Friday, September 14, 2012

Marvel Land (Genesis)

Buy it now!

I'll be the first to admit, among the reviews that Mike and I have done here - the Sega Genesis has gone pretty unloved. Believe me when I say; it's not for lack of interesting games. The Genesis has a whole slew of lost gems and hidden treasures that need to get dug back up from obscurity and collected. My trouble often is this: "Where do I start?" Sega has had a unique (and often frustrating) knack for repackaging and re-releasing their "greatest hits" in various forms on various systems. For those of you who are younger and fairly unfamiliar with the console, a good place to start is Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the best "bang for your buck." I'll probably feature a few of those gems from the glory days of Sega in a future blog - but right now, I want to focus on another obscure title that has the look and feel of Sega's former console, the Sega Master System. The game in question? Namco's 1991 port of their 1989 arcade title: Marvel Land.

I have to admit, when I first read the title "Marvel Land" the first thing that popped in my head was that this was another lackluster superhero mash-up game ala Spiderman & X-men. After all, in the early 90's; comic book fever was still rampant and there were plenty of weaksauce superhero games. However, after seeing the cover art and finally diving into the game - I realize the makers meant "Marvel Land" to mean a place that causes awe and amazement.  In this case: the plot revolves around an amusement park called Marvel Land that is being overrun by bad guys since the evil Mole has become king. You (Prince Talmit) have to save the princess (as well as some fairies you meet along the way) and defeat the evil Mole King. Logical? No. Quirky enough to be interesting? Yes.

Plot: Save the princess. Gosh, what a novel plot device!
The gameplay is pretty standard fare if you're used to most platformers. You run around jumping from blocks to Swiss Cake Rolls (or logs...I'm not sure) and try to duck, dodge, jump on, or smash various wacky enemies in a quest to reach the end of the level and smash through a gigantic, impractically placed target. There are warp areas, special items, and various food stuffs that give you points (and enough points will rack you up an extra life or two.) There are four main levels divvied up into stages such as a rollercoaster stage, haunted house, and generic outdoor carnival stages. The enemies in this game are equal parts quirky hallucinations and psychotic fever dreams. You have pigs flying on rockets, geckos with weaponized tongues, and - I kid you not - a dominatrix rose monster.

I really wish I had a wittier caption for this...
The graphics, music, level design, and gameplay are all reminiscent of games made for the Sega Master System. I hypothesize that there might even be a good reason for this. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1989, the same year that the Sega Genesis hit our shores (and only a year or less since the Japanese got the Mega Drive.) Could this port have been originally developed with the Master System in mind, but instead ported over to the Genesis a few years later? After all, a lot of the first few Genesis games were arcade ports such as Altered Beast and Wonder Boy in Monster Land, that had already hit the Master System. That's just my little theory - but it's hard to deny that the look and feel of the game is reminiscent to other arcade ports that had previously hit the Master System. The music is cute (albeit a bit repetitive,) the graphics are colorful and surprisingly faithful to the arcade version, and it is really a blast to play.
Rollercoaster...on drugs! SAY WHAT?!
The only major downsides I can think of are the controls and the difficulty. Overall, the controls are passable enough - but at times can feel a little stiff or clunky. One of the key elements of a platformer depends on precise jumps and well timed maneuvers. In this game, there is too little "wiggle room" for some of the less than stellar controls. Also, while most of the game is fairly easy - there are times when you will get stuck (particularly at boss battles.) For some reason, Japanese programmers seem to LOVE minigames - particularly rock, paper, scissor. I say this only because I have only a few Super Famicom games - and I'll be darned and dipped in chocolate if at least two of them don't feature rock, paper, scissor in some aspect of the game. I know they invented the game - but seriously; it's not fun to anyone over the age of 8. Furthermore, boss battles should not be determined by elements of "chance" such as musical chairs and rock, paper, scissor. It artificially inflates the difficulty by taking all of the battle elements out of the game and replacing them with reflexes and luck.

"Yeah mom - I'll do my homework....when pigs fly."
But I digress...

Overall, Marvel Land is a cutesy, quirky platformer that (while not without its faults) has a great arcade feel and brings you back to the early days of Sega. I highly recommend picking up a copy from Lukie Games!

Big pimpin'