(Wrecking Crew, October 1985, Nintendo)
Even though he is commonly known as a plumber, Mario was a man of many trades in the early days of the NES. What happens when he drops the signature fireballs and raccoon tails and returns to his roots of swinging a hammer? Let's take a peek at a title that sadly went forgotten for quite a few years, the launch day classic, Wrecking Crew,
A rare shot on how the poor guy looked in the hour he had between 8 hour shifts.
My educated guess is that before Mario happened upon the Mushroom Kingdom, Pauline was one gold digging piece of work. Look at her later appearances and how high maintenance she came off and judge for yourself. Our favorite Italian plumber on the surface doesn't really look like a guy who gets a ton of action so in order to keep his main squeeze in the habit of squeezing, went out and got about ten side-jobs. The poor guy was a plumber, a tennis referee, a gorilla trapper, and a pinball prop in an attempt to keep up with the manicures, hair upkeep, and dining of the only female to throw him some play at the time. When even that wasn't enough, enter Mario, the third shift construction worker.
The Design Mode Cake is a lie.
All joking side, what I found most intresting about the creation of Wrecking Crew was that the lead programmer was Yoshio Sakamoto, who went on to much greater fame as the co-creator of Metroid as well as the driving force behind Kid Icarus. Wrecking Crew was the first NES title he cut his teeth on after doing pixel work for the Game & Watch version of Donkey Kong alongside the mad scientist himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. As the duo discussed their future seperate projects, Sakamoto was talked into changing the main character, who was originally clean shaved and sporting overalls, into the more recognizable Mario. This could possibly be the reason Luigi is wearing purple as there was no design for him set in stone yet. In later years, of course, there was a Mario style antagonist who went with the purple color scheme in Wario.
It's a good thing they were verified to be Eggplant Men otherwise they kind of resemble...nah, too easy...
Where the hell did my focus go? There is some NESquesting to be done! Your choices are 1 player, 2 player, or Design Mode and again, a la Excitebike, created levels were unable to be saved or loaded. Even though it is 20 plus years since these were released, I still get slightly bummed of the fact that the Programmable Series of Black Box titles were anything but. The possibilities could've been endless and who knows what savant game designers we missed out on in the 80's that could've had their start here? The object is to bash everything in sight while avoiding Gotchawrenches and Eggplant Men, easily two of the most bizarre Mario enemies ever. It definately isn't a mindless romp however, but more along the lines of a puzzle/action hybrid where you are required to calculate what you destroy and when, lest you fuck yourself out of a way to reach breakable objects that may remain. Mario's only tool here is a hammer and in the same vein as Donkey Kong, he can't jump when it is in his possession. The core gameplay differences being that in Wrecking Crew, he has hold of the hammer the entire time and it can't affect anything but brick and concrete. The enemies can be avoided or tricked into doors that confuse them for a set time, leaving you to go hogshit on everything you see. A bonus stage appears every 5 levels and revolves around Mario going head up in a game of chance against the evil foreman, Spikey to find a hidden coin. The controls are tight and every defeat makes you re-think the level until you acheive what I like to refer to as an "a-ha!" moment. The action starts out innocent enough but believe me, the challenge becomes off the charts around level 20. The graphics are somehow dark and vibrant at the same time, giving the feeling of being underground in Nintendo's own twisted world, and what else could you ask for? Sound is just kind of there and doesn't leave a lasting impression nor make you want to kill the speakers so it suffices. As with all the box art on launch day, it is hit or miss and this one was a miss. Why'd they go with a shot that looks nothing like Mario on a game where he is the central character, yet on Pinball's box, he couldn't be anymore recognizable?
I can't confirm whether the game cheats but 12 straight bonus levels until Mario found the coin first!
THE FINAL VERDICT
8/10 While I understand that everything from launch day pales in comparison to Super Mario Bros, I truly am baffled as to why this title wasn't more well known. Memorable characters, an original action/puzzle genre that I can't recall any other game having at the time, and a heaping helping of replayability land Wrecking Crew squarely on the top rungs of the Black Box ladder.
Yet another reason for gamers in the 80s to want Japanese citizenship.
You think Wrecking Crew got lost in the shuffle? Try its only sequel, Wrecking Crew '98! Released only in Japan (of course), Nintendo Power sold flash cartridges that could be taken to any Nintendo store and, for a modest fee, have a custom playlist of games games uploaded complete with on-the-spot manuals of the chosen games printed out. Original titles as well as established games were part of the service and it remained such a popular service that it lasted until 2007. Wrecking Crew '98 was one of the more popular original titles to be attained through this innovation and showcased a few new color schemes, such as fixing Luigi's purple. Not only was the original included but a brand new mode complete with a storyline was added. Mario competes head-to-head with various characters from the first offering and the goal is to fill up his opponents screen by breaking everything set before you faster than they can. Even Spikey got to come back and re-live his glory days in 16-bit fashion. As with Mario Excitebike, there is something wrong with the world that didn't let us get an overseas port of Wrecking Crew '98 because it is just fun, fun, fun.
Seriously, how fucking cool does that look?
To read a fantastic interview with Sakamoto where he goes more in-depth with his time developing Wrecking Crew: