Mischief Makers

Mischief Makers is a testament to how sheer creativity on its own simply does not cut it; the grabbing movement it is centered around is a brilliant tool that opens numerous doors, but with such undercooked levels, its value is mostly lost

Mischief Makers is a work made up of quite a few unusual pieces, to the point that calling it a very odd game is probably the best approach to summarize it neatly. And, in a way, all of that strangeness starts with how it is a sidecrolling platformer released for the Nintendo 64. Sure, it was not the sole effort of that kind to hit the console, as the existence of Yoshi’s Story proves that Nintendo itself took a shot at bringing a 2-D adventure to the system whose major selling point was being able to produce tridimensional games with ease. Yet, within a library of more than two hundred games, the fact it is hard to remember a title other than these two that decided to head down that path goes to show being a sidescrolling quest was in itself rather weird.

Published in 1997, Mischief Makers was a platformer of classic inspirations in a time when all of the industry was too in love with 3-D spaces to even consider sidescrollers were an alternative. However, whatever strange feelings emerge out of the realization one is playing a 2-D platformer for the Nintendo 64 are completely dwarfed by pretty much everything else the game presents. Created by Treasure, it was a deliberate attempt by developers to step away from the types of titles they had produced in the past, which were mostly action or shoot ‘em up affairs. And since the company itself had been formed by people who had quit Konami looking for the chance to take on riskier projects that offered more freedom, Mischief Makers seems extremely embedded with a spirit of trying to think out of the box and without too many boundaries.

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Despite that wild heart, Mischief Makers gets going via a pretty standard storyline. Marina is a robot created by the absent-minded Professor Theo, simultaneously working as his assistant, bodyguard, and maid. One day the duo is visiting Clancer Planet, and Marina goes out to scout the location. While she does so, however, Theo is kidnapped by a group of locals serving the Evil Empire. Trying to track them down, the hero soon arrives at a village where she learns more about the place’s recent troubles: as it turns out, inhabitants of the planet are very friendly by nature; sadly, this characteristic has been used by the bad guys to manipulate many of them into helping their cause. Furthermore, she discovers this mysterious Evil Empire has plans to not only control Clancer Planet, but also the universe itself. Not knowing how taking away Professor Theo ties into those goals, but pretty determined to rescue him and help the locals nonetheless, Marina sets out.

One of the unique details of Mischief Makers is that while most sidescrolling platformers drop their storyline after those initial moments and only go back to it a couple of times when the adventure’s climax is nearby, this Nintendo 64 oddity goes the other way around. As players advance through the stages, there will be plenty of moments when the plot will be developed, be it by small cutscenes either before or after the levels or by characters found in the courses themselves, since – in another weird turn for a title of the genre – many stages have locals with whom Marina can talk.

The problem is that when focus is put on a script, it needs to have plenty of positive qualities to justify that attention. Sadly, with Mischief Makers, that is simply not the case. The commonplace start of the quest does not really build into a notable plot as it goes along; instead, it is a pretty forgettable tale with one or two turns that seem to pop in and out so randomly that it feels they were added as padding. It is worth pointing out, though, that this aspect of the game is not completely dull, since a couple of its parts stand out: namely, the good cast of villains; and the ludicrous cartoonish tone of the whole package, which almost turns its nonsense absurdity into a charm.

Mischief Makers is, essentially, a wild cartoon mixed with extreme touches of Japanese humor and quirks. Besides being very much present in its storyline, that mixture is also blatantly visible in its gameplay, which is as wacky as it could possibly be. As far as moves go, Marina carries quite an arsenal of them. With the thrusters on her feet, which are activated by tapping any direction on the D-pad (an often forgotten part of the Nintendo 64 controller that Mischief Makers wisely uses as a sidescroller), she performs a small dash, and this can be used in multiple ways.

If sideways dashes are done repeatedly in the air, the character can effectively glide for a brief period of time. Meanwhile, when activated, the upwards boost of her thrusters makes Marina’s jumps get quite a bit of extra height. Finally, it is also possible to perform a forward slide that, when chained straight into a jump, allows that movement to gain a lot of horizontal extension. The most important of all techniques the protagonist has, however, is her grab, which is by all means the defining mechanic of Mischief Makers.

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Since she does not really have any attacks, it is through grabbing that Marina does damage to enemies, as once they are in her grasp they can be thrown into any direction. That action, though, is far more than an offensive maneuver, and by using it players will be able to: dig for objects buried in highlighted spots; carry items around the level; hold onto vines and weird floating balls that can catapult Marina higher into the air; block pretty much all projectile attacks – including laser beams – and then use these against the enemies themselves; dismantle parts of various large robots and machines, which are common types of foes in Clancer Planet; and, finally, shake pretty much anything that is grabbed for a multitude of effects.

The flexibility grabbing brings to Mischief Makers is quite remarkable, as it allows players to freely interact with the world in wild ways. A few of the bosses can be grabbed endlessly, which does not exactly make for tough battles but is at least very funny. If a bad guy has a machine gun or a rocket launcher, getting a hold of it will allow Marina to blast through hordes of enemies as if they were made of paper. Anything can be employed as a damaging projectile if thrown, even the innocent NPCs that hang around the levels. And since shaking whatever it is the protagonist has in her hands is sure to make something happen, even if it is only the appearance of a healing gem, that characteristic will have many players experimenting with the hilarious motion.

Such magnitude of variety could be a major strength for Mischief Makers; and in a way it kind of is. But, in general, it feels like the project is overwhelmed by its own cleverness, as if it were biting more than it can chew. With so many ideas lying around, the game has trouble organizing them and exploring its mechanics in a way that is both natural, fulfilling, and clear. Case in point, Marina’s various thruster-related jumping techniques are explained to players by NPCs in one of the first stages and then they are tested via one obstacle. But as abruptly as they are introduced, they are dropped completely, and many of them are not necessary until very specific points much later into the quest; and when those moments come, it is likely many will have forgotten how to use them.

In a regular relatively well-designed platformer, those moves would have been introduced in full-fledged levels that explore each one of them in multiple ways, allowing players to grasp them completely. Furthermore, rather than being dropped, they would subsequently be employed punctually through the adventure. Mischief Makers never does that, be it for the jumping, for the grabbing, or for the shaking, leading not only to a whole lot of confusion, but also to an experience that feels undercooked, which is a shame considering the controls are solid.

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This theme of ideas coming and going too suddenly is also very visible in the stages themselves. Mischief Makers has more than fifty of them, including bosses and mini-bosses, and their variety is astounding. Through her journey, Marina will take on mazes of warp stars, participate in a sports competition, go through beat ‘em up levels, tackle a course of wild west inspiration while carrying a gun, surf a missile, ride an ostrich, pilot an unbeatable robot made of blocks, find lost children, capture ghosts, ride a tricycle over lava, fall down a shaft endlessly, run away from a boulder, grab onto floating balls that move on rails as if they were the trains of a roller coaster, and far more.

Nowhere is the desire for freedom that paved the way to Mischief Makers more visible than in the absurdly amusing amount of ideas packed into its stages. And in this variety, players can also see a reflection of the game’s ridiculous tone, since the work clearly does not care whether or not a concept will look stupid or out of place. Its guiding philosophy seems to be: as long as it has the potential to be fun, it should be included. Ideally, this is what one wants out of a platformer; that is, a game that brings surprising turns with every new level, picking up a fresh type of obstacle, exploring it thoroughly, and then moving forward to a different idea. Unfortunately, Mischief Makers completely forgets the second part of that perfect progression, since it does not develop the concept of most of its stages to a satisfying degree.

There are levels so short they end before gaining any steam whatsoever. There are those that are so thin in terms of content they feel more like bonus segments. And there are some that come off like they were quickly put together. These facts, compounded with the game’s vast number of mechanics and its general difficulty in explaining to players how they work, create plenty of rather baffling situations where after spending some good time figuring out what to do, players will see the stage come to a close right after the eureka moment, because almost none of them have significant substance.

To a point, one could argue this is part of the careless hyperactive spirit of Mischief Makers. But the bottom line is that weirdness is not so great when part of it stems from misguided design. This facet is also clearly seen in the game’s visual department. The combination of pre-rendered 3-D backgrounds that recall Donkey Kong Country with the polygonal models of the characters could generate a unique quirky look, but the landscape is often ugly and much closer in quality to what one would expect out of a passable Super Nintendo effort; at the same time, the characters are so blurry that whatever details their designs posses are completely obscured. When compared to the backgrounds and models of a sidescrolling contemporary like Yoshi’s Story, the difference is brutal.

The worst offenders when it comes to visual horror and weirdness, however, are the blocks present through much of the quest. It might sound strange to criticize a game due to the design of its blocks, but Mischief Makers is an exception because the folks of Clancer Planet seem obsessed with these shapes. Like the place’s inhabitants, the blocks have faces with holes for eyes and mouth, and if their haunting expressionless look is not enough to freak someone out, their omnipresence is sure to do so. They are used to make houses, platforms, mazes, obstacles, and any kind of structure. Not only do they reveal a high degree of either lack of funds or laziness in the graphics department, since everything is made with them, but they also effectively make Mischief Makers look uglier than it would have been otherwise.

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Ultimately, it is a shame Mischief Makers is so problematic in so many essential points, because it contains some good traits. Differently from its graphics, its soundtrack is not bad. After much confusion, the later half of the game does gain some traction despite the continuing presence of thin levels. With the exception of the bosses that can be beaten down mercilessly, the game does have some pretty awesome battles against the big bad guys, and a few even go on to use 3-D depth to their advantage. Finally, even though the quest is easy and short (clocking in at six hours or less), there is some replay value to be found both in trying to get A ranks in all stages by speed-running as well as in collecting the hidden golden gem that is located in each of them.

There is charm in the hyperactive weirdness of Mischief Makers, a title that is in genre alone already quite odd due to how it is a sidescrolling platformer released for the Nintendo 64. Sadly, the game seems overpowered by the joy it finds in its freedom. Although an undeniably original effort with more ideas than one can count, it is completely unable to stop and plan how to introduce them to players in an appropriate manner, leading to a good deal of confusion. Worse yet, even if it contains the variety all adventures should aim for, it fails in developing nearly all of its mechanics to a remarkable degree, leaving its stages as sketches of what could have been.

Mischief Makers is a testament to how sheer creativity on its own simply does not cut it. The grabbing movement it is centered around is a brilliant tool that opens numerous doors, but with such undercooked levels, the value of that ability and a few others is mostly lost. In the end, this is clearly a product put together by folks who had long been looking for the freedom to try concepts that were purely fun, and they sure got it; however, its inability to focus on one mechanic for more than a couple of minutes makes it feel like a little bit of restraint would have done Mischief Makers a lot of good.

FINAL SCORE: 5 – AVERAGE

2 thoughts on “Mischief Makers

  1. I have not played this game, although I was slightly interested in it. When I was younger, I asked for Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, but my parents suggested Mischief Makers because it seemed like a more child-friendly game. Except for the multiplayer, I did not play Turok 2 much, so I was interested to read if Mischief Mackers would have been a more enjoyable game. The game did seem unusual, with the incorporation of 2-D side scrolling mechanics and a gameplay that used the D-pad. The various gameplay methods sounded interesting, although it did seem irritating that they were underused. The blocks did seem unsettling, especially if they were present throughout the game.
    I was also interested by the views on 2-D side scrolling games released on the Nintendo 64. There did seem to be very few of these games released on that console and I agreed with the point that these games usually presented with very little story. I was also reminded of the Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon games that were released on the Nintendo 64, which also presented with wacky humour. The first game used 3-dimensional environments, which seemed to demonstrate the graphical capabilities of the console, while the sequel mainly used 2-D side scrolling mechanics. I thought this was an interesting idea considering the discussion in the article.
    What were the enjoyable themes used for the stages? What happened when the player shaked things? Was there a lot of humour in the game?

    1. Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful comment!

      Yeah, the creepy and ugly blocks are everywhere! And your parents were right, I assume a child would have a lot more fun with Mischief Makers than with Turok 2. I think I played the first one back during the Nintendo 64 days and it did not make much of an impression on me.

      The themes are pretty varied. I am assuming you are talking abou the scenarios. There are villages, green fields, volcanoes, caves, military facilities, and a few others. It matches the wildness of the game.

      The shaking mechanic is very flexibles. There are items that transform, enemies / projectiles that can be throw, blocks you can latch onto, etc. It’s pretty impressive.

      I wouldn’t say there was humor to the point it made me laugh, but Mischief Makers is pretty light-hearted in its quirkiness. Maybe there are some people out there who find its tone funny, but I didn’t. It is certainly charming, though.

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