With a US release in 1997 Mischief Makers, or Go Go!! Trouble Makers in Japan, was not only an early example of a N64 centric side-scrolling 2D platformer, it also successfully made its mark in gaming history by being the first Treasure game to land on a Nintendo platform. However, it would be shallow to describe Mischief Makers as a simple Treasure-developed 2D platformer: whilst a great amount of coverage is given to Treasure’s involvement, there is more to its development background and its gameplay than pigeonholing it to one genre.
Mischief Makers was a collaboration, an awesome partnership between Treasure and Enix before its merger with Square. It is a game packed with varied gameplay, and though it may be a platformer at its heart its design has numerous instances of action and puzzle elements too.
Mischief Makers is a single player game, with a story which transports the player to the Planet Clancer, thrown into turmoil and on the brink of civil war, a situation brought about by the evil intentions of its Emperor and his Imperial forces. The Emperor is obsessed by a visitor to Clancer, a supposed genius in robotics, called Professor Theo. He has gone as far to brainwash a large number of local Clancer people and sent them to kidnap Theo, but he has underestimated the main character, the Ultra-InterGalactic-Cybot G, Marina Liteyears. Under the player's control Marina will do everything in her power to rescue Theo, grabbing, shaking and throwing anyone and anything standing between her and her mission.
The game takes Marina through 52 playable stages in total and five separate areas: Planet Clancer, Migen's Shrine, Mt. Snow, Aster's Lair and the Imperial HQ. These are all represented on a 'stage select' map, which serves to give far greater replay access to each level compared to that of N64 Yoshi's Story. For example, the second level in the first area is called 'Meet Calina!!', which is designated a hyphenated number of 1-2. Calina is a lip pouting Clancer who sets out to be a clone of Marina. This doppelganger plays a key role in events later on in the story and adds to the hilarity. Her fraudulent status, as Miracle-Outer-Galactic-Android Z, ranks alongside GCN Super Mario Sunshine's Shadow Mario as another humorous example of a video game character impersonator.
However, whilst gamers may initially delight in the fun lavished on this game’s characterisation, their first impressions of its control system may not be so endearing. Treasure/Enix created a control system that is the antithesis of a friendly, approachable and intuitive platformer. It uses almost all the buttons on the N64 pad, is completely D-Pad oriented, with subtle intricacies and complexities which the developers force the player to become proficient with to be able to progress, rewarding persistent players with an inventive and unique control system.
The gameplay revolves around grabbing, shaking and throwing, whether it is an enemy, a missile, a round floating Clanball platform, or a hidden warp star gate. Experimentation is part of the fun in exploiting the controls: an inaccessible narrow gap may be navigated, through the use of a roll manoeuvre. Marina is encouraged to shake everything within her grasp to discover new play methods: shaking a machine gun or a missile pod accomplishes three-way fire and the ability to launch homing missiles.
Whilst throwing enemies may feel like a natural evolution of Gunstar Heroes, grabbing hold of Clanballs to leap to a greater height is not instinctive at first. The game's links to Treasure have also ensured that this game is an explosive boss fest: whilst the mid-level boss's gameplay sections are unremarkable, their pun-based titles are still memorable. It is not hard to guess what type of level is home to Flambéé, Chilly Dog, Toadly Raw and Moley Cow. These characters also stand out through their pre-rendered 3D modelling, an effect which appears to be similar to Donkey Kong Country’s 'Advanced Computer Modelling' technique.
The actual end of area bosses are superb and sit alongside Treasure’s finest. The 'Migen Brawl!!' (2-11) is an early highlight: any gamer with a brother who liked to play a game of "stop hitting yourself" with them, will know exactly how to thwart that boss. Mischief Makers' true highlight is the transforming boss triumvirate of Cerberus Alpha (Lunar), Sasquatch Beta (Tarus) and Phoenix Gamma (Merco). Marina faces each separately and confronting each one of these Beastectors and beating their combination of mecha vehicles becomes a multi-tiered battle banquet. It would be unfair to reveal too much about these scraps, especially the final boss battle, except to state that if you enjoyed battling Gunstar Heroes’ Seven Force, or if you were a fan of Transformers or Power Rangers as a kid, then you are going to love these encounters.
Mischief Makers is overloaded with variety and introduces a new gameplay mechanic around every turn. The player will be scratching their head to a mind-bending 'Snowstorm Maze' or 'Aster’s Maze!' puzzle level one moment and be outrunning a hot rush of lava or escaping a tumbling, rolling rock in the next. Not many developers build into their game a completely fresh character with his own dedicated move set for players to control, and then only utilise all of their design work for two extremely brief levels. That is exactly what happens in Mischief Makers, when you take fleeting control of Teran instead of Marina.
This variety extends to the visuals and audio. It is surprising that Mischief Makers has been criticised for its sound, as it is unique, varied and dramatic. It builds based upon each level's theme, from upbeat dance tunes with as much personality as its quirky characters to an excellent implementation of a creepy and eerie score for its 'Ghost Catcher!' level. The graphics are similarly diverse: attention has been lavished upon the bosses, which display a viewpoint that zooms out to reveal a wider battle field and scales the size of its characters. Scaling effects and screen rotation are also implemented to complement gameplay sections, as is demonstrated by the dizzying rocking motion of 'Seasick Climb'.
There are only a few detrimental points to stop Mischief Makers earning a higher score. The controls are intricate and complex, but they subsequently create problems for the gameplay. Initially control is frustrating and appears to be imprecise, but once they are actually mastered the move set empowers the player to such an extent that it makes the general game too easy to complete. You can also obtain three separate health bars for Marina, making the game even easier.
Similarly, challenging boss encounters become a cakewalk once you've determined how to defeat each of their separate manoeuvres and counter specific attack patterns. In many ways Treasure and Enix cannot win with this game: they are criticised for making it too complex and then derided for enabling the player to develop skills which allow Marina to easily outwit her enemies. Ultimately, Mischief Makers rewards players who are determined to master its intricacies, equally ensuring any gamer who chooses to give up early will end up missing out.
The combination of Masato Maegawa's Treasure team and Keiji Honda's Enix staff gelled together to synthesise a title brimming with invention, character and personality quirks.
Its complex mechanics and unique control system made it inapproachable to some during early play attempts, and it does not truly blossom until the player has mastered its intricacies, and even its stunning boss encounters do not completely shine until two thirds of the way into the game. Anyone who invests the time to engage in its subtleties and complexities will be rewarded with a fun experience, but whether or not it is ultimately convoluted or bordering on sophistication and genius is for you to decide.