Friday, December 24, 2010

Of Import: Marchen Maze

Namcot released Marchen Maze (aka Maerchen Maze) for the Japanese PC Engine in 1990, as a conversion of parent company Namco's 1988 coin-op arcade game.  Unlike a lot of relatively faithful PCE conversions, the game was altered significantly in the process -- the arcade version featured an isometric 3-D perspective, similar to Marble Madness, while the PCE version uses a simple overhead scrolling view.  The level orders were also rearranged.

Both versions of the game are clearly inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  The Alice saga is an oddly enduring cultural touchstone -- there's nothing else quite like it.  It has (or at least, seems to have) literary ambition and resonance beyond The Wizard of Oz, and absurdist poetry and wordplay surpassing any classic fairy tale.  It has found fans in many eras and cultures, and seeing it filtered through a Japanese arcade sensibility is bizarre yet strangely familiar: 

I'm not sure who the various mini-bosses are meant to represent, but clearly the White Rabbit and a fanciful rendering of the Red Queen as portrayed by Tim Curry are involved.  Past the title screen, we're given a quick version of the story's traditional opening (or so I assume, as the text is in Japanese, a language with which I remain woefully unfamiliar):

Of course, this is a game, and our Alice here is given to more explicitly offensive measures than the impudent questioning tactics she uses in the books.  Here, she is permitted a bubble-blowing attack with several variations -- she can send a stream of tiny, rapid-fire bubbles to beat back the opposition, or charge up a large bubble capable of knocking multiple enemies aside.  She can also acquire various power-ups from the boxes that turn up here and there.

Here, she faces a set of smoke-ring blowing mushrooms; apparently the Caterpillar is inside, or has somehow merged with the fungus.  Note that a recent pickup allows her to be defended by a rapidly-circling ring of White Rabbits:

She also encounters a veritable army of Tweedles, -dum, -dee, and otherwise:

And at the end of level 1, she encounters a marked divergence from the books -- a giant purple witch who spits tiny versions of herself at our heroine:

After defeating this boss, one of the Red Queen's lackeys, Alice proceeds to a technology-driven world filled with conveyor belts and robots -- and, lest we lose sight of the game's inspiration, hopping chess knights:

I haven't gotten to see much more of the game itself, because its arcade-style difficulty is in full effect here.  We're allowed to select any level we have already reached during the current session, but there are no mid-level continues.  After the first level we start running into some fairly aggressive enemies combined with tricky platforming jumps, and just getting to the boss with some lives intact becomes a challenge.  Still, Marchen Maze is a weird and interesting take on Alice in Wonderland, and one even Lewis Carroll's fever dreams did not likely foresee.

Go ask Alice.  She'll know.

This is a fairly common game for the PC Engine, and may be available at a reasonable import price here or here:

Meruhen Maides PC-Engine Hu

No comments:

Post a Comment