Mischief Makers is a bit of a hidden gem from a company that’s reputable for putting out hidden gems. Originally released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 by Treasure, it was the company’s first effort on Nintendo’s 64-bit console. The game had a lot of charm, and although it was made by the company responsible for Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes, Ikaruga, and numerous other cult classics that have been adopted by the mainstream in recent years, Mischief Makers has fallen by the wayside as a forgotten Nintendo 64 classic.
The game focuses on a female cyborg known as Marina. Marina was created by the bumbling (And slightly lecherous) professor Theo, whom is always getting kidnapped by a mysterious Evil Empire. Marina and Theo are on vacation on the planet Clancer, which is populated by odd humanoid creatures that are also known as Clancers. These creatures all have extremely similar faces which are permanently affixed in a sort of agonized yet vacant expression whether they are happy, sad, or somewhere in between. Even the animals of this planet have that exact same face, from the giant bee in a volcano to a cat that challenges you to a hardcore game of dodgeball. These people are typically peaceful, but many have been persuaded to fight for the Evil Empire.
This is the situation that Marina and the professor find themselves in when their home is raided while Marina is away and the professor is kidnapped. After Marina returns home and finds her creator gone, she sets off on a quest to rescue him. Marina is not exactly built for combat, however, and is more suited for assisting Theo. But that doesn’t mean she can’t fight. She has built-in jets on her back and feet for impressive mobility; she can dash in almost any direction with a quick double-tap of the D-pad or by tapping a C-button. She can also grab, shake, and toss almost anything in the game, with most obstacles requiring you to make use of those three core mechanics to progress. You can grab a pot that, when you place other objects in it, mixes them together to create one better item. You can grab missiles, shake them to make them larger, and toss them back at enemies. You can even toss around the local Clancer population, although it may make them cry.
Stages are usually quite short, and the first two chapters (Out of five total) have barely any combat at all, opting to ease you in with some basic tutorial levels cleverly covered up by story elements. The tutorials don’t hold your hand in any way, allowing you to explore the capabilities of your character on your own, and there is a floating ball named Ms. Hint throughout the game that you can shake for a quick tip or two. As you progress towards the final levels the game starts to get more difficult, but it never becomes unmanageable. In fact it’s over all too quickly, with what seems like a rushed climax. I think the game would have benefited from at least one more chapter, but Treasure’s games always tend to leave you wanting more. If you do want more, however, after you beat the game you can replay all the stages attempting to get your times lower, as well as search each level for an elusive gold gem. These gold gems boost Marina’s lifebar a little each time you get one, and they do serve a sinister purpose. If you do not get an A ranking for time in each stage as well as collect all the gold gems, you can’t see the whole ending! This is a bit of a shoddy move on the developer’s part, but it does deter players from rushing the entire game, and keeps them coming back for more.
The bosses in this game deserve a mention as well. Treasure is renowned for their games’ ‘boss rush’ style gameplay, and although this game doesn’t throw bosses at you constantly the few bosses that are there are quite interesting. There’s a boxing lava dragon accompanied by his sorcerer papa, and the main villains that will be antagonizing you throughout the game are a team of three warriors known as the Beastector. These warriors each face you in their own chapters, with the wolf-like Lunar showing up in chapter 3, the militaristic ape Tarus in chapter 4, and the chivalrous and pompous Merco, a bird knight with a lance and shield. You fight each boss mano e mano in the first encounter, and then for the second battle they will fight you in their own personal vehicles, which all transform into beasts during the fight.
The battle against Tarus and his Sasquatch Beta is especially noteworthy, as it’s one of the first times you have to do anything complicated with the grab mechanics. The Sasquatch initially is a tank, which you can grab its’ turret and redirect the cannon into the air so he launches bombs at himself. After that, it becomes a humanoid ape. When it goes to kick you, you can grab its’ foot, use your jets to pull its’ legs from under it, then leap into the air and finally slam down, driving its’ head into the ground. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s really quite easy to pull off. Most of the encounters are more puzzles than anything, requiring you to think and predict enemy patterns rather than react quickly.
Mischief Makers also has some neat digitized voice samples. This was rare back in the day, and although voices were on better display in other Nintendo 64 games like Star Fox 64, it was still quite impressive. Most of the story is told through textboxes, but Professor Theo’s catchphrase “Help me Marinaaaaaaaa” is used to great effect after each chapter (Usually after he is tossed halfway across the world by Marina for trying to cop a feel) and the bosses all have their own lines before and after each battle. Marina’s not left out either, when she shakes something she goes “Shake shake shake” and if she is hurt by an enemy she cries out. This seems really quite simple in our modern society where studio-quality audio is just a click away, but in 1997 it was noteworthy indeed.
To conclude, Mischief Makers is a game you should try at least once. It’s not an expensive item, either, in today’s collector’s market there are some old NES games that go for $600, and many of the old hidden gems and popular titles will run you at LEAST 40-50 dollars. However at the time of this writing the N64 market hasn’t exploded yet so there are many great games for the system that can be acquired for under $20 including S&H; Mischief Makers included. If you have a free weekend coming up and an old N64 lying around the house, you won’t regret spending that time on this game.