I loved getting my Nintendo 64, but only had a couple of titles for it in those early days, so I did my part to help keep Blockbuster open by renting a lot. This game is another that shows why that model of brick and mortar rental stores worked for a while though, as Mischief Makers was rented and eventually picked up so I could have a copy up of my own, when there was a good chance it may have passed me by unnoticed otherwise. That seemed to happen to a bunch of people though, as this game didn’t attract a lot of attention at first and is now considered to be incredibly underrated, but is finally picking up the attention it deserves, so I’m here to hopefully tell a few more people about it.
The game was made by Treasure (Gunstar Heroes, McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure), released in 1997, and the group worked closely with Enix before they were bought by Square. This was the company’s first title for Nintendo, but thankfully a few of their employees were previously at Konami and had experience working on Contra and Castlevania. This was the first 2D game on the N64, which is one of the few things that made it stick out. Almost every other game maker was in the process of trying to master 3D environments, while Treasure wanted to perfect their gameplay, and that decision is why people are still talking about it. First though, let’s discuss the story.
Mischief Makers is so anime I’m shocked there wasn’t a television series. It shows this from the very first scene and embraces the aesthetic, as the player controls Marina Liteyears, the Ultra-IntergGalactic-Cybot G, which is a fancy way of saying some creepy old pervert named Professor Theo constructed a robotic maid to attempt to grope and have her fetch him coffee. No, really, he does that in the beginning. Her ‘Prof,’ as she calls him, is kidnapped though while they are vacationing on a strange planet inhabited by a race called Clancers, who are in the middle of their own civil war, where the opposing side is being led by an evil emperor who is building an imperial army—reminds me a lot of Spaceballs. These indigenous people though, some good and some bad, all have these eerie and oddly twisted faces that look like soulless bowling balls, or more accurately, many compare their visage to that of the famous painting, “The Scream,” or maybe even closer to the films of the same name. Either way, I had trouble figuring out who was friendly, who was foe, and why even the buildings and mountains had faces here. It also weirded me out a little that killing many of these enemies sees their ghost fleeing the mortal shell afterwards, but guess they screwed with the wrong robotic cleaning unit.
The presentation takes the anime stylings mentioned earlier and uses those weird faces along with bring colors and some nice backgrounds at points. The whole game won’t blow anyone away artistically, but certain instances are quite appealing. Treasure built it using Genesis hardware, claiming that Sega’s console was the easiest to program on, and they weren’t sure of the potential the N64 really possessed yet. Using pre-rendered backgrounds, 2D gameplay, and hints of 2.5D tricks that the new hardware allowed combined for something that looks neat and solid, like a really good 16-bit game, or some more recent retro inspired indy titles. The one thing that may hurt the experience is in the audio department, as the soundtrack isn’t bad, just mediocre, whereas some of the sound affects and voices—what few spoken lines there are—can be bad. There is a common rumor that many of the recordings for this game were done quickly and in a makeshift sound room that was actually a closet, but I doubt this will bother anyone who truly enjoys the gameplay.
The controls are really simple, while containing several maneuvers that will need to be mastered to overcome later obstacles. It is a standard side-scrolling action romp, using the D-pad and other face buttons, four of which are boosts. I wonder how it would have handled using the joystick instead, but as some maneuvers work better by double tapping the pad, that may have been an issue. I wonder about the joystick though because there were several times when the controls did not feel as responsive as they needed to be. The basic mechanic for this particular troublemaker is shaking, and players will hear her talk about it a lot—it constantly gets stuck in my head. There are a lot of other mechanics that are introduced in the early parts that the developers used well to keep the levels varied and fresh, building off of the simple ones, while throwing in some odd sections like Blockman, or my favorite, riding on a missile and jumping up and down to guide it. There are some parts that take a moment to figure out, almost like small puzzles, but there are pink ghost-faced orbs that can be bribed with red gems for hints, which I was thankful for. Because of the mechanics though, some parts rely on a little trial and error, costing me a few lives in the process.
Mischief Makers is very easy in some parts and can quickly become hard, especially with the platforming. The game can be beaten rather quickly if the player is simply just trying to get through the stages, but the ending will be incredibly short. To get the full scene, that requires an average A rank throughout all of the various levels and the collection of every yellow gem, some of which are hidden, or very challenging, like defeating certain bosses without getting hit. Speaking of the ending, I had always wondered why this game wanted to know my name, gender, and age at the start, which is apparently tied to the game’s conclusion as well. Though I have beaten the game before, I doubt I’ll ever see the full ending unless I watch someone else do it. Even if I don’t want to be a completionist here, I do often load the game up to take on the various bosses, which are almost all creative and enjoyable. I hate that this one never made it to the virtual console, but it isn’t too expensive. I’d say this one deserves a remaster as well, as it would benefit from a slight touch up and some more attention.