It’s common knowledge for most gamers that Mario has been in countless games over the years, in which he has taken on a bevy of different roles and occupations. From race-car driver to boxing referee, Mario has done it all. Curiously enough, just about the only job Mario hasn’t performed in a video game is that of a plumber, but that’s completely beside the point. Wrecking Crew, the latest 3DS Virtual Console release, has Mario donning his hardhat for a bit of construction, or, more accurately, destruction.
Originally released as a launch title for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Wrecking Crew is an early entry is what is now known as the puzzle platform genre. Each stage takes place in a vertically scrolling arena filled with breakable walls and ladders. Your goal is to destroy all of the breakable objects with your giant hammer while avoiding enemy characters and frantic fireballs. What sets this one apart as a puzzle game rather than a straight platformer is your inability to jump. Because of this, you’ll have to pay close attention to the stage and figure out the safest path for Mario to travel, without blocking yourself off from reaching a particular platform by accidentally destroying a ladder that you may need to climb.
While the concept may be simple, this is definitely not a puzzle game for the faint of heart. Early levels tend to be fun and light-hearted, but it quickly takes a nasty turn with a difficulty curve that isn’t to be scoffed at. Luckily, you can choose which stage you would like to start at from the menu screen, so losing all of your lives on a particularly difficult level does not necessarily mean starting the whole game over. There are 100 different stages to complete, with bonus stages staggered between, so being able to choose your starting level is almost necessary for anyone hoping to experience them all.
With simple gameplay comes a simple control scheme. The 3DS D-Pad or Circle Pad is used to move Mario around, while pressing either A or B will cause him to swing a crushing blow with his hammer. As mentioned before, you don’t even have the ability to jump, so the controls remain simple, and they’re responsive. There is also a two-player mode in which a second player takes on the role of Luigi, but the gameplay involves trading the 3DS off to player 2 once the first player’s turn is over rather than sharing a screen, much like Super Mario Bros. Also like the aforementioned 3DS VC game featuring the pair of plumbers is the necessity to hold L and R while pressing Y to switch to the second player’s controls. This requirement to swap controllers is a strange inclusion, but necessary for anyone craving multiplayer action.
One of the more fascinating things about this game is that it features an additional play mode titled “Design,” which is essentially an archaic level editor. While level editors are becoming more common in modern games, with an emphasis on community sharing, there aren’t too many games from the NES era that allowed you to customize your own stages. Design mode allows you to create a short campaign of four customized stages that you can then save and play whenever you’d like. Creating stages is easy as it only involves moving around the stage area in a grid pattern and pressing either A or B to cycle through and place objects, but it gets the job done. While this definitely isn’t the main selling point, it is a good way to spend some extra time on the title once you’ve exhausted the campaign.
As with many early NES games, Wrecking Crew doesn't have the most impressive artwork to look at, but the pixel sprites and environments get the job done. The soundtrack is satisfyingly 8-bit, and many players will be surprised at how familiar the music may be, with certain elements making appearances in the Super Smash Bros. series. Like the graphics, the soundtrack is not the most remarkable in gaming history, but iconic nonetheless.
Wrecking Crew is a solid puzzle platforming game that manages to be just as entertaining on the 3DS today as it was on the NES nearly 30 years ago. While the multiplayer and design modes may be simplistic and slightly flawed, they still add a bit of variety and replayability to an otherwise straightforward game. With its iconic music and lasting appeal in terms of gameplay, fans of the genre won’t want to miss out on this piece of gaming history.