Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! (GB) Review

Written: December 23rd-27th, 2012
Alternate Title: Mickey Mouse V: Mahō no Stick [JP]
Year: 1993, 1998 | Developed by: Kemco | Published by: Nintendo
(As played on the Super Game Boy)
Disclaimer: This is a spoiler-filled review!  Though since this game is relatively obscure and not many people know about its existence, then it shouldn't be too much of an issue!

When it comes to video games, you'll always come across some titles which will fall into the "Biggest Oddities" category, and some of them will leave a strange effect on you.  Since I was little, I've owned this obscure Game Boy game Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! (or Mickey Mouse: Magic Wand as the in-game title identifies itself) which combined elements of action and puzzling.  There are a few moments when you might do some platforming, but this is more of an action/puzzler than anything else, which is why I don't consider it a platformer.  I remember having bought it when I was very little at a Toys "Я" Us (back when the original Game Boy was still the "it" handheld), and I remember liking it a lot when I was little.  Years later, I found out that not many gamers are aware of this game, and I was surprised to find how incredibly obscure it is.
Turns out that this game was the sixth game centered on Mickey Mouse that was based on Kemco's well-known Crazy Castle series starring licensed characters at the time.  So you must be wondering, "if this is the sixth game, then why have the other installments not reached Western shores?"  See, here's the thing: they have and they haven't.  By that I mean they were released, but for some inexplicable reason the characters got changed when released in the West: Mickey Mouse and Mickey Mouse II on the Game Boy were turned to The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle and The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2 (Hugo or Mickey Mouse in Europe), Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fūsen on the Famicom turned to Kid Klown in Night Mayor World when it was brought to the NES, and Mickey Mouse IV: Mahō no Labyrinth for the Game Boy changed to The Real Ghostbusters in America and Garfield Labyrinth in Europe.  Confused?  I don't blame you.  The only two games in question that were released in the West that retained their intended names and characters were Mickey's Chase (Mickey's Dangerous Chase outside Japan) and the very game of the hour, Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands!, also known as Mickey Mouse V: Mahō no Stick, which literally translates to "Mickey Mouse V: The Magical Stick".  What I'm curious about is why it took four and a half years for this game in particular to reach the West when the other games that preceded it were released in the span of a year?

Another thing I find curious is how the Game Boy cart has the official "Million-Unit Seller" Nintendo ribbon, implying that it's sold over a million units.  But strangely enough, there's no record of how many carts it actually did sell in America, so really that just adds to the whole mystery.  But there are more oddities than I have mentioned, and for this review I've decided to go all out and try something new (I doubt it's going to be this way forever, so I'll only do it once).  This is also my first attempt at being funny, so expect some varied results.  Bring yourselves tons of snacks and water, 'cause this is going to be a long one!  So let's begin this review with my commentary on the introductory plot for Mickey's Kemco-ian adventure.

Once upon a time in an exposition shot of one of Kemco's countless crazy castles:
Curse the beauty of nature!  If not for that Mickey and friends would be safely out of the forest right now!  =|
"The Wizard"?!?!  =O

Sadly, she only had the budget to buy ice-powered wands, that part with the "fire and other magic" is just a rumor  =/
Also, the way they said that a wizard lived there made me think of a male, but the way they revealed that it was a "she" left me rather confused.  Wouldn't that technically make her a witch?  <=\  In the manual it says that the villain is a witch named Yashja (point for creativity), but in the game she's just an unnamed wizard.  Don't you hate it when the game and manual contradict each other?  I know there was this one Disney show called Wizards of Waverly Place where both certain male and female characters conjure magic with their magic wands, but does the term "wizards" use both the male and female members collectively?  Or, maybe I'm looking into it too much; but I digress.
Minnie's right, everyone get out of here!
Just at that moment the evil witch/wizard/whatever Yashja makes a sudden appearance and gives off a creepy smirk from the shadows!
... I don't believe she did anything  <=/
I think you skipped a scene; no really, that's the way this scene pans out
NOOOO, not the Disney characters we grew up with!!!  ={
Oh, I don't know, I've solved much harder puzzles
That's right, Mickey, go save your friends!  =D
So Mickey Mouse decides to enter the castle (which for some reason resembles the memorable Disney logo) to save his friends and see to it that Yashja doesn't get away with it.  And if you thought the translation was laughably awful up to this point, then check out this scene:
Hopefully a map leading to Amelia Earhart's whereabouts, the highly sought after Holy Grail, or perhaps the rumored uncut version of Don Bluth's classic The Land Before Time!
Also, "Can I find anything inside?"?  Doesn't that kind of go without saying?  Of course you're bound to find something!  But don't worry, it doesn't end there!  XD
I have high hopes for what's inside!

... like casting a spell on all TV shows and movies that were made in widescreen to ensure that they would never be shown in crappy, unwanted pan-and-scan format on TV ever again?  I can do that...??  =D
In all seriousness, though, check out that Engrish!  It is horrendously bad, but the translation falls under the category of "so bad, it's funny".  But there's more, hang in there!  =D
Because poor literacy is kewl!  B-)
"What happen if I use a wand on this?"  X'D  I swear, it just keeps getting better and better by the minute; man, I'm proud to be a '90s kid.  So Mickey uses his newfound wand on those crystals in front of him, and he uncovers the following content inside:
A) Because nothing says health improvement better than "candies"!  =)
B) Nintendo called!  They want their music box from Super Mario Bros. 3 back!  =<
C) Even better!!  =D  The enemies' kryptonite turns out to be apples!
All right, I'll take a break with the plot; also, I wish to take a break between being humorous and informative from time to time so please bear with me.

So you must be wondering what you've got to do in this game.  Well, it's about as simple as it sounds: you must search around the stage and find the puzzle pieces of your friends.  Only thing is: they are hidden inside crystals.  Each stage has got an array of crystals, and inside them you'll find either a puzzle piece, a piece of candy that's used to refill your whole health, an apple which you can throw towards enemies, and music boxes which will temporarily incapacitate the enemies while you roam around; be careful, because there are a few crystals which conceal enemies themselves.  When you come across a crystal, you use your magic wand on it to reveal the item.  After every tenth stage you face a boss, and if you defeat it you'll acquire yourself a new wand and learn a new skill; the good thing is you'll still be able to use the older skills.
Gameplay is simple and good.  Mickey controls well, and the wand usage is fun.  There are moments when you may be required to step on a teleporter which will send you to another part of the stage.  Some friends will require four pieces to be freed, but others will require six, and in several stages you may need to rescue two.  The real ones that you save, however, are in every tenth stage, with the sparkling puzzle piece in the tenth stage of each individual area.  Sometimes you'll come across obstacles and may have to reach a crystal with a new magic technique, so you'll have to put those to the skill and see to it that the puzzle pieces are collected.  When you want to use the items, you press Start, and in the menu you choose the item in question.  You can even choose whether you wish to see the window of the friend pop up any time you gather the piece on or off.  Well, in the tenth stage you've collected all the pieces to fix Pluto whole, so it's time to face the boss.
The first boss is a flame which will have to be dealt with!  First it will move around, and when it stops four flames will circle around; use the wand on the flames and once the last one stands, just get ready for the final hit!
After the boss' flame has been spent, Mickey will then proceed to the next part of the castle where he discovers a new wand waiting for him.
With this wand you can freeze waterfalls and cross water by making ice on it
Afterwards, Mickey at last saves his pet dog Pluto!  =)
Thank goodness you're all right, Pluto, I mean, Plut!
"I found you at last"?  "It's good you returned safely"?  What are you talking about?!  He was stolen and turned into a puzzle, of course you were going to find him no problem, and it's not like Pluto ran away!  This is where the translation starts to get confusing  =/
Pluto then "bowwows" to Mickey and we're offered the password for Stage 11
The visuals in Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! are simple for Game Boy standards, and while they're nothing to write home about, they're not bad to look at.  The best parts of the game, visually, are the still shots that are shown during the intro sequence and that one shot that's shown during the ending sequence.  Those shots look good, and I like how nicely designed they are and how cartoon-like it feels.  When the intro's done and Mickey goes to rescue his friends, it's rather surprising to find that he, the characters, and enemies are very small, though fortunately it's easy to distinguish them; but hey, look on the bright side, the sprites could've been as tiny as the ones from the first Super Mario Land.
Each individual area has their own distinctive look.  Like for example, the second set of stages are fittingly ice-themed, and I like the way the wall is filled with ice-like structure, as well as the way the ice on the ground and platforms look shiny, even though they're static images.  In the final set of stages it's all stylish and menacing, especially with the lion statues in the backgrounds.  Mickey and the enemies animate okay (though in some cases they're very stiff), and the bosses look good and are mostly big.  The teleportation effect is cool, and the way Yashja transforms to her second form is simple but effective.  When you collect all the pieces, what appears is a wonderfully-designed character.  As for these screenshots, yes, this game does have Super Game Boy support on the SNES.  =)  Aside from the cool-looking border lathered with castles and stars, the abundance of color in the intro cutscenes, and the different variations of a single color for every ten stages, there's not much it adds; but it is well worth playing for these said visual implementations I just mentioned.  It's largely monochrome, with the exception of the ending scenario where it's done in sepia.  So at the end of the twentieth stage, Mickey has saved Goofy so it's time to face the next big boss: a giant fish!
Mouse against fish!  But there's a problem: getting in the water has you sustain damage, so how do you take him down?
You place the ice on the water until it's all filled up!  Pretty anticlimactic, ain't it?
The ice will only stay afloat for a few seconds, so don't count on it staying there forever, so time it right!  After that's done, off to the next wand you go:
The next wand will allow you to create temporary platforms which will help you climb upward and help reach certain out of reach crystals!  Just hold the wand button for about three seconds to make it happen 
One thing about the crystals: you can open it up in front of it and while you're above and adjacent to it.  Remember that, it will serve you well in the later stages, believe me.
"No problem Goofy, I owed ya after you helped me in one of my recent adventures!"  =)  ...  Really, you've got nothing else to add?  ...  =/  Well, whatever, Goofy's rescued!  Stages 21-30 are next!!
Regarding the sound, it's not exactly that well-conducted or even memorable.  The problem isn't so much that the music is bad (for the most part) so much as the fact that all the songs feel unpolished and feel half-finished at worst.  The songs sound likeable for the first few loops, but after a while it can get very grating and repetitive due to their incredible brevity.  The title theme (while it still sounds good) is likeable, and the intro sequence is dark and brooding.  The first theme is lighthearted, the second theme sounds charming, the third theme sounds fun-packed, and the fourth theme is ominous.  The regular boss theme is meh, the first ending theme is good-sounding, and the second ending theme sounds different than the song that preceded it.  The only song I felt put any effort to it was Yashja's final theme, but even then it all falls flat because they all sound unfinished.  Considering that many Game Boy games had the option to turn the music off, I'm surprised this wasn't one of them; not that I condone such an option, considering how I strongly feel about video game music as a whole!  >=(  The sound effects are slightly better than the music, though that's not exactly saying much.  Anyway, enough aspect summarizing for now, Mickey has just collected all the pieces of Donald, which can only mean one thing: an exciting boss fight!
In this jungle-looking area, Mickey must defeat this hairy, chubby beast!  So what's the strategy to overcome the boss this time?  You find all four apples and throw them at it until he's permanently incapacitated!  Not exactly much of a strategy, is it?  =/
I'm not exactly certain if it's because it becomes totally full or if it's because it sustained a lot of damage from being attacked by apples, but whatever, details.  So now it's time to collect the fourth and final wand on your quest!
So at last Mickey finds a wand that can be used to dispose of breakable blocks and attack enemies, the latter of which sorta renders the apple items moot at this point!  Just remember to push both the wand button and the "Direction-Up button" simultaneously to get it to work!
The only downside to this wand is that it takes a few seconds to generate and launch the ice cube in front of you.  Whilst it's as effective as throwing apples, the latter at least froze time until the apple reached its target right away; yeah it makes no sense, but bear with me.  Well, time to meet good ol' Donald Duck!  =D
(For the sake of hilarity, let's pretend this takes place in 1993, and read Mickey's and Donald's lines with the voice of the great Wayne Allwine and Tony Anselmo respectively)
Donald: "Now where's that sequel on Nintendo's Super console that you promised I'd co-star along with you?!"  )=<
Mickey: "Whoa, easy there, Donald!  It should only take a couple years for our adventure together to be released in Japan!  It's going to be magical!"  =)
Donald: "Oh, well that doesn't sound too bad..."  =D
Mickey: "Unfortunately, it'll only get released in the West in a dozen years as a dinky Game Boy Advance port"  =(
Donald: "What??!!"  D=  "Phooey!!"  )=<
"No one makes Minnie cry while I'm around!!"  >=(  Also "Oh, I should hurry!", yeah you think?  And now it's off to the final ten stages you go
As far as challenge is concerned, there's really not that much of it to be found here.  It's not a mindlessly easy game for you will have to search around each room to find the crystals which contain the puzzle pieces.  Some stages are small and short while others are big and large; at least one or two of the stages are designed in a straightforward manner.  Some stages are designed so hugely that it will take several minutes to recoup all the pieces.  A few of the crystals might not even contain the pieces but helpful items or even an enemy.  But here's the drawback to it all: there's no depth of challenge, the invincibility time for when you get hit is several seconds long, and so long as you're careful navigating the stage and are prepared, the enemies really pose no threat.  Sure, a few of them might try to attack you, but their projectiles are mostly easy to avert.  Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! is so easy that it can be beaten in just one life.  Oh, but the bosses are the worst: most of the boss fights lack any real strategy, and the only one that even tries is the first flame boss, even though that's not exactly saying much.  It's Stage 40, Mickey has collected all the pieces that will put Minnie back together, and now it's time to face the big baddie herself, Yashja!
My God, she sounds serious!  }=O
Yashja looks like a toughy, the way she floats around the screen and almost always makes herself an easy target when she gets to the center!  All you have to do is step in the right corner, face the left, and prepare to launch an ice cube towards her where she only takes one hit!
Gee, that was ... eventful!  Oh, well, Minnie is rescued at last, so it's time for Mickey to walk to the center and begin his awkward victory dance!  =D  Music, maestro!
(If only I knew how to make .gif files without resorting to, that watermark of theirs is distracting)
Damn!  I thought the battle was too easy!  =/  I guess I'll have to fight once more, so let's see how big and mean she gets!
The suspense is killing me!  It'd be more effective without that watermark, though!
The final battle has come, and Yashja is bigger than she was before.  This time she takes more hits, so stand in one of the corners and go Rambo on her behind until she's gone for good!
Also, does that villain even look female?  Because this shot doesn't convince me at all.  It's at this point that I wonder if Yashja even is a female at all; I'm hoping this isn't one of those androgynous video game characters.  Also of note is how the deeper you are in the battle, the more Yashja changes appearance (at one point it'll lose the hat, but in another it'll wear different clothing and stand on a flying carpet that came out of nowhere).  It's worth pointing out that, yes, this is one of the strangest mysteries the game never answers, but no stranger than what we're about to witness shortly.  Once Yashja's down for the count, Mickey does the jumping jack!  =D
(That is still awkward, in my opinion; also, Mickey never stops smiling throughout the whole game, adding more to the uncorftableness)
Mickey's quest is complete, and now he has saved one of his closest companions, and is ready to depart, but first he must find her:
Boy, the first few seconds really makes you wonder if Minnie made it out at all (or at least, to me at least); also, the sepia look when playing on the Super Game Boy is perfect for this occasion
Awww, our lovebirds, um, lovemice are back together, and now it's time to head home.  =)  And just when you thought it would end there, it starts to descend to weird levels:
Huh??  "You could come back safely"...  What does that even mean?!  And everyone is waiting for her apparently!  This game's translation sometimes, I swear!
It's at this point that the music changes abruptly, but get ready for what has got to be the most craptacular ending that has ever been seen in a video game!!!
Wait a minute, what's going on here?  Why are Daisy Duck and Horace Horsecollar here all of a sudden?  They weren't in the intro!  "Thanks, everybody"?  For offering moral support, I guess?  And oh my God, that last part...
Everything else was fine, and I could accept the bad translation, but the very first time I saw this ending as a teen, this part to be exact, I was floored.  A photograph?  I risked my life saving my friends and defeating evil forces just so I could be in a photograph???  What does that even have to do with all that had been going on up to this point?  What purpose is there??  Honestly, it's more hysterical than frustrating, I still can't believe the game ended this way!
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that Goofy asked both Mickey and Minnie to "stand in the middle", but only Mickey decided to do it.  Good "photo" though; not that it made any sense at all
And that's it!  There are no credits, so we've no idea who worked on it.  Yes, Kemco made it, but it doesn't give credit to any individual names whatsoever, or what aspects they've done, which I find mysterious.  What makes me more curious is how come it took a few years for this to see an American release, especially considering that the original Game Boy was slowly dying in '98 to the then newly-released Game Boy Color.  This game is just all around mysterious; one of the biggest oddities that ever surfaced on the Game Boy.  Well, I've gone on long enough on this game's wackiness, what did I think of it in general?
As weird and flawed as Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! is, it is by no means a bad game.  It's not a good game either, more along the lines of average, but I do still enjoy playing it every once in awhile.  Visuals are basic for Game Boy standards, but I do like the different themes and decor that are displayed in each set of areas, particularly the ice theme.  The music: eh...  Gameplay is decent, and I do like how you learn different wand tricks after each boss fight.  One thing that bothers me is how whenever you drop down from a ledge or if you jumped and stayed in mid-air for a few seconds, then Mickey starts to lose momentum which will cause you to fall straight down, with no movement controls whatsoever at that point.  There's also the case of fluctuating frame rates when it comes to different stages, but it's no big deal.  The stages are designed neatly, and I do have fun exploring the maze-like areas.  But this is where the positive ends: the enemies aren't all that intimidating, the bosses are absolute pushovers and lack fresh strategies, a few of the stages take a long time to beat, and there is not much depth in the challenge department.
It's worth pointing out that this is game is worth playing on the Super Game Boy adpator, and the additions it adds to the visuals (if if they're mostly colors) are well-suited.  The translation is awfully bad and confusing at times, even if admittedly a lot of it is hysterical, especially the absurd ending; it's so easy for me to make fun of this game because of that.  X)  I'm hoping the original Japanese version had a more coherent and smooth plotline, though I'm not exactly certain if it would actually have a reason for the photo.  As I said before, it's not bad and it is fun; it just could've been better.  Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands! isn't like a Mickey Mouse game developed by Sega or Capcom, it's a totally different animal.  Overall, this game's all right, but it's two hours worth of fun in the end.  Even though it's not fantastic in any way, it does make me want to try the other Kemco-made Mickey Mouse games (I think I'll start with Mickey's Dangerous Chase).  Every game series has its audience, especially the Crazy Castle series; if you're a fan of this series and for some reason you did not get a chance to play this at all, I recommend you give it a go, and I think you'll enjoy it.  As for everyone else: your mileage may vary.  =|
Thank you for playing, please leave a comment!  =)

P.S.: My recent gameplay marked the first time I beat the game in one sitting without using passwords.
P.S. 2: Unless someone says otherwise, I won't do a review like this again.  This was a one-time trial of a different-style review for me.
P.S. 3: I haven't played the Game Boy Advance version of Mickey & Donald: Magical Adventure 3, but that's my thoughts on GBA ports of SFC/SNES games as a whole: dinky.
P.S. 4: Remember when Mickey used to have eyebrows?  Good times!

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