FGC #058 Mischief Makers

Mischief!  Mischief!Mischief Makers is a game I enjoyed quite a bit back in ’98 (technically, the game was released in the Fall of 1997, which made it a Christmas gift in my household, so I suppose I did play it for a whole week in ’97). It was the first 2-D platforming/action game on the N64, which, despite being the genre that had defined console gaming up to that point, would continue to be a rarity for the next few generations. After a host of 3-D conversions of classic franchises (Mario 64, Mega Man Legends, Bubsy 3D), it was nice to have something simultaneously new and classic to satisfy my craving for some good ol’ run and jump adventures. All this means that when Random ROB chose this particular game, I was actually looking forward to revisiting this fondly remembered piece of my childhood (teenhood?) that I hadn’t touched for years.

So imagine my surprise when the game nearly made me vomit. And, to be clear, that isn’t some silly hyperbole, this was full on “I need to lie down on the couch… NO, not the good couch.” So what happened here? I blame this monstrosity:

All shiny and stupid

One side effect of the FGC that was unexpected (though, in retrospect, should have been obvious) is that I have been randomly bounding around every system for nearly sixty continuous games (and that doesn’t even include things like Final Fantasy entries [take your pick] that see me starting with a NES controller and gradually graduating to a Dualshock 4). As a result, I’m playing video games like they were never meant to be played, switching haphazardly from 8-bit adventures where two darknuts are going to cause some slowdown, to super hi-def entertainment experiences overflowing with ten thousand rioting monsters followed by a fifteen minute cutscene that could put Spielberg to shame. And then it’s back to a 16-bit game where the designers have hardly ironed out the kinks on this whole “jumping” thing.

At first, I admit, it was fairly disorienting, like traveling through time and expecting Winston Churchill to tell me where I can nab a decent Wi-Fi signal. I’ve always been a fan of the classics, but there’s a big difference between replaying Super Mario Bros., a game that defined a genre for generations, and Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings, a game that defined things that should not be. But, as the games have gone by, I’ve learned to adjust and, oddly, anticipate the individual quirks of particular systems. Playstation 1? No, you won’t be skipping (horribly dated) cutscenes today. Super Nintendo? The X button does something, but you never know what. Xbox 360? Get ready to sit through six minutes of “developed by” screens before the game starts, and then there’s a reminder to buy an online pass.

All rather pleasantBut the N64? I usually have to brace myself for the N64’s offerings, because that is just one ugly system, in more ways than one.

I could ask Random ROB to do the calculations on this one, but he’s been making some weird noises lately, so you’re stuck with my meager math skills. Assuming I’ve tagged correctly, it appears I’ve played four N64 games thus far during the challenge, so that’s a mere 7% of all games played. Of those games, I’d say Yoshi’s Story was the most aesthetically pleasing, which is no surprise, as I think it’s publically regarded as the most beautiful game on the system. The rest of the library, though? Woof. While I haven’t played either for the site (yet), even Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time both have severe visual issues. I hesitate to say there are problems with the “graphics” per se, because, wow, did you see all those polygons? 64 bits of visual power is just amazing, isn’t it? But then you look at Kirby 64: the Crystal Shards, and you have to wonder how a character that is just a pink ball can look so… wrong. The graphics are not bad, just… genuinely incorrect. Careful with that hairstyle, Link, you’ll poke an eye out.

Then there’s the controller. I’m never certain if my ancient N64 controller has broken or if a game just decided not to use that particular button or pad. We’ve got six face buttons, L & R, a start button, and that mysterious Z button around back. Everything worked in tandem wonderfully to gestalt up to Mario 64, and Ocarina of Time used the Z button so deftly, it became synonymous with 3-D combat for generations. But every other game? Nobody ever had any idea what to do with this thing, so sometimes those C buttons control the camera, sometimes they’re inert, and sometimes they’re the only way to cycle through your items, but you don’t get those items until later in the game, so good luck figuring that out. Poor, stubby analogue stick is the ideal control method for 90% of N64 games, thus making the familiar cross pad vestigial, but you’re not going anywhere in games where the Moving right alongreverse is true. And never the twain shall meet. A pile of buttons, a launch game that used them all brilliantly, and then no one has any clue how to utilize them for the rest of the generation.

To say something nice, I think the N64 had the best reset button across all consoles. So it’s not all bad.

Here’s Mischief Makers. Performing some cursory Wikipedia research, it appears this was a Treasure game made by a team that started designing the game before knowing N64’s capabilities, and, shockingly, it shows. I am increasingly convinced that this was not a 2-D “retro” game because someone decided that genre needed a revival on the N64, but because its producers had no idea how horribly that could go wrong on the fledgling system. There’s a lot of SNES DNA in this game, with rotating stages that would evoke cries of “Mode 7” a generation prior, and a variety of colorful enemies and spartan cutscenes that move the plot along with a few lines of text and a mostly static image or two. This is not a game that ever imagined itself going up against Final Fantasy 7 or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this is a game that, released at the right time on the right system, could have been the final triforce in the Donkey Kong Country / Yoshi’s Island SNES finale.

But, no, here Mischief Maker sits, making me sick from its N64 perch. Jump and grab, basically the A and B of any platformer, are all the controls this game needs, but we have to do something with those C-buttons, so they help you dash, circumventing the more satisfying and momentum-friendly cross stick double tap. L & R are implemented for progressing dialogue, of all things. Z is inert, along with the revered analogue stick. It’s not the end of the world, but the controls would be much better served emulating something like the contemporary Shovel Knight or Mega Man: just focus on two buttons, and emphasize that jump and grab/shake are the sacred moves of this world. And then we’ve got stages with titles like BARF“Vertigo” and “Seasick Climb” that seem to indicate those jackanapes at Treasure knew exactly what they were doing. “Hey, the N64 can push some really nauseating graphics. Let’s build some stages around that!” I just took it in stride when I was younger, but now I’m downright bitter that this game indulges in all the N64’s worst excesses (well, not all of them, at least my save file isn’t tied to a controller pak).

So now my previously fond memories of a game from my youth have been poisoned by the venom of its base system. Thanks a lot, ROB, now I have PTSD from a console. Stupid robot.

FGC #58 Mischief Makers

  • System: N64. Did you catch that?
  • Number of Players: Just one. Marina doesn’t get her own Luigi.
  • Don’t watch anime: I will, shamefully, note that, like Lunar, some of my childhood affection for this game may be based on its indulgences in anime tropes and how the “plot” of the game deliberately shapes itself like a random shonen series. Haha, that creepy grandpa, always trying to molest the female protagonist. … Why is that a trope, again? He gropes what we’re all thinking? Ugh.
  • Master Shake: I know I spent the majority of the article whining about the game, but I do really enjoy this game when it’s not making me queasy. The grab/shake mechanics feel like the kind of thing that really deserved a Mega Man 2: this is the proof of concept, the sequel could have ironed out the bugs (throw-jumping across balls never felt right), emphasized the excellent (manically tossing around bot-creatures is never wrong), and created something special. Alas, tis a Treasure game, so why revisit a perfectly good concept when you can create an entirely new universe?
  • Right in the kisserN64 Blues: Since this article descended into complaining about the system anyway, may as well address something that occurred to me while I was writing this: I don’t have a favorite N64 game. I mean, it’s not that I don’t relish any N64 games, but I feel like every game I enjoyed on this system has a better version elsewhere, whether it be remake (Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64) or iterative (later Mario Karts, Smash Bros.), on another system. Once I limit it to the games that are truly unique to the system, I’m left with the likes of Blast Corps, Mischief Makers, or Goemon being my favorites for the system, and those kind of occupy the space in my head of “neat, but not best”. Oh well.
  • What about Goldeneye? Shut your fool mouth.
  • Paper Mario? Oh, that’s a good one. Let’s go with that.
  • Did you know? 1997 was also the year Treasure released Silhouette Mirage for the Sega Saturn in Japan. I could save this fun tidbit for its inevitable FGC entry, but I do love to mention that this game was pretty bad for 1997, and it made it over to the USA on the Playstation in 2000 AD thanks to none other than Working Designs. A year after Chrono Cross, we got a game for the PSX that played like something that came over on the last chopper out of the fall of Sega Genesis. Never forget terrible games you were bullied into buying by publisher pedigree.
  • Would I play again? I’d have to take some pills or something, but yes. I only regret playing this game again in the capacity that my memories are now sullied, but beyond that, yes, it is a good game, and I’ll probably revisit it in the near future to dust off the save file I 40% completed for this article. Doesn’t mean I’d say no to a Virtual Console release, though.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fight 2. Hey, not bad. I expected something terrible after badmouthing you for half the article, you ornery robot, but this should be a fun one to play. Mike Haggar hits the campaign trail to run for mayor… of the world! Please look forward to it!

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