Friday, January 3, 2014

The Mighty One

In 1992, Mattel began selling little toy sets which featured a miniaturized scene with a little boy and one or two enemies. The toy sets were similar to Polly Pocket, the only difference was that these sets were marketed to boys. They were called "Mighty Max" and they dominated the lives of boys for a couple years before disappearing. I liked just collecting the different Mighty Maxes in each set as each Max had a different color hat but I only have one Max left and I have no idea where it is.


Better than the toy sets was the animated television show. Aired in syndication from 1993 to 1994 with forty episodes over two seasons, Mighty Max was an amazing series focusing on Max, who, after finding his cap in a statue he broke, becomes the Mighty One and with help from his mentor Virgil and bodyguard Norman Max travels through portals on a quest to stop the evil Skullmaster among other villains. One of the best things about the show were the voices. You had Rob Paulsen, Tony Jay, Richard Moll and Tim Curry. Now that's a cast! Each episode was action-packed and just the tiniest bit educational. When you played with these sets and watched the show, you wanted to be Max. I wanted to be Max. I even started wearing a baseball cap from 1994-1996 just in case it was a Cosmic Cap and turned me into the Mighty One.

Then I found the video game. Now you could actually be the Mighty One and work to destroy Skullmaster. Now, I do have to confess that most of the games in my video game collections are steaming piles of dung. I have your classic Mario games but I also have "The Three Stooges", "Where's Waldo", "The Addams Family", "Bart Versus the Space Mutants" and "Versus the World" and my collection consisted of "Fester's Quest" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" for years before I finally sold them. Now, you would think a Mighty Max game would be fairly straight forward. A simple platform game, going to different places, maybe even a map screen. But that's not what happens. When you start up the game, it looks promising.
You got Max and his friends running away from the darkness and Virgil trying to keep Norman from killing himself trying to fight. It even has an annoying upbeat rock soundtrack that is firmly set in 1994. If you wait long enough, it goes to a demo showing you what the game is like. Different than what you expect but looks very doable. Clearly the demo was programmed differently than the actual gameplay.

When you start the game, you go to a character select screen where you can choose who to play as.
You can choose either Max, Felix or Bea. Yeah, you remember Felix and Bea from the three episodes apiece that they were in! You don't get to play as Virgil or Norman. Norman's in the game and I except for the stage select screen, I don't Virgil is in it at all but I've only ever beaten the first two stages. You get to pick the level you want to start at and the screen shows you what enemies you are going to face which I guess comes in handy. I chose the space level and the enemies you will be fighting are penguins in space suits, flying miniature R2D2s, a cyborg frog and a couple other non-descript robot things. So you go into space and you're dropped onto a platform.
Look at what a mess this is. The background with the space junk is constantly moving and you can't tell what's a platform or what's a wall or what is part of the background. In the picture above, the yellow and black spaces you can stand on but not the red and black girder things BUT if the red and black girder things are vertical then they act like a wall. The biggest problem is the jumping. You jump too high. Look at the picture above, if you were to jump, you would beyond the score box causing the screen to move up with you. With such a high jump--even when you just slightly tap on the B button--you know that this isn't going to be a game where you jump on the enemies. No, you have gun that shoots bullets(?) and the bullets ricochet off the wall. To get rid of an enemy you have to pick it up and throw it away. Yeah, you can pick up objects in this game and you lift them over your head.
You can even lift boulders over your head.
The object of the game is to collect 3 futuristic-looking bathtubs and toss them into a portal. But it isn't that straight forward. You have to find a way to get the bathtubs to the portals and you can't jump while carrying something so you have to figure out ways to get the bathtubs onto different platforms either through teeter-totters, moving hoverboards, barely visible springs or balloons. Instead of being a cool action-adventure game, it becomes a problem-solving game.
Look at this. The portal is on the left side of the screen and the bathtub is on the right. I can't throw the tub onto the hoverboard and I can't jump while carrying it. How the hell do I get it over there?
Then I remembered that there is a lever to shoot that moves the hoverboard so you can throw the bathtub onto it. Yeah. You see that lever?
See it now?
How about now?
Everything in this game is hidden by the highly detailed and convoluted background. There are some power-ups that can help you get through. There are hearts that restore your health by one. There's a clock that freezes enemies but you can still get hurt by touching them. You still have to shoot them and throw them away. There is also something that makes you invincible which is nice but it also increases your jump so you now jump twice as high which can be good but is mostly just annoying. Then there's Norman. Oh, yes, Norman. Nigh-immortal, nearly god-like Norman. When you find a megaphone, that calls Norman and mainly what he does is stand in front of you.
That's great, Norman. Um, can you move out of my way so I can see my game sprite?
All Norman does for the thirty(?) seconds he's around is copy exactly what Max is doing. If you run into an enemy then Norman will slice them up but Norman either comes too early in the level thus leaving you on your own for the rest of the level or too late after you have already killed most of the enemies. Now if you could actually play as Norman--even just for a few minutes at a time--and jump while carrying the bathtubs then that would be a better help.

On the plus side(?), you get 5 lives and 3 continues. There are two difficulty settings on the title screen: Normal and Practice. Practice mode gives you 9 lives and you only have to collect 2, not 3, bathtubs. I think when you finish a level, it takes you back to the main screen to play the regular game. When you die and run out of continues, you get an awesome "Game Over" screen with Skullmaster.

I've never beaten this game. I've beaten the Space stage and the Volcano stage which then opens up a Jungle and Arctic stage but that's all I have the patience for. When you beat a stage you get a password which allows you to continue with whatever stage you beat but to be honest, they should've just did one level where you collect five or six bathtubs instead of three levels where you collect nine. Basically, if you want to relive Mighty Max I suggest avoiding this game and writing some fan fiction or, better yet, just watch the TV show:

Until next time, I remain...
~Brian

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