Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Kid Klown

Welcome back to another look into gaming's obscure, but awesome, past. Today's exhibit? A little known NES gem entitled "Kid Klown in Night Mayor World". Developed and published by Japanese studio Kemco, the company that brought such NES classics as Spy vs. Spy, Deja Vu, Shadowgate, and the Bugs Bunny games, this title, like certain others (Super Mario Bros. 2, Yo Noid!), started out as somewhat of a different beast. Originally titled "Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen" (Mickey Mouse III: Balloon Dreams),  it was essentially the same game, only part of a Mickey Mouse series of games. In fact, this game was called "Mickey Mouse III" in Japan because they had done this before, with what Americans know as Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle. Crazy Castle originally featured Roger Rabbit in Japan, but they later made a version with Mickey Mouse after losing the rights, along with the Bugs Bunny version for the states. The Game Boy versions of Crazy Castle 1 and 2 are known as Mickey Mouse I and Mickey Mouse II in Japan, hence this game was somehow the third in that series. Confused yet? Well that's okay, because Kemco would continue the series as Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle in the states, until Crazy Castle 5 for the Game Boy Advance, which wound up starring Woody Woodpecker. For those counting along at home, that makes 4 different characters from 3 different animation studios (Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal) that Kemco had to license from. But hey, the series DID see a total of 10 releases (at least in Japan, one of which was made into a Real Ghostbusters game in NA and a Garfield game in Europe, if you can grasp that), so I suppose ultimately it paid off right?

Mouse? Clown? Fun game either way.

ANYWAYS, disregarding the somewhat messy (but intriguing) history of the series that the original Japanese version originated from, what WE here in the U.S.of A got, was a peculiar, but fun, game called Kid Klown. The original Mickey game was released in Japan in 1992. Our version with the righteous Klown dude (first name Kid), arrived in April 1993, what happened to be a very good year for the NES (Kirby's Adventure anyone?). So, focusing on OUR version here today, the setting sees a family of clowns traveling with their circus, when they run across a mysterious magician named Night Mayor. I want to take a moment, first off, to comment on the fact that the pun-name NIGHT MAYOR is, in my humble opinion, fucking fantastic. It's just the right amount of cheese to tickle my "Man That's Awesome" bone. So, as you might surmise given his name (and his nefarious mustache), Night Mayor is up to no good, and he asks Kid to help him open a magical treasure vault. Kid, having been warned NEVER to talk to strange and creepy magicians out on the highway at night by his wise and loving parents, basically tells Mr. Mayor to "piss off". So, in a fit of indignation, said bad fellow uses his wicked magic to kidnap the Klown family, and challenges Kid to follow and find them, if he ever wants to see them again. And thus it's off to the races we go!

NEVER trust people with top hats on rainy nights!

If you hadn't noticed by now, I'll reveal the silly pun. Night Mayor = Nightmare! Get it? Awesome right? Indeed. Moving on!

Different name, same great balloon taste!

So as far as the game proper is concerned, here's the scoop. You've got yourself six major areas (plus the opening level), each one having a different theme. I can definitely see how in the Mickey version, you were traveling through some kind of magical dream world. But it fits with a kooky game where you play a balloon-wielding clown fighting a guy named Night Mayor as well! The thing that stands out about this game the most, of course, is in fact said balloons. The graphics are solid (in fact there's some very inventive sprite effects at points), and the soundtrack is cheery if not unremarkable. But where the game enters the "kicks ass" arena, is in the gameplay. Why it kicks is, is because Kemco really did a number on inventing balloon mechanics the player can employ. In no particular order, you can use these inflated bags of fun as: weapons, a means of floating for longer jumps, a platform to bounce off of performing high jumps, a shield from certain enemy attacks, etc. Talk about versatile. And it doesn't end there. You can aim balloon fire directly overhead, as well as choosing to toss short-range balloons, or hold the B button down to throw them further. And of course you can even drop the balloons straight down, as a weapon or a platform to jump to higher places, or you can even just hold it out in front of you like a shield. If you ask me, that's pretty damn ingenious, especially for the 8-bit era, not to mention the fact that I don't think I've ever really seen a similar set up in any other game I've ever played. So Kemco deserves major kudos for really taking the Mario "run and jump" platforming standard, but making it their own.

Some of the cheeriest, most harmless looking, most devious levels you'll ever face in gaming.

The other area that this game really stands out, for anyone who has ever played it, is that while on the surface it seems very much like an "easy kids' game", it also packs some serious punch in the difficulty department in a few areas once you get deeper in. The different areas include a charming forest, a crazy toy factory, a giant beanstalk land complete with an evil Cyclops giant at the end, a land of snow and ice, a stage made up of living (and dangerous) candies and pastries, and finally Night Mayor's gigantic castle. The game really does ramp it up the further you get, as well. I just recently played through it again myself, and god damn, there are some parts that'll make you cuss out the game like nobodies business. For instance, in Stage 3, the beanstalk stage, you have to climb vertically, but are bombarded while doing so by swarms of enemies that include among other annoyances, evil clouds that shit lightning all over you. Then you've got Stage 4, with it's slippery ice, but worse yet, snow drifts that you actually get stuck in, which makes getting across super fun, while being attacked by enemies. and then of course, there's Castle Night Mayor, which takes the SMB1 concept of having a maze-like castle with plenty of wrong ways to go, and cranks it up to 11, by having doors that make you fight previous bosses, doors that take you right back to the beginning of an area you just got through, or even all the way back to the beginning of the castle. And unlike Bowser's final castle in that hallowed NES standard, Night Mayor is more of a dick, so his castle is bigger, with plenty of genuinely fucked up moments, most especially the final area, which is a room of doors which, you guessed it, all but one lead you to other areas, including the very damn beginning of the level. So have fun choosing the wrong door several times (unless of course you CHEAT and use the internet).

Cute, innocent looking, but oh so evil.

All in all, this game is well worth playing in my expert opinion. It controls well, is fun to play thanks to the inventive balloon mechanics, has a lot of replay value in spite of a few throw-your-controller moments, and the game just honestly exudes fun. From the gameplay, to the level design, right down to the carnival-like minigame between stages that allows you to throw balloons at targets to gain back health, 1up, etc. Plus, as I've already mentioned, the bad guy's name is NIGHT MAYOR, and that right there should be worth the price of admission. The game actually turned into a series, but the SNES and PS1 entries, for instance, were weird "always moving" games that saw Kid on a rolling ball, rolling and dodging through levels. None of them showed the same cool gameplay mechanics or sense of fun-ness the original had, so in my personal view they're really not all that worth checking out.

But do yourself a favor, and get your hands on a cart of the NES original if you can, or find "other" means to play it if you have to, but play it. Or else the Night Mayor will give you.......unpleasant dreams!

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