Some quick verification of dates confirms my suspicion about this game. When “Yuke-Yuke Trouble Makers” hits Japanese shelves on June 27th 1997, there just isn’t quite anything else like it on the market, at least not on the Nintendo 64. Most English-speaking fans will liberally call this game “weird”, and by any reasonable “weird” standards, there is absolutely nothing even remotely close to this weird that’s already released on this platform by the time of that JP release. As far as other regions go, Americans already had “Clayfighter 63 1/3″ upon Mischief Makers’ NA release. That one IS a pretty weird game, but it’s worth noting that Japan never saw a release, and I personally would also say it isn’t close to as strange as Mischief Makers. Some other notably strange Nintendo 64 cartridges came out around the tail end of 1997. “Chameleon Twist” comes to mind. Still, I would say of all the Nintendo 64 cartridges that I know about or have played that got released in any form in 1997 or earlier, Mischief Makers is the most unusual. It simply stands alone.
Why? Because Treasure put it out, that’s why. Mischief Makers isn’t even the weirdest thing that Treasure had put out at this time. Which of these blurbs seems more strange: “A kawaii robotic personal assistant sets out to save her genius inventor on the alien planet Clancer where everything has a face, and the only thing she can do is grab, shake and throw things” OR “Ronald McDonald drops acid and follows a treasure map”? I don’t know. You tell me. Rather than “weird”, the best descriptor for the game is “unique. It’s the whole package: The music is distinct and uses distinct synthesizers, the graphics are lush and wonderful, the bizarre humor comes in spades, and every single level is its own unique experience. The resulting cartridge is one that has unarguably achieved cult status. This game is a primo piece for collectors, speedrunners, and even romantics (was this truly the geekiest thing anyone has ever gotten away with?). Explain it however you may; for whatever reason people just ADORE this game.
Mischief Makers is a 2D game, and this likely put off some of the less savvy consumers who were spoiled by the Nintendo 64’s new 3D capabilities. As I mentioned, the entire premise of the game is somewhat minimalist. Marina Lightyears is our surprisingly lovable protagonist, and her basic capabilities include grabbing things, shaking things, and using a dash booster to achieve higher speed. The resulting gameplay is more varied and exciting than that limited scope may imply. You cannot say this game lacks personality. A friend spontaneously transforms into a giant robot. There is a do-or-die dodgeball contest with a tiny kitten. In a level called “Clance War”, explosives fall endlessly from the sky and Marina collects items in trenches. Every level has a special gold gem to find and an S-Rank time to achieve – speedrunners settle your beating hearts. Half the time this game feels like a puzzle game, and those puzzles are often quite challenging. This game is difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to forget.
Mischief Makers was Treasure’s first game for a Nintendo console, and Nintendo 64 enthusiasts know this game. When considering “underrated” N64 cartridges, this is gonna be one of the first that springs to mind. It takes some time to get used to, and as a result it is a bit of a sleeper. Reception at the time was lukewarm, so the game did not receive any sequels (yet) as did Treasure’s other N64 cartridges, “Bangai-O” and “Sin & Punishment”. In fact, those other games ended up only seeing Japanese releases on the Nintendo 64, perhaps as a response to Mischief Makers’ mild market impact (that is purely speculative on my part, I have no idea what MM’s exact sales figures were). However I have heard nary a negative retrospective review of this game; only upon initial release was anyone at all skeptical. Now, it is known as a shining gem of the N64 library, a must-play cartridge that is beyond compare.
Treasure ultimately gained a reputation as a developer of high quality games with unique gameplay characteristics. Mischief Makers was their first release on the Nintendo 64 and their first release for a Nintendo console. Mischief Makers was also the first 2D (really 2.5D) side-scrolling game for the Nintendo 64.
This game seems to be viewed through the lens of nostalgia much better than it was when it was contemporary. Reviews at the time of its release were mostly average and noted the unique gameplay characteristics but also indicated that it had a rather steep learning curve and was brief with little replay value. More recent retrospective reviews consider this game to be one of the most underrated games on the Nintendo 64.
In Mischief Makers, the player takes the role of a robotic maid off to save her kidnapped creator. The unique control mechanism is to pick up objects and then shake and throw them. Shaking objects can change their function or reveal treasure or other items. The game is action oriented but also contains a number of puzzles to solve.
To date there are no sequels, remakes or re-releases available for this game. The only way to play it today is with a Nintendo 64 or via emulation. However, given the nature and popularity of Treasure, this game seems more likely than many to eventually see some sort of re-release and/or sequel down the road.