Mario's claim to fame has often been jumping; a simple skill, but unfailingly entertaining. It can be tough to remember a time when he traded high-flying acrobatics for a hammer and an insatiable appetite for destruction, but that's exactly the case in Wrecking Crew. Smashing things to bits is the straightforward goal, but deviously designed stages will thwart your every move as you navigate the puzzling construction yards and try desperately to stay out of trouble.
Calculating the situation and pounding down each obstacle in just the right order culminates in an odd mixture of satisfaction and tedium, potentially chasing off those without a truckload of patience to spare. Stick with it, however, and you might find more than you bargained for.
Towering stages rife with verticality dare you to break the shiny blocks scattered throughout their multi-tiered death traps. Navigating the convoluted build sites isn't tough to do on its own, but since your hammer is only good for construction work, dodging nondescript bad guys rapidly becomes a round of Pac-Man played on a Snakes and Ladders board. Tripping up these malevolent hooligans by triggering a nearby bomb or knocking out support beams to drop deadly barrels upon their noggins can save your life, but watch your step — busting the wrong ladder could leave you stranded, forcing a restart. Once this grave reality sinks in, the levels begin to look an awful lot like puzzles.
Watching for enemy patterns before plotting your course becomes the key to success, along with carefully demolishing your tracks without trapping yourself. Towers filled to the brim with blinking objects might appear intimidating at first, but breaking your route down step by step usually turns chaos into some semblance of order. A sharp mind will only get you so far, of course; sharp wits are a real lifesaver in do or die situations, turning woeful defeats into razor-thin escapes that make you feel pretty good about yourself. Creative level design pushes you to switch up your thought process every now and then and solutions are often gratifying to discover, but piddling irritations tend to grow in strength as the game wears on.
After systematically disassembling brick walls for five minutes straight, forced restarts begin to feel like sharp pinpricks, particularly when you're caught off-guard by a randomly appearing fireball. Spike, the unsportsmanlike foreman, also proves to be a nuisance as he relentlessly follows you around with the sole intent of knocking you to ground level, frequently resulting in yet another restart. The repetitive act of shuffling between objects and breaking said objects gets dull on its own, putting into question just how determined you are to complete a given challenge.
It's a lucky break that you can skip around between stages however you choose, mostly because there are so many — one hundred in all.
In fact, Wrecking Crew is shockingly robust for its age. Not only does the multifaceted gameplay offer plenty of choice on your part, but the huge selection of levels are increased infinitely should you take a fancy to creating your own. A basic but smartly implemented level creator allows you to craft your own personal mousetraps for Mario to conquer, which was downright sophisticated in 1985. Building a level with archaic tools and your own two hands requires even more patience than blasting through the complex mazes developed by the pros, but it's a very welcome addition all the same. Passing the controller back and forth with a friend to test each other's mettle in custom stages or competing in the asynchronous multiplayer mode can also be a pleasant way to pass the time, assuming you can find someone itching to play some good old fashioned Wrecking Crew.
Despite a level creator that goes above and beyond the call to competency, when it comes to visual and auditory qualities the game has nothing in the way of surprises. A grid of platforms and ladders line up against a flat, featureless background, not unlike Ice Climber and other similar titles of the day. Some of the later stages can be a real eyeful, stacked high with too many pieces to count, but sprites are distinct and detailed enough to alleviate most of the eye strain. Simple tunes that may tickle the nostalgic part of your brain — while by no means memorable classics — bop along without a care in the world.
With so much competition out there, it's often hard to justify paying hard-earned cash for microscopic NES games of yesteryear. Nonetheless Wrecking Crew is an ambitious game, and even in the face of the occasional exhausting aggravation, this puzzle-platformer has a lot to offer. Although it paved the way for better projects to build on its foundation, Wrecking Crew still stands firmly cemented in Nintendo history.