I played a lot of horrible games growing up. The third and fourth games in our NES library (I swear on my grandmother’s grave) after Super Mario Brothers/Duckhunt and Jackal were Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle and TOP GUN!!! We never owned the cool games like Ninja Gaiden or Legend of Zelda. MY first ninja game was Legend of Kage (ugh!) and instead of Legend of Zelda, I played Mystery Quest!! This game holds a dear place in my Rage Bank, as it was a game I handpicked my own f**king self as a reward for getting straight A’s that semester. The moral I learned after playing this was I should’ve failed the third grade!!
If there is one thing the ‘Ness did was platform games a-go-go, and given the success of the simplicity of Super Mario Bros., it served as the perfect foundation for other developers to take that base concept and create their own spin, such as adding weapons management and solid level design (Mega Man), thinking strategy instead of plowing ahead (Castlevania), and implementing RPG elements to expand the game engine (Rygar, Faxanadu), or utilizing two different styles of gameplay altogether to create a pretty stimulating experience (Master Blaster). And then there’s a mediocre, unimpressive title like Mystery Quest that doesn’t do a single thing spectacular or even noteworthy. I’m not even sure what you’re supposed to think after looking at the box art; a boy holding a key is firing Tienshinhan’s Dodon Pa at a snake, who is so impressed with this technique, he doesn’t even sell it. I really had no I idea what I was getting into when I picked this up, but the parents dropped $50 on it, so may as well salvage it our I’ll get grounded for being ungrateful and spend the week playing Tiger Electronic games.
The NES has a limited palette and only so many sprites can be on a screen at one time, but Mystery Quest is not a particularly handsome game. Mostly because it’s too damn bright and there is very little hue variation. The outer world’s blue sky is just that; one
solid color with no clouds and the ground is a pretty light gray stone pattern. Were it not for the occasional vegetation (trees and bushes and lazily placed green platforms here and there, it look like you got lost at an empty Circuit City parking lot. Your main character Hao is so pale in an attempt to get a flesh color tone, he winds up blending in with some of the background buildings. His lips are highlighted, which succeeds at making him look like a clown on a mission to meet up with the McKids. So you would think that at the very least, the interiors of some of these dungeons would offer a little bit of variety. They do, but not it’s not really an improvement. The floor tiles are bricks, but the exact same color as the ground outside, but at least the background walls are colors that make the game sprites stand out a little more. Except for Castle 4, which chose white, ensuring that I go blind while playing.
The enemies are a joke! Again, with a title like Mystery Quest, you would think that the odds of encountering mystical creatures like venomous spitting plants, skeleton foot soldiers, or animated suits of armor would be pretty high. After all, Zelda gave us mummies, ghosts, and unique creatures like leevers. Well, Mystery Quest didn’t even look in the Discontinued bin at Essential Henchmen’s (your one stop for platform game baddies!!) for threats to your journey because your most common enemies in this game can be found in your back yard!!
Bees, scorpions, snakes, dragonflies, groundhogs, and bats will stop at nothing to slightly, sort of, kind of be in your way. They can be easily dispatched, but why? It’s not like they drop power-ups or health items, and they seem to be minding your own business. Only the boss monsters in each of the four castles are legit threats that have to be defeated in order to proceed, and two of them are a praying mantis and a giant snail!! ‘Quest just lacks any kind of visual flair to keep you interested and your eyes will start begging for something interesting to loom at . Even lame NES games like Dynowarz had some appeal to it, despite having sprites way too small to make out. Until I recall otherwise, Mystery Quest might be the most boring-looking NES game I have ever played.
Here’s another stunning (if not nitpicking) example of the creative genius that went into this game. You know how spikes are generally a common hazard in platformers? Well, in the open world, you will occasionally come across skulls jutting through the ground. If you happen to land upon these skulls, they drain you health. This boggled my mind as a child and even more so today: The fact that a skull, normally used as an indicator for what can harm you in a video game, literally harms you in Mystery Quest!!
What’s even goofier is that in the castles, spikes are already a hazard!! What is the point of the silly skull when you already have an established obstacle that is well-known to gamers at the time this game was released? What properties are in a skull that causes it to damage you? From what I know, they can’t be all that lethal, can they? Simply touching it will kill you?!
SOUND EFFECTS & MUSIC 4.6
It’s a little hard to fathom that when doing a bit of research on this game’s origins, I learned that Nobuo Uematsu composed the music that routinely got stuck in my head during those endless nights when I couldn’t find my way out of Castle 2. To its credit, the music is probably the most memorable thing I found, and that was before my bias affected my score. There are only two main themes throughout the game anyway, so I doubt Mr. Uematsu felt horrible for never giving it his all for a game that features a pale boy shooting bubbles at a hedgehog and bouncing off squares of lasagna. The only other sound that this game constantly emits is a loud *PING* whenever your shot hits a wall or when you take damage. This is another thing that really pissed me off back in the 8 bit era, when your health bar was low and the game felt the need to remind you by piercing chiming noises or constant beeping. I’m either about to die, or my character needs to take their Hot Pocket out of the damn microwave!!!
So, you may not lack the graphics to please the eye and the sound is equal to a steamroller mashing a zebra, why not top it off with jumping controls that rival Bart Vs The Space Mutants? Hao moves fairly sluggish and has a problem maintaining momentum. You have to constantly press the B button in order for him gain speed, which is annoying. Why can’t you just hold the button down? Jumping sucks, as previously implied. Unless you’re running at top speed, Hao’s first jump is just terrible, barely clearing roughly three blocks, but if you immediately jump right after landing, the second jump will get you to where you want to go. What kind of hack programming is that? It isn’t strategic to have to jump twice just to get to a higher platform, it’s aggravating!! Descending is a pain in the ass. Even if you inch off the edge of a platform, Hao will lurch forward at least one whole square space. So if you were attempting to land just beneath to a block that was close to water, there is a good chance you dimwitted hero will go for a swim! Learning to get a hang of these awkward jump controls is key because with some jumping puzzles, you need a moderate running start to hit your mark. For instance: these reoccurring lasagna squares will propel you through the air. There spots like this one:
You’ll need just enough velocity to hit the edge of the square without overshooting it while flying forward with enough momentum to reach that higher platform. You don’t have much space to run, and while it is possible, having to do it over and over will strain on your patience. It’s one thing to program your game in a manner where the clunky controls are a deliberate part of the gameplay to quiz the player as to finding the most optimal solution out of a tight situation (the whip in Castlevania and Resident Evil’s “tank” controls), and here they tried to go for something like that, but it isn’t necessary and it only hinders already uninteresting gameplay.
The objective is to locate and collect two items per Castle and make your way back out. In the U.S. release of the game, two extra castles were taken out to shorten play length, reducing the dungeons to four. You only have one life, but the ability to continue from the beginning of the castle and you don’t have to recollect any item you need to exit, but health power ups stay gone for good. Apparently there are two ways to beat this game. One gives you a bad ending where you don’t encounter the wizard, and this is the screen I kept getting. Despite getting the items needed, I continued to get the half ending.
Even after following online walkthroughs, I don’t know what the hell I was doing wrong. I stopped caring back then and I still don’t care today.
Mystery Quest was something I really tried to put closure on as a bad game I at least wanted to complete 100%. I just figured I would try to beat a game that haunted my childhood, but it wants to be a jackass! I could’ve used that time to defeatBattletoads for the first time in my life, but NOOOOOO, I gave this more attention than it deserves. For people looking to have a complete NES collection, by all means. Otherwise, expecting anything above lame controls, a lack of visual appeal, repetitive music, stock enemies, and generic puzzles, is way too high. FINAL SCORE 3.9/10