Hey hey, folks! Lumpz the Clown here, and I present to you my nomination for Review a Bad Game Day: Mystery Quest! Funny enough, I conducted a poll a little over a year ago between 3 or 4 games and this is what the viewers wanted to see. Little did they know that they had picked a stinker! :-/
Released in Japan in 1987 and published by Square, the original game was known as Hao-kun no Fushigi na Tabi, or Hao's Mysterious Journey. Two years later, it was released in the United States as Mystery Quest and published by Taxan, the same folks who published Low G Man and Burai Fighter for the NES as well as Serpent and Burai Fighter Deluxe for the Gameboy. Even though Taxan has published games that have been relatively successful, Mystery Quest is NOT one of them! First off, in 1989, Nintendo was known for bringing the arcade experience into people's homes with the release of Bad Dudes and Karnov. What is one crucial ingredient that arcade games had that drew in players? An attract mode! You know? A preview of the gameplay, many of which included little or no audio! When you first fire up Mystery Quest, you don't get that...at all! In fact, you get the exact polar opposite. An annoying ~15 second loop of a pitchy, piece of shit composition that pierces your eardrums and makes your eyes bleed, all while SITTING AT THE SUBPAR EYESORE OF A TITLE SCREEN! In my video review, I turned the volume on my TV up to 10 and it was STILL painful to listen to! if I had heard that in the arcade, I would have turned the other way and play COOL titles like Black Tiger or Chase HQ.
Even if Mystery Quest INSISTED on cramming that bad piece of "composition" down our throats, at least give us something to look at besides the generic, bland title screen that reflects NOTHING about the gameplay! Even worse, the music doesn't get much better the further you go in. Strike One!
After getting past the horrid title screen and music, the player is immediately thrust into the action. The good news here is that the music becomes less pitchy and more welcoming, but it is still an endless loop that does little to evoke any sort of emotion, other than dozing off because it plays like a lullaby. The lead character, Hao, finds himself in a town of sorts that is riddled with many obstacles and enemies, but there's a problem...the graphics SUCK! Anyone who knows me will tel you that I will NEVER discount a game based SOLELY on bad graphics, but this game really biffed it. Hao himself looks like he took about 2 minutes to draw up and it's hard to discern exactly what your enemies are supposed to be. I will give this game credit in that the background looks decent as well as the trees that you encounter on the first level. They are very detailed and remind me of games that I would much rather want to play, Wonder Boy III being one such example. The player's wonder, however, is quickly eliminated as you delve further into the level and realize that Hao begins to get washed out against the white buildings in the background. This can make pinpointing your location VERY difficult, especially when you have to perform precision jumps to avoid the skulls (?) in the ground tiles and avoiding enemies, many of which jump unpredictably or FLY AT YOU GOING MACH III! I was able to make it as far as a castle in my Let's Play, and I was not impressed. It can be very difficult to determine where you need to go, why you need to go where you need to go, and what you need to do to get there. All in all, I've seen better character sprites on my Atari 2600! Thus, ambiguous, washed-out graphics = Strike Two!
Finally, let's talk about the game mechanics. In the first level, there are green bushes that are scattered about that Hao can walk behind as well as his enemies. Do these provide him shelter? Of course NOT! Even worse, enemies that walk behind the bushes towards Hao can damage him, but HE can't damage THEM! What the hell? This isn't even remotely fair and forces the player to retreat AWAY from the bushes in order to pick off the ever-insistent enemy hellbent on Hao's destruction! Even worse, Hao attacks with bubbles...that's right...BUBBLES! The bubbles don't encase the enemy for further destruction by the player, like in Bubble Bobble, nor do they do anywhere NEAR enough damage. Initial enemies in the level will take anywhere from 5-7 bubbles to kill, all while they are charging at you at the speed of hellspawn. Who the hell attacks scorpions, bats, bees and giant, spell-casting praying mantises with BUBBLES?! Moving on...
Next, the jump mechanic. Hao's jumping can be compared to what you would find on an Action 52 cart! The good news is that the player can steer him in the air, but the jump is based off of how hard the player presses the A button. Hao has a wide range of jumps: baby jumps, medium baby jumps, big baby jumps, and FLYING TOWARDS THE MOON! I used to think that mashing buttons harder during gameplay made a difference, but later on, I learned that was largely a myth...until I played Mystery Quest! It's VERY difficult to learn how hard/soft to press the Jump button and since it is trial and error, expect to die many times while trying to jump over moats of water and navigating through tight quarters to grab a 1-Up.
Another aspect of the mechanics is the ratio that enemies damage you versus how much vitality you recover from the rare healing items you will find throughout this game. Let's put it this way: one enemy attack will knock at least a quarter of Hao's health down. Before you reach the first healing item, you are bound to be hit at least two more times, which leaves Hao with roughly 20% of his health left. The healing item is a star that swings wildly in the air, and after you pinpoint exactly HOW hard to press the Jump button and steer towards it in the air...you'll recover about 5% of what you have lost! No joke! I actually couldn't contain my laughter when I first picked up the healing item, because the graphics, layout and mechanics make it very difficult to NOT take damage, whether it's due to getting hit by an approaching enemy behind bushes or having to tank through shallow water (which damages you) to retrieve a 1-Up! Healing items SUCK in Mystery Quest and retrieving them really isn't worth the effort to reach them, so they function more as a trap if anything else!
Shitty attack power + unfair physics + a sloppy level layout = STRIKE THREE and it's OUTTA THERE!
I may reapproach this title in the future, but as I sit here now, I can't think of a good reason why. I can't go get trade-in value on it, because frankly, I picked up the title at my local game store for a measly $0.99, and considering their business model, they wouldn't make a profit off of it by taking it back. I would also feel bad if they did, because someone might be tempted to pick it up because the label art is actually pretty cool and is what got me curious about Mystery Quest in the first place. Kinda sad, really, but do any of you recall Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Same story there! And since I don't see the value on this cartridge going up ANY TIME SOON, it sits on my shelf collecting dust, which really vexes me because I'm one of those discerning collectors who only retains titles I LIKE to play!
In the end, Mystery Quest had potential, but sadly, it fell short, and I can't tell whether it was due to development deadlines or overbearing localization efforts that completely removed the motive for playing this horrendous excuse of a game!
For the finer details of this game and to laugh at my failings at it, check out my video review on it! My other LPs can be found at http://www.bit.ly/LumpzYTChannel. I'm also on Twitter at twitter.com/LumpztheClown if you ever want to ham it up about old-school games, bad or otherwise! Thanks for reading and LUMPZ THE CLOWN OUT!