Mischief Makers is a mostly 2-D side-scrolling platform video game developed by Treasure for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on June 27, 1997, North America on October 1, 1997, and Europe and Australia on January 15, 1998. The game was published by Enix in Japan and Nintendo in North America and Europe. This is the first 2-D side-scrolling game for the N64 and Treasure's first title for a Nintendo platform. Previously, Treasure worked on such games as Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy for the Sega Genesis, both of which are considered to be some of the best action games ever made. Development for Mischief Makers began in the middle of 1995, and during the time, Treasure had little knowledge of the N64's final technical specifications and features. According to Treasure's CEO, Masato Maegawa, the N64 was harder to develop for than even the Sega Saturn. Possibly due to the popularity of 3-D at the time, Mischief Makers wasn't too well received upon its initial release. However, people have warmed up to the game over time, and it now has a stout cult following. That's a good thing, because the game rocks.
In the sci-fi universe of Mischief Makers, there lived a scientist named Professor Theo and his robotic personal assistant, Marina Liteyears. Marina was designed to have the body of a bodaciously attractive young woman, and she also has super strength, of course. Theo, on the other hand, is a perverted old man who constantly attempts to ogle his beautiful creation. Together, the two travel throughout outer space aboard their spaceship. One day, they land on a planet called Clancer, not to be confused with cancer. This planet is inhabited by a strange alien race aptly known as the Clancers, who all have faces that resemble Japanese Haniwa statues. Shortly after arriving on Clancer, Theo is kidnapped by a group of Clancers that claim to serve a mysterious empire. Now, Marina must go on an adventure across Planet Cancer to confront the evil empire and rescue Theo. The game's story is a total reversal of the standard damsel in distress trope, possibly being a playful jab at the Super Mario series. It's a silly plot that doesn't take itself seriously, with tons of comical gags and absurd, surreal humor. The over the top intro sets the tone for the whole game.
Separating it from the vast majority of N64 games, Mischief Makers mostly sticks to a sprite based 2-D graphical style, though it does occasionally dabble in some minor 3-D effects. Some like to refer to this as 2.5-D. The sprites are of the pre-rendered variety, reminiscent of the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Many bosses and some enemies are constructed out of multi-jointed sprites, similar to Treasure's previous games on the Sega Genesis, except it's more impressive here due to the N64's better hardware. The camera will sometimes zoom out like a fighting game to show off the whole playing field, lending certain action packed sections a cinematic feel that further heightens the inherent intensity. On the audio end of the technological spectrum, the music is typical Treasure goodness, and there are lots of funny voice clips. One of the best voice acted lines is when Theo gets kidnapped, as he heartily shouts "HELP ME MARINA!!!" You'll be hearing this line often, because the guy gets kidnapped more than Princess Peach from the Mario games. Mischief Makers exudes charm, both in the visual and sound department.
Unlike most N64 games, Mischief Makers uses the d-pad instead of the analog stick for movement. This is good, because controlling side-scrolling platformers with the inaccuracy of an analog stick is sloppy, as can be seen in Yoshi's Story. Jumping is handled by the A button, and the C buttons can be used to activate thrusters on Marina's body to propel herself in any of the four directions for a short distance. She can't fly with the thrusters, but she can briefly hover and extend the length of her jumps using them. The real focus of the game is Marina's ability to grab just about anything with the B button. A similar system existed in Gunstar Heroes, but the mechanic has been greatly expanded upon in Mischief Makers. Marina has no way to directly attack her opponents, but she can grab and throw them at other enemies to inflict damage. She's also able to grab projectiles right out of the air and throw them back at her opposition, like missiles, bombs, boomerangs, and almost anything else that's tossed her way. This genius mechanic leads to many innovative scenarios, plus the act of grabbing and throwing stuff feels so satisfying.
Another central mechanic in Mischief Makers is being able to shake stuff. While Marina is holding something in her hands, you can press the down C button to make her shake the object vigorously. During a particularly good shake, Marina's talented voice actress will gleefully say "shake shake!" This may produce various effects depending on what's being shaken. Shaking missiles will cause them to grow in size, whereas shaking enemies might make them drop gems or other helpful goodies. The most creative use of this feature is the Clanpot. With the Clanpot, you can put items inside it and then shake it to mix those items together, often creating new concoctions. The combined items will typically be better than their individual parts, like how two useless flowers can somehow be mixed together to form a deadly ninja star. Conceptually inventive and pleasurable to pull off, shaking things has never been more fun than in Mischief Makers.
There are 5 worlds with a combined 52 stages, and they're all brimming with action and creativity. Stages are often short, but they've got a good bit of variety to them. An average stage will consist of Marina violently beating through hordes of enemies as she makes her way to the goal star at the end, but some are totally different. There's a stage that has Marina riding on the back of a missile, necessitating her to carefully shift her weight around to tilt the missile so that it flies safely through narrow passages. If the missile comes into contact with anything, it'll explode and you'll have to try again. Some stages will focus more on platforming, like this one where you have to grab onto strange, disembodied faces and ride them along the tracks, jumping from face to face when the moment is right. Other stages feature town sections filled with friendly Clancers Marina can speak with, allowing you take a break from the action. There's even a portion of the game that revolves around a competition featuring track and field events like long jumps and 100 meter dashes; oddly, basic math is included, too. As a result of all that, every part of this game feels distinct.
Treasure's main claim to fame is their almost artisanal ability to create spectacular boss battles, and Mischief Makers is a perfect testament to that. Every boss fight in this game is downright poetic in design. The very first boss is a brilliant masterpiece. It's a giant lizard monster that will try to punch Marina from the background, all the while its reptilian sorcerer master will float around the arena, healing it when its health is low. You have to grab the fists of the large lizard as it attempts to punch you and then knock them at the sorcerer, eventually taking him out. Once the sorcerer is out of the picture, you can then knock the colossal lizard's fists right back at him to finish the fight. Another interesting boss battle has Marina riding atop a tiny cat as missiles are being shot at her by a lunatic on a motorcycle. Beating this boss requires you to catch one of his missiles, make it bigger through the art of shaking, and then toss it back. The bosses in this game are fantastic enough to get your adrenaline going, making you feel truly alive.
An optional endeavor you can optionally partake in is the collection of yellow gems. There is one yellow gem to be found in every single stage of the game. Yellow gems are obtained in many different ways. Sometimes they're hidden in secret places; other times, you'll have to complete a special task to get them. For instance, beating the 100 meter dash in less than 11 seconds will get you a yellow gem. These special tasks generally aren't communicated to the player, so lots of experimentation is required. Unfortunately, some are simply too vague to find without a guide. It's also possible to get yellow gems from bosses, usually through beating them without taking any damage, but you'll occasionally have to do something special to them, like shake their bodies. As for the reward for getting them, you get to see more of the game's ending the more yellow gems you have. Collecting yellow gems adds a generous amount of replay value to the game, which helps improve the game's rather short length. However, many of the yellow gems are frustrating to get, so this is only recommended for the truly determined.
Creative, funny, and intense, Mischief Makers is a stupendous game that didn't deserve the bad wrap it got upon its initial release. The stages are varied and fun, the bosses are excellent, and the game overall exhibits marvelous craftsmanship. Also, because Mischief Makers mostly sticks to decent 2-D visuals, it has aged much better graphically than most other N64 games. Really, the only slightly bad thing about this game is that it's kind of short, but that shouldn't matter given the sheer quality that's on display here. The people at Treasure truly are a master at their craft, and this game is proof of that.
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