What even is this thing?
Mischief Makers is a game developed by Treasure as their first forray outside of the Sega ecosystem and into the wild world of Nintendo 3rd parties. Yes, I'm talking about that Treasure, of Gunstar Heroes, Sin and Punishment, and Ikaruga fame. Mischief Makers is also Treasure's first game published by Enix, prior to their mega-merger with Square. This all combines to mean we'll probably never see another quite like this darling piece of media obscura, but that's not all bad news.
This oddball of a game had prerendered sprites in the vein of Donkey Kong Country, in a 3D plane you only moved left and right outside occasionally "changing lanes" in a 2.5D style much like Yoshi's Story, and was one of the very rare games to use the classic SNES style holding of the N64 controller. That's right, you used the D-pad and left shoulder button instead of the analog stick and Z-trigger. When I played this game for the first time those buttons were so unused it was like I had half a new controller in my hands.
Mischief Makers follows a story not that dissimilar from Megaman's Roll, you're a robot named Marina created to be a maid by Professor Theo and must consistently run after your creator trying to save him after he has been kidnapped. Each chapter feels very much like a Saturday morning cartoon show as you go through the levels and eventually save your creepy Mr. Roshi like maker, only to have it happen all over again at the beginning of the next chapter.
The characters are probably the biggest highlight of the game, despite the vast majority of the NPCs and structures looking like they're stuck in some sort of Lovecraftian horror novel. There's a lot of energy and drive behind these barely voiced machinations of the Emporer's (the main antagonist) designs. The levels are also (mostly) well built, and my favorite parts were the extremely out there boss battles. Seriously, at one point you're being chased by an armored bird on a bike that fires machine guns and missiles at you while you ride a cat that can jump on those missiles and you try and grab and throw them back at your adversary. Look at this thing.
They made the most out of the limited number of actions you could do as well. Marina could dash in all eight cardinal directions, grab stuff, shake stuff, and throw stuff. That's pretty much the entire game but between finding magic pots in certain levels where you could fuse items together, throwing yourself off catchable items, and the myriad of different weapon changes that could happen from "shaking" an existing item into something else in a manner of physics bending that's best left not thought about too much they managed to keep it fresh throughout the short lived game.
So what's the problem?
"Well that all sounds cool, or at least interesting" you might say, and yes that's true, and is very much so why I like this game, but what's bad about it? I'll tell you. First is the sound, the music direction in this game isn't great, and the "Shake Shake" catchphrase that Marina says every time you shake something will either either stop you from finishing the game, drive you insane, or you'll somehow be able to ignore it after a while. The highly compressed sounds, a problem for the N64 in general, did the game no favors, at all. Second, the games structure is extremely weird, and probably would've done better had it been developed a generation later where they could've given the game's story a bit more time to breathe. Very few of the locations you go to make any sense, and the few times you end up playing as a character that isn't Marina never feels very good.
Finally, we have the controls, which despite being 100% digital were frustrating even if they were responsive. This issue culminates in an Olympics type event where Professor Theo is somehow one of the prizes, so Marina must compete. This entire section of the game is too long, unskippable, and will hurt your hands not unlike the Mario Party games of that generation only somehow without using the analog stick.
There was also a very weird design decision where, after you beat the game, the ending cinematic would clip off if you didn't get a bunch of extra items hidden in every level of the game. Each of these items added a few seconds of dialog so you could just get cut off in the middle of a scene if you didn't get enough of them. A very strange and annoying decision although I suppose it did motivate going back to the levels you had beaten already and scouring them for golden gems.
This all adds up to a strange mishmash of ideas in a fevered dream of a game that isn't really good but I still had a lot of fun playing. I'm not sure what prompted Enix to publish this out west, especially with how Japanese the title is in every way, but I'm glad they did. Should you manage to find a cartridge, because it has never been rereleased, I do recommend giving it a go sometime if only to find out if you have the stomach for this flawed gem.