Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cirque Du So Lame: The Ballad of Neo Mr. Do!

Once again, my apologies for my extended absence. I came down with the flu last week, but several antibiotics and a whole lot of cough syrup later, I'm feeling just good enough to start blogging again. So let's do it, shall we?

Since I finally got Neo-Geo games working on my hacked 3DS, I think I'll spend a little, heh, quality time with one of the lesser known titles for SNK's arcade jukebox. Neo Mr. Do!, developed by Visco Games, is the next generation sequel to Mr. Do!, one of the B-list celebrities from gaming's golden age. Here's an illustration taken from Joystik magazine...

Okay, creepy? I'm sorry, but I keep thinking those cherries are bloody skulls. The actual game is less disturbing, best described as a hybrid of Pac-Man and Dig Dug. As the harlequin hero Mr. Do!, you can either clear the screen of monsters or take a more pacifistic route and just eat all the cherries strewn throughout the playfield. Your primary weapons are the power ball, which bounces around madly in search of targets, and apples, which can be used to crush monsters by digging under them or shoving them into neighboring tunnels. 

Mr. Do!, as it appeared
on the Super NES.
(image from Console Classix)
The monsters are wilier than the ones in Dig Dug, burrowing their way through the dirt in their pursuit and even pushing apples onto you if you've been sloppy with your work. Complicating matters are the letter men, which appear when you grab a dessert that appears in the monsters' spawn point. These guys happily devour any apples you drop onto them, but killing them helps you build the word E-X-T-R-A, which earns you an extra life. It's very much a product of its time, simple and derivative but naggingly addictive all the same.

Like Nintendo's jack of all trades Mario, Mr. Do! adopted new play styles in his later games. Mr. Do!'s Castle, my personal favorite, has the clown crushing unicorns with a hammer in a pastiche of Donkey Kong and Lode Runner. Mr. Do!'s Wild Ride is the dud of the bunch, a perilous climb to the top of an active roller coaster track. (No explanation is given for this suicidal behavior, but you'll be happy to send Mr. Do! to his demise so you can stop playing the game.) The entertaining mid-1980s finale, Do! Run Run, is the most like the original, but replaces the mounds of dirt with layered overhead platforms studded with dots. Drawing squares around the dots changes them into more valuable fruits, and brightly colored logs can be pushed to crush the monsters nipping at your heels.

Mr. Re-Do.
Neo Mr. Do! returns the clown to his roots, with the same faux-Dig Dug gameplay that made him (almost) famous. He hunts for cherries, he turns apples into weapons of mass destruction, he throws bouncy balls into monsters. However, this time, it's louder, more garish, and above all, stranger than ever. Visco Games leaned hard on the circus theme, resulting in colors so bright they burn to the touch, enthusiastic calliope music, and full screen performances by Mr. Do! himself between levels. Even the font is desperate to convince you that you'll have a grand old time, with googly eyes and demented grins. (Call me a party pooper, but I'd be having more fun if the text in this game were readable. It's forty points in size and I still have no idea what it's trying to tell me!)

You're no Circus Charlie, pal!
But alas, fun is more elusive under this big top than it first appears. The attempts at humor are often forced (if it tells you anything, there's even a laugh track in the intermissions...) and the enhancements to the gameplay don't really improve it. Spelling "EXTRA" gives you a brief, often annoying puzzle stage with no real reward beyond bonus points. You'll have to earn an extra life by mining coins from stationary objects... it's kind of like banging your head against a coin block in Super Mario Bros., except the objects often won't tell you when they've been wrung dry of cash. Power ups include gender swappers that turn our hero into Ms. Do!, and the mini-bosses that appear at the ends of levels won't take "die" for an answer, respawning almost immediately after they've been hit with the power ball. Come to think of it, a lot of the enemies in this game shrug off death, leaving the player feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

Gee, I didn't realize Mr. Do! was so ripped.
The biggest problem with Neo Mr. Do!, as is so often the case with retro game revivals, is that it feels out of sync with the original vision for the series. It gets the basics right, but goes way overboard with artistic license, to the point where Mr. Do! dances spastically after beating stages and rides a Harley down the highway, clown girlfriend in tow, after winning an extra life. I don't know how the designers of the original Mr. Do! would have made an updated sequel, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have done this.

(Screenshots taken from World of Longplays on YouTube)

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