Written: March 17th-22nd, 2014
Year: 1993, 1994 | Developed and Published by: Ocean
|Somewhere over the rainbow, cloooouds|
Well, I've held off on this one long enough, so let's not waste any time and get cracking. In the early '90s a pair of French developers under the employment of the late company Ocean (before it became Infogrames and before it got acquired by Atari years ago), Pierre Adane and Philippe Dessoly, had considered crafting their own independent game with a squirrel as the main character for the Amiga. After being presented with the idea Ocean approved, but since the disk-based system was nowhere near as accessible and affordable as most consoles were at the time, they decided to not only to act as publisher, but as developer for the SNES game and sometime later the MegaDrive console instead. Personally speaking, I think they made the right call. =)
Reportedly having taken a full year and a half to create, today's game landed in European shores in 1993 for the SNES, followed by a US and Japanese release several months later. Deciding to settle on a name, it took a few choice names until it got the moniker that it's stuck with; feeling that Squirrel's Game wouldn't sell well, it was renamed Mr. Nuts--but someone at Ocean had the right idea and felt that it would've been too inappropriate and vague for it to be released like that, so finally it was given a title that sounded neither ambiguous nor offensive and worked as a cool name by itself: Mr. Nutz. It's been reported that some areas were removed from the final incarnation of the platformer (though supposedly they made an appearance in the Game Boy Advance port--more on the ports later). Now, Mr. Nutz is a cool name, but you must be wondering: is it a cool game?
|Nothing like holding your breath underwater|
indefinitely while combatting a menacing-looking
Mr. Nutz is a 2D sidescrolling platformer starring the eponymous crimson red anthropomorphic squirrel. Before I talk about the controls, I'm telling you right now: change the control settings, because the default setting feels very awkward; however it's all in personal taste which control scheme you choose, but if I were you I'd stick with the AB-Y-X method. Now, Mr. Nutz has got a lot of techniques in his arsenal; he can walk, he can duck, he can jump, he can swing between ropes or chains, he can swim, he can run (hold Y), he can swish his long tail around for close ranged attacks (v+X; don't ask), and he can throw the acorns with the X button. The thing about the acorns are that you don't have an unlimited amount, so it's best to use them sparingly. Along the way you'll come across platforms that either must be jumped on in the nick of time or ones that you have to jump up from before it drops or disintegrates; many are stationary but there are a select few in comparison that will move or rotate around. At the end of each stage there is a boss to fight, each with different patterns than the last, each requiring that you take out their health one bar at a time.
What you'll notice upon playing this game is that its controls (in particular the jump controls) are rather loose. It doesn't necessarily equate to a bad thing, but depending on how a game was structured to begin with it can either be a benefit or a hindrance. And thankfully for Mr. Nutz's case it falls right in the former, and I'll explain why. There are instances where you have to jump towards specific platforms (sometimes block-sized) which require you to run and have just enough jumping power to land on them; also the looseness helps because if you jump you might find yourself landing farther depending on how much speed you've picked up, sometimes requiring you to weave-jump platforms above you. Without the looseness in the controls the game would've not been able to be progressed considering some of its area designs. The rest of the controls are really solid and it's intuitive to play and traverse the numerous areas. Mr. Nutz has a health gauge of five, and all around there are lots of coins that are optional (or mandatory if you're confident) to collect.
The visuals for Mr. Nutz are absolutely gorgeous! =) They are brimming with bright, vibrant colors that really pop out at you while also presenting a lot of detail; they're so polished too that it really matches the atmosphere of the area that you are in. Each individual area has got a sort of personal charm and look that make it their own, not to mention each location has got their series of big attention to detail (even the little ones). The first area takes place in the woods, where it starts out with green and vibrant foliage, and the farther you get with each section of the stage it gets darker until it becomes night; the backdrops and foregrounds may look different (at night there will be a moon and a series of spiderwebs), but the transition and immersion from night to day is really impeccable, and the night colors are well-chosen. And that's just one example. Several other areas look exquisitely detailed as well, such as Adventure Park, the faucet portions, the cloud-ridden areas with a pretty rainbow looming in the distance, and so forth. The line scrolling work is well done when it counts, creating a sense of depth (particularly in two of the last stage's final areas), plus the color layering is well-done whenever you're underwater or behind some translucent clouds.
Another thing of great note is the animation of Mr. Nutz and the regular enemies: they are so fluid and smooth that it still amazes me whenever I see it in motion. His walking and running animations are flawless, as are the jumping, swimming, acorn-throwing, and swinging motions. On the cover he may look like a real badass with that menacing grin and those shades of his that are only seen on there, but when you play the game he's actually a cute little critter facing impossible odds in order to save the day; and honestly I don't find that to be such a bad thing, as I feel that it adds to Mr. Nutz's cute and lighthearted charm. The enemies are lighthearted and cutely designed too, such as the walking fruits with eyeballs (that die in different ways depending on how you finish them off; whether it be by splitting them in half or by swishing them away with your tail... don't ask), disposable porcupines, tambourines with flamboyant ballet get-up that attack you with their twirls and pirouettes, a variant of bee enemies, bird enemies that seek you out until you do them off, literal hand-plungers, tiny fish that emit electric barriers from time to time (they're not eels, how's it possible?), enemies that have full fire on their bodies save for their firefighter helmet, among others. I have a few more examples to point out:
Hey, I didn't know that the Piranha Plants were in this game! =O
This For the Birds reject will try to defeat you by dropping snowballs more than twice their size.
Hey hey hey, what is this? I thought this was a squirrel-themed game, not a video game adaptation of March of the Penguins! And the scary part is that there actually is a video game adaptation based on that movie.
Okay, so among the designs that are actually rather clever and inventive, I will admit there were some that weren't as original (like the venus fly trap enemy); whether it was intentional or coincidence (both before and after the game was made), I don't mind it so much because they're still charming and well-designed enemies. Yes, some from previous areas return in the form of a palette-swapped version, but aside from that I'm okay with that. If the character and enemies are cute and lighthearted, then the bosses are the exact opposite. They are big, serious, and dark in both tone and design. They don't have as much animation as Mr. Nutz does, but they do still look good: such as a giant hairy spider in a hillbilly outfit, a downright menacing-looking octopus, and a witch on a broomstick who looks like the one from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves if she had the beak of the vulture that pursued her in the movie. I'm not even joking, she actually looks like that! A couple of them use Mode 7 rotating and scaling effects, and some of the boss locations look relatively dark, matching their tone and serious demeanor (some actually look really damn intimidating considering that it was aimed for a younger audience, and I'll spotlight one of them later).
The soundtrack for Mr. Nutz was composed by renowned French composer Raphaël Gesqua, who was very young when he made the music, and it was one of the first video games that he had worked on for sound. Considering that status, I find the quality of his work here to be really impressive, as it does a very good job of complementing the appropriate settings and lending an atmospheric feel. =) Yeah, there are a few light and bouncy themes in the mix, but the majority of it really stands out with neat instrumental choices (such as the horns, the cymbals, and the heavy piano) and the fact that they're considerably long songs; it's made even better by the fact that it won't start over if you lose a life, it'll just keep on playing. Score! =D I like that the songs are long because as a result they don't end up being overly repetitive (the first two verses sound the same, but the third one sounds different), and the songs' lengthy scope is worthwhile, with a few exceptions of course.
|Stan: "Why ain't them just the cutest bees you've ever|
laid eyes on."
Nicolas Cage: "No, not the bees! NOT THE BEES!!!" DX
The title theme I feel does a good job at setting the scope for the adventure that lies before you. The nighttime Woody Land theme (yes, they actually called it that) is really slow-building and pretty to listen to, the sweeping Adventure Park theme sounds adventurous as its name implies, the theme for when you've been shrunk down for the faucet areas is really catchy, the theme for the cloud-filled area is the best song in the game for it really feels like you've just gotten out of a long dark cave and it feels heavenly in a fitting way. The ending theme is a really big reward if you manage to overcome all of Mr. Nutz's obstacles, including the final boss. The game over theme, though, is actually really sad and desperate, and all the boss themes have their own dark flair (all six of them), which makes each of them stand out.
Are there any low points for the soundtrack? Actually yes, since a few of the bounciness and unusual compositions of a few themes make them sound a bit nauseating after awhile (though not necessarily in a bad way), in particular during half the boss fights. The volcano theme is obnoxious for its overtly heavy handedness, and while I'm not big on circus music, the Mean Streets is passable at least (I'll take it over the circus music present in Glover and Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind). Overall, I consider the majority of Gesqua's music to be really good, with only a few really low-quality songs. Still, I really commend his effort, and you know what's crazy? There is actually an option to turn off the soundtrack before you start the game... the very thing that lends the overall world its atmosphere to begin with. What is even the hell, Ocean?!? >=( The sound effects aren't anything to write home about, but for what we've got they're decent. There is a cute bounce sound effect for whenever Mr. Nutz jumps, enemies have their own death sounds (the birds "chirp", for example), whenever a boss takes damage they make what sounds like a hollowed grunting sound (I can't quite describe it, you'll have to hear it for yourself to get the proper idea), the swimming effects are nice, the coin effects are decent, and a lot of the other sound effects are good.
Mr. Nutz is a fairly challenging game in its own right, and there are many factors that apply to that. The area designs are neatly laid-out, and there are a couple moments when blind leaps of faith may have to be made. Some platforms require that you make precise landings because they're small, but because the controls are loose it's easy to position yourself quickly enough in midair. There are various acorns laid about, and they serve well as long-ranged projectiles, but you do not have an unlimited amount, so it is best to only use when you really need them. The areas range from short and linear to large and open-ended, and it may take a bit to reach your destination. If you lose a life during a portion of a stage, then you'll have to start from the beginning of that portion (say you lose during the middle of 2-2, you have to start at the beginning of it). Okay, that's no problem; what happens if you lose all your lives? Well, if that happens, then you have to start the entire stage all over again (say you lost them all in say anywhere in World 6, then World 6 must be started all over again). Admittedly, it can be frustrating when that happens, since for one the path towards the end is long and there are enemies which you must contend with along the way. But it's not impossible, for there are many elements that help balance things out.
In the options menu the highest you can set your lives is six and for health the highest count you can make them is five. If you go at a slow and steady pace then less enemies will show up, even though you'll have to speed up in a few portions. The quicker you run the higher you fly up in the air as you jump, and throughout the course of the game you'll notice coins scattered about. For every fifty that you collect, one dot will be refilled in your heath bar; and should you manage to collect all of them by the end of the stage you'll earn a life. It's not mandatory, but if you don't feel confident that you'll make it then it may be a good idea to search every nook and cranny. In these stages you'll also find health icons, but if you find a life (and here's the great part): then regardless of how much health you have then the whole health bar will be revitalized. The whole health bar! Now that's what I call a freebie! =) Each boss has their own set strategy you have to follow in order to take them down, and for the most part they're not bad fights ('cept for Little Clown which is longer than it needs to be). Among the regular items are rare items, some that you'll need to progress (like the key in Adventure Park) and others that do different things.
Mr. Nutz is a platformer, so it's a given that it won't be played for the plot but for the fun and challenge. Though in this case it probably would've been nice if there was much of a plot to begin with, as the structure is incoherent at best (you don't even know what it's about until your adventure is over, and even then you'll have a hard time fathoming that an ice storm had to be stopped by a supposedly magical yeti who is tired of all the green surrounding the world, and that all the enemies you fought were controlled under his magic). There is no intro sequence, you're thrust right into the fray as soon as you start. The first two stages, I'll buy that Mr. Nutz would go from here to there, but for the rest it's absolutely befuddling. In the third stage you come across a grail which will shrink you down to bite size.
Okay, so he has shrunk down to a very small size; but then he finishes the faucet area and somehow gets back to his normal height. And for that matter once he exits the volcano he hops on a series of clouds until he faces the boss. Well, how the hell does he get down afterwards? And this is a problem; there is no establishment of the plot (no in-betweens, just the map screen after you beat a stage and that's it), so as a result a lot of what happens doesn't make sense. Still, it's much less bizarre and nonsensical than The Adventures of Kid Kleets/Soccer Kid at least. There is also the matter of wasted potential: see, the first boss Mr. Spider talks to you before he fights you.
And... that's it. No other boss talks to you, not even Mr. Blizzard, the main antagonist. It's very unfortunate that the only times that a dialogue box pops up is when Mr. Spider talks to you, in the beginning of Adventure Park part 3 where you're told to look for a key, and at the start of the sixth world where you must enter an igloo to progress forward; because it feels a bit wasted here. It also does not help matters at all that the plot is fairly nonexistent. If you're going have dialogue spoken by the bosses, either have it be done by most or all of them or don't do them at all. But if you are to have a single boss talk to you then have it be the final boss, not the boss at the start of the game! =( Just... no! Now, this may be a lighthearted adventure, but beneath the surface it is all kinds of weird! In particular during the boss fights, which as I aforementioned are dark and serious in comparison to the cute and lighthearted enemies you face earlier. The octopus looks threatening, Mr. Spider looks scary, but all of them pale in comparison to the absolutely horrifying sight that is: Ograum Papas.
The buildup for the boss' appearance is intense, for it starts with a clear view of the ground with shaking abound, and then Ograum Papas slowly rises up revealing his head, wearing an expression on his face that says "I'm going to murder you!"
So he proceeds to attack you with his... anatomically backwards hands? No, seriously, they're anatomically backwards hands! Wow, how did that happen? And for that matter, it doesn't look right; they're not even swiping in their right direction. *tries imitating hand swipes* It's not as comfortable as it looks, guys, it's very awkward. But, hey, it doesn't seem so bad; all you have to do is hop on his head enough times and you're free to go. Well, it's all fun and games until someone loses their ey--
|= }=> O=> D=> O.O
... Whaaaaaaaat the fuuuuuuuuu------ D=>
I mean, holy crap, did you see that?! He just gouged out his unlimited arsenal of eyes, revealing from time to time empty sockets! And the way that his backup eyes roll out from behind his sockets is so disturbing to look at that I can't believe Ocean actually thought this boss was fitting for game that was made for kids! There's your nightmare fuel right there; God only knows how many kids were traumatized and got nightmares from Ograum Papas' very being. O.O I couldn't believe what I saw when I first saw this; I mean, that is way too intense. ... You know, for kids! All right, let's move forward, I don't want to dwell too much on this.
|Screencap of MD footage while watching|
AlexZhano's video on YouTube
The same year Ocean crafted a portable version for the Game Boy original, released in European and American shores. The area designs were altered significantly and some of the details in the backdrop were omitted due the system's limitations but it managed to retain its fluid animation and Gesqua's soundtrack (albeit with different results). After the debut of the Game Boy Color many companies contemplated rereleasing some of their monochromatic games for that system, and in 1999 Mr. Nutz was one of them (released after Ocean converted themselves to Infogrames). It was basically equal to the Game Boy version, except the backdrops had more detail to them, the health bar now allowed up to six dots, and there was an introduction sequence.
Then in 2001 another version of the title was made, this time for the Game Boy Advance by Infogrames; and from what I hear it is the weakest version of them all. The game frame was uncomfortably zoomed in, so Mr. Nutz was about a quarter of the size of the screen, Gesqua's music was absent and instead replaced with forgettable dribble, and it only saw release in Europe; out of all the versions of the game, this was the only one that had bonus areas that took place underwater if you managed to collect all the coins in the stage. The thing that these four ports have in common unlike the SNES original is that they have password systems, while the Nintendo 16-bit version had to be beaten all in one sitting. General consensus regarding Mr. Nutz is that the SNES original was the superior version of them all, despite the lack of passwords and extra features.
It wouldn't be a standalone venture, for there was a prequel that followed soon after... sort of.
Screencaps from watching MD version of Mr. Nutz: Hoppin' Mad while watching cubex55's video on YouTubeAfter Mr. Nutz was released, a company called Neon Studios (initially Kaiko) made their own squirrel game which was going to be christened Timet the Flying Squirrel, but after finding Ocean to publish their game for the Amiga as a PAL exclusive, they changed the character from Timet to Mr. Nutz as he was already an Ocean-based character. A MegaDrive version was to be made in 1995, and despite being completed and reviewed by a Euro magazine, it was canned for indiscernible reasons. Many thought that it would be lost for good, until an unidentified source released an ROM of it in 2009, which eventually got converted to playable cartridge format for both MegaDrive and Genesis cartridges. Now I don't mind when games try to go in a different direction, but I'm not 100% positive it was a good idea to turn Mr. Nutz into something he was not.
Long story short: after Sonic the Hedgehog's success in 1991, many games tried mimic its speeding formula and most were met with scrutiny (especially in Bubsy's case); Mr. Nutz was not one of them. It was a slow-paced platformer with intricately designed areas and shared little elements with the blue hedgehog's game; Mr. Nutz: Hoppin' Mad (sometimes referred to as Mr. Nutz 2 despite its prequel status), on the other hand, decided to take things in a different route and turn itself into a blatant Sonic wannabe (with a couple different control schemes), except that from time to time there is an overworld, dialogue, and forms of areas likened to shoot'em ups. If Ocean wasn't involved in any way, it would be Timet who would be the main character and not Mr. Nutz, but because of this the crimson red squirrel is now labeled as a Sonic imitator and hurt his image as such. The original game was a platformer; stay a platformer, don't turn it into something it wasn't meant to be from the start! I've seen more than half an hour's worth of gameplay footage on YouTube, and while at first I was intrigued I honestly found what I saw to be a bit unimpressive at the least. =( That's not to say that I won't try it someday, I might, who knows? Maybe it's not as bad as I'm presuming it to be, but at this moment I'm not really that interested in that one.
This is a game that I have fun playing anytime I get to it, and it's one that I've long had a soft spot for. =) I've first heard of this game back in 2008 when I read it on a now defunct website where the verdict was positive; I checked a gameplay footage of it, and it was right then and there that I just had to play Mr. Nutz. One video was enough to have me sold, but at the the I didn't have an SNES console (before I used to play with that console whenever I visited relatives) but two days before 2009 I was given a complete surprise: one of my cousins lent me his SNES console with some of his games. It totally took me by surprise, but I was grateful for that and really appreciated it, since the SNES was my favorite console (still is). =)
But it wouldn't be until five months later that I would experience this game; since I didn't see many retro stores, I've contemplated going to eBay for sometime but I was new to that experience. Eventually in May of that year, I created an account and looked for the first game to order (there were a lot of choices), and I decided that Mr. Nutz for the SNES would be that game. When it arrived on May 29th, 2009, I couldn't believe it! I was super excited for many reasons than one. Not only was Mr. Nutz the first game I bought from eBay (my eBay adventures started with game, opening me to a world I never experienced before), it was also my first ever SNES cartridge and the first I've ever bought; the other SNES games I played were either on someone else's SNES console or on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, but to have a physical SNES cart which I could call my own was incredible. And to make things even better, it arrived the day before I graduated from high school (if you ask me this was a really good graduation gift). =)
|Look at all the ice around!|
It's got its flaws that bog it down just slightly, but overall I consider Mr. Nutz to be a solid Euro platformer. The fact that only two people created this SNES game (three if you include the composer) is absolutely mindblowing; it's not often that you hear of a 16-bit game created by a team this small. Another neat thing about it is that there is zero slowdown whatsoever; there are moments when many enemies will crowd up the screen and despite it becoming hectic it doesn't interrupt the smooth flow. I counted at least twelve-thirteen big skulls that the witch boss tossed towards you, and it did not affect the frame rate once. If you want, you could decide to either play this game in English or in French, in case you wanted to learn some new words or dialogue in a different language. =) If you're in the mood for a fun platformer, then this should do the trick. If you expect a really great masterpiece among platforming, it's probably best you look elsewhere. If you want to play a game for its challenge and fun and not so much for the story, then Mr. Nutz is a good opportunity to do so. Just remember to not judge it by its cover and play it for what it is. It's no Mario or Kirby, but for what it is it's good; I recommend it for those who seek a good challenge. Whatever the outcome, and despite its flaws, Mr. Nutz will always hold a special place in my heart as my first SNES game.
P.S.: I just had to throw in that line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I had to! XD In context, since there was a grail, it made sense to use it.
P.S. 2: How is Mr. Nutz holding his tail when he's swimming underwater? And why hold it like that?
P.S. 3: As far as I know, this game has got the most realistic-looking sponge seen in a 16-bit platformer, and champagne glasses too!
P.S. 4: There was another squirrel starring game in the '90s called Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel but it fared a lot worse than this game.
P.S. 5: I often notice little subtle details that are fairly peculiar with this game:
For example, are those rock formations in the left or do they resemble petrified skulls? o_O Also, would you take a look at that mountain glacier in the distance; is it me or does that look like a face?
P.S. 6: When I thought of reviewing this game awhile ago I considered making a French intro before going back to English; I figured it would've made sense considering which country Mr. Nutz was made in.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Take care! =)
I mean seriously, Ocean, what substance did you take that made you concoct an image this disturbing?? o-o