn't start to get a handle on things until partway through the second world, when some key moves finally clicked. Another problem is that because of the control combinations, sometimes unexpected moves pop out. Occasionally I'd tap the controller to move Marina over a step, and then realize she needed to move a bit further and tap it again. Unfortunately, a double tap is interpreted as a turbo, usually resulting in some sort of unpleasant result. Once you get it down, though, grabbing and shaking becomes a lot of fun.

Overall, Mischief Makers is a very fun game that will appeal to fans of either 2D games or anime. The mechanics of grabbing and shaking guarantees that you won't feel that you've played this game before, and is a contributing factor in making this possibly the weirdest game I've ever played. It doesn't really break new ground, but once you learn the controls, it's too fun for that to matter.