Mappy (NES) review
"So hey, how's that Mappy Championship Edition game coming along, Namco? ... Namco...?"
Mappy is a port of the classic arcade game from Namco, starring the titular policemouse Mappy (whose name is a play on “mappo,” a slightly derogatory Japanese slang word for “police officer”), the troublesome crime boss cat, Nyamco, and his slightly smaller henchkittens, the Mewkies. It just goes to show: you can't trust cats. Even in video games, they're always stealing stuff.
A stage is cleared once Mappy has managed to recover all of the stolen objects (paintings, televisions, computers, etc.) that adorn one of Nyamco's mansions, which must be done while also avoiding enemies who chase him around the playfield. Collectibles will sometimes also flash, indicating that they offer a multiplier bonus once retrieved. The size of the bonus increases each time you collect such an object in the stage, meaning you'll have to decide between finding everything as quickly and as safely as possible, or trying to maximize your score. Stages have multiple floors that can be accessed by bouncing on the many trampolines scattered about, and those devices break if they are used too many times in succession. After every few successfully completed stages, you’ll soon gain entry to a bonus stage. These special areas feature no solid floors, just trampolines, balloons, walls, and a time limit. The balloons, naturally, are worth bonus points. It's possible to collect all of the available balloons before the timer expires to receive an even bigger bonus, but there's no room for error; a single bad bounce is usually impossible to recover from in such bonus stages.
Mappy can't jump without assistance, and he has no way to attack enemies directly (despite running around with his billy club drawn the whole time). He can, however, use the environment against the cat gang. There are several doors in every stage that Mappy can open as long as he's facing them, even when he's not positioned directly next to them. A cat that is hit by a door as it opens or closes will be knocked onto its back and can safely be ignored for several seconds. If Mappy is close to a door while it's opening or closing, that action will push him in whatever direction it's moving. Waiting too long to open a door can be a costly mistake if it knocks Mappy back into a chasing Mewkie, but shutting a door at just the right moment can helpfully force any pursuer to have to move back a bit to open the door himself. Clever use of doors is the key to mastering the game.
A few specific doors in each stage are special for reasons besides those already noted above. They’ll flash, and they send out a shockwave when opened. The shockwave will travel across the screen, sweeping up any cats that are unfortunate enough to be in the way, until the wave flies off the edge of the screen along with any enemies it caught. Those departed foes leave behind a point bonus. They will be replaced by new cats that drop from the ceiling after a while, though, so you can't simply break a level by defeating all of the enemies in it with one skillful swing. Even so, it's a handy tool when you're in a tight spot.
Besides doors, there are a couple of other traps that Mappy can use to his advantage as he retrieves stolen items. Certain stages feature bells in the ceilings that will drop if Mappy bounces high enough to ring them. Any cats caught in their path will be temporarily stunned. Other stages play host to trap doors that will open after Mappy passes over them. This means that any enemies in close pursuit will fall down to a lower floor. The various helpful tools are spread out across the game's 16 levels, a fact that prevents the game’s core mechanics from getting old too soon.
As mentioned earlier, Mappy is a Famicom port of an arcade game. At first glance, it appears to be a faithful one. It looks and sounds very similar to its arcade counterpart, with simple, colourful sprites and an incredibly catchy theme tune. The Famicom version has the same number of stages as the original arcade version, as well, and it controls just as tightly.
The key difference in the home version of Mappy is that each mansion stage only has five floors (plus an attic that can sometimes be used as a way to escape from a crowd of Mewkies, though there will never be any collectibles or doors up there), compared to the original arcade version's six. This leaves the levels feeling a little more cramped than they're supposed to be, which also increases the game’s difficulty because Mappy and the cats now occupy a more cramped space.
The practical effects of that single difference become apparent nearly the moment you start the game. Thanks to the places where the various enemies first appear, you will be surrounded in less than a second if you don't immediately move to the right and onto a trampoline. Moving to the left will end in tragedy (regardless of how quickly you do so), in the first level and many levels after that. As a result of this fact, a unique quirk of the Famicom version of Mappy is that you will begin every level the same way, by moving to the right and jumping on a trampoline. It's a bizarre little change that limits your opening move on each stage, though it doesn't make too much of a difference past that point and it isn't really a problem after you learn this one rule of thumb.
Mappy is a worthwhile port, despite or because of the slightly shrunken levels, depending on who you ask. The bump in difficulty isn't unreasonable, and may actually be a welcome change depending on your personal tastes. It doesn't take very long to get through the game's 16 stages (you can do it 15 minutes or less if you're sufficiently skilled), but that doesn't hurt Mappy's quality as a score attack game. There are plenty of tricks to take advantage of as you work to improve your high score, and Mappy is a lot of fun to play casually. While I can't quite recommend the Famicom version of Mappy over the original arcade version, you really can't go wrong with either one. If you missed this gem in 80's, correct that oversight as soon as possible.
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 11, 2013)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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