Friday, 18 January 2013

Marko's Magic Football (Genesis/Mega Drive)

Marko's Magic Football Sega Mega Drive Genesis Title Screen
Alright, today I'm going to find out what Marko's Magic Football is. It was released in the US simply as Marko, because I guess 'Marko's Magic Soccer Ball' just wasn't working for them as a title.

I'll forgive you if you haven't heard of this one before, as the game's so obscure that even the developers were apparently unaware it'd ever been released. Well okay VGJunk's heard of it, but his site's practically a shrine to the esoteric, so if anything that just proves my point. (Like I can talk...)

The game came out on the Genesis/Mega Drive, Mega CD, SNES and Game Gear, and I'll be playing the Mega Drive version, which I'm guessing came first.

The Sterling Toys Tower looked like no other toy factory
Hey, that's actually pretty cool looking. Not really an art style I would have expected from the game after seeing Marko's gormless cartoon face grinning out at me from the title screen.

Here's an interesting fact: 'Marko' is only one letter away from 'Mario', which is what I keep accidentally typing instead.

Within, an evil master was at work. Colonol Brown owner of Sterling Toys had a plan.
Wow, who could have guessed that the sinister cackling toy company owner was actually an evil mastermind? I suppose the fact that his monolithic factory fortress is so grim it saps the colour from the world around it was a bit of a clue. Man, the way his arms are bending there doesn't look too healthy.

I wonder if setting up a toy factory was actually part of his diabolical plan, or if he started out as a decent guy and was eventually driven bitter and twisted by years of making obscene amounts of cash and bringing joy to children.

What is this devious master plan laid out on his desk anyway?

E=MC²O? That's... pretty deranged, I guess.

With the help of a crazed scientific genius, an evil substance of unique genetic qualities was engineered.
Fortunately our evil mastermind has hired a crazed scientist to handle the thinking part of the plan. A man so smart he's managed to concoct a substance with unique genetic qualities.

Innocent animals were used as test subjects. Now the final test was underway.
Innocent animals were used as test subjects, as the formula doesn't work on guilty bunnies. It just makes them cry a bit.

Yeah, that's right rabbit, you know what you've done.

Colonel Brown and his accomplices now had the ability to transform all lifeforms.
The cool thing about running an evil toy factory is that if you see an awesome looking pair of 'slime effect glasses' running along the production line, you can reach down and grab a pair for yourself. There's other benefits too of course. Like having an evil lab to make your very own...

... into mutant sludge monsters!! If the Colonel could spread enough slime around the town North Sterlington would be his!!
...sludge bunnies!! With neon eyebrows!! Wait, the scientist was pouring this stuff without wearing gloves? He really is crazed! Last time I saw a person exposed to green slime like this in a video game they turned into The Ooze.

So wait, the mastermind's entire brilliant plan is to use a mutagenic agent to take over a small town by methods unclear and for reasons left entirely unexplained? Fair enough then.

(To be pointlessly honest, I had to tweak this bunny animation a bit to make it loop.)

Marko came across the Colonels workers pouring sludge into the sewers.
And now our hero Marko enters the story. No explanation who he is or what he's doing down in the sewers, he just is. Maybe he came down here to get his ball back. Maybe it's not even his ball. It's likely we'll never know.

Settled in a pool of sludge, the ball became magical. With his new super ball, Marko could put a stop the evil plans.
See, it's not even called 'his ball' or 'a ball', nope it's 'the ball', as if we're supposed to know about it already. I haven't skipped out any text by the way, this is all the information I've been given. As if I could miss any of these pictures out, I love this art.

Wait, is he going to pick that thing up like that? It's covered in stuff that turns bunnies into bunny goop.

Colonel Brown was going down!!
Oh, at least Marko has the sense to wear some bloody gloves. I bet he tries headbutting it at one point though.

And that's it for the intro on the cartridge version of the game, but the Sega Mega CD release had an extra animation at the start:

OH SHIT THE BALL HAS EYES! The ball has been given the gift of life; it thinks, it feels, it has no mouth and can't scream when a ten year old spends his day kicking it down the street. Why Marko, why would you do this?

The CD version also has Red Book audio instead of the original FM synth soundtrack, so it's not a total waste of a CD drive. Though to be honest the music is pretty decent as it is.

Marko's Magic Football level map
Sewer level, check. Forest level, check. Aww, a circus level too? At least they left out the ice level and the mine cart level.

Whoa, I've just hit by a wave of déjà vu. I've got the weirdest feeling like I've played this before...

Soccer Kid (Amiga)
Yep, it'd be fair to say that Marko definitely shares a slight resemblance to Soccer Kid. It's not even the first Soccer Kid clone I've seen, as I played Hurricanes for the site two years ago. Man, I had no idea that 'football platformer' was an actual genre. It didn't seem to last long though, as both clones came out in '94. Probably to take advantage of the FIFA World Cup being held in the US that year.

But how does Marko compare? In fact, does it even play the same at all?

Actually, it does play a lot like Soccer Kid, as I can pull off various moves by holding different directions on the d-pad while... WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

Is that a policeman on a pedal bike with a light on his head? Actually I've got a better question, why is a policeman on a bike out to kill Marko? What happened to the sludge monsters? Soccer Kid had this same problem, with normal pedestrians being the main enemy for absolutely no reason.

Fortunately a single tap of the kick button teleported the ball to Marko's feet, and another sent it flying into the copper's face, knocking him crashing to the ground, dead. And then his bike exploded in a fireball. We're one step closer to saving the town, yay!

Crap, this isn't good. I can only attack with the ball, and I need to be standing still for a second to summon it. I might have enough time to attack one enemy, but which one? The vicious rat? The creepy photographer? Or that innocent looking bird up there, just waiting to swoop down at me?

Perhaps those mysterious floating Pepsi cans are my true enemy, scheming to suddenly swarm at me. They don't seem to have any particular reason to exist, almost like they're the remnants of a product placement deal that never materialised.

I decided to go for the rat, not that it mattered. He was too fast for me, and I lost another hitpoint. Fortunately it was mutual destruction and he didn't have the health to survive the collision, so it's just the woman and the bird left now.

Fortunately the photographer turned out to be a helpful checkpoint! The sniper wasn't so helpful though, shooting away my final hitpoint with a single bullet. No idea why they put armed enemies on a level set in England, especially ones that can shoot at me from off screen.

Hey look there's the toy factory in the background, looking really low res. I mean damn, I can't remember ever seeing a Mega Drive game look that pixellated before.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis/Mega Drive)
Oh... well, I guess I'll shut up then.

Marko's Magic Football (SNES)
The Nintendo version of the game has the low res backgrounds too, but it's not entirely the same game. For one thing I'm sure they've changed the level layout and added even more more of these damn snipers. I just can't get the ball travelling in the right arc to reach them.

Like Soccer Kid, Marko does have a decent selection of kicks available to him, I just need to figure out how to access them all.

Aha, there you go you bastard! I turned to face left, held 'kick' and 'up' on the d-pad to get Marko to start bouncing the ball on his foot, then tapped kick again to send it flying backwards to knock the gunman off his fence! Finally, a shot with enough height to reach him!

Took a while, but it was so damn satisfying to pull off.

Soccer Kid (Amiga)Marko's Magic Football (Gen/MD)
Of course Soccer Kid can do the same thing, but I gotta say, I think Marko pulls it off with more style. Better landing for sure.

Hey look at this miserable bastard over here. Maybe a football to the face will cheer him up.

He just ate my ball. Opened his mouth wide and swallowed it whole. That... has never happened to me before.

Fortunately I could just walk around him and teleport the ball back to my foot, so the crisis has been resolved. But damn, I hope he's not around if I ever have to fight a boss.

Level two isn't actually set in the sewers, to my surprise and relief, and it actually has some pretty decent music. I wish I could link you to it, but for once youtube has failed me. I've finally come across a game that doesn't have its entire soundtrack uploaded.

I've actually had a bit of trouble here because of the way Marko moves on screen. He's a bit floaty when he jumps, with a tendency to crack his head against the low ceilings, and I haven't quite got the hang of landing on the lift platforms instead of the spikes below.


MEANWHILE, ON THE SUPER NINTENDO.


Marko's Magic Football (SNES)
Hey, what happened to the lift in the SNES version? I jumped down the shaft expecting to land on a moving platform, but it was entirely liftless! Also damn that's an awkward place to put a foreground object. The pipes are in the Mega Drive version too, but as you can tell from the screenshots, they don't turn up in exactly the same place.


LATER, ON LEVEL THREE.


After the cellar level Marko emerged a bit further down Radnor Road. Which kinda makes me wonder why there even was a cellar level, if it didn't take me anywhere or help anything. No evil schemes have been stopped this day.

I found this machine at the end of the level and assumed I was supposed to blow it, to put a stop to the spread of the evil emerald goop. But apparently just walking past it is considered a win. Well, fair enough then, I'm not going to complain.

A can bonus? What is this, Pepsiman?

Oh hang on, I've figured it out. It's not Pepsiman, it's Global Gladiators! I'm collecting empty cans to recycle them in the machine, no doubt to teach kids an important lesson about recycling, or whatever. Though this has no relevance to the story at all and has never once been mentioned in text.

So I guess kids are supposed to be emulating the behaviour of this video game hero... who spends most of the game kicking footballs at police officers and cats.


AND THEN WE WENT TO THE SEWERS.


Aww come on, that's supposed to be my high kick move, why did it go low that time? How can I be four levels into this game and still be struggling to pull off the most basic moves?

Weirdly that isn't actually a complaint. I gotta admit, I'm enjoying trying to figure this out. There's no time limit so I'm free to keep trying a move until I pull it off. To be honest I'm finding the game in general to be pretty likeable. It's definitely not a top tier platformer, but it's better than I was expecting. Comfortably in the 'gold star' range of my bullshit misleading rating system I would say.

Crap, well that's what I get for trying to be clever and use the ball as a stepping stone in this river of sludge when there was absolutely no need. So long, last life.

Marko's Magic Football Game Over screen Sega Genesis Mega Drive
Hey, that's exactly what happened to me! You can just about see the ball next to him in the sludge as well. It's like the developers knew where most players would lose their final life first time around. More likely to be a huge coincidence though.

No worries though, I wasn't actually that far from the start of the level, so I can just select continue and... oh right, the game has no continues. At all.

Well that's not actually big catastrophe, as the game does have passwords. I'll just enter the one for this level and I'll be back in the action.


MUCH LATER.


Turns out that the game apparently decided to skip giving me a password for that level, so I had to replay the entire last level through again first, whining and complaining the whole time to no one in particular. But to be fair I think it actually worked out for me, as it gave me the opportunity to collect three extra lives along the way.

Also look, I managed to find a sensible place to use my sludge pit ball trampoline trick this time. I've actually been using this a lot out of the slime to reach high platforms. It's surprising just how sensible the football is as a weapon and not actually a dumb gimmick at all really. Plus like in Soccer Kid, I have never never once found it a hassle to bring around with me either. It's just a shame that the awkward controls make it a struggle to consistently pull off the correct attacks.


LEVEL 6 - THE SEWERS. FOR THE THIRD LEVEL IN A ROW.


Either the collision detection is just slightly in favour of the enemies, or I'm being really clumsy today, because I keep running into things by accident. Like inanimate barrels of sludge for instance. I need to get it into my head that I can't rush ahead and take risks in this, because I'll slip up and hit something. I need to take it slow and deal with each enemy in turn.

I think the first thing I need to do (besides kicking the ball at that barrel a few times) is to take care of the slime monster on the top right. Fortunately I've figured out a way to do it now. Holding up and pressing kick starts him bouncing the ball bouncing on his foot, but doing it again gets him  to bounce it on his head. There's no headbutt move (annoyingly), but if I get directly underneath the monster and jump, the ball should fly upwards and the effects should be much the same.


BUT THEN, AT THE END OF THE NEXT LEVEL.


Man, this level was a nice change after three sewer levels in a row. It seems I've finally escaped Radnor Road as well. Now I just need to figure out how to get this damn recycling machine to work so I can exit the level.

Huh, the can icon in the top right has been swapped with a sludge barrel icon. Oh no... no no no. NO. Don't tell me I have go back and search every damn corner of this level for the 6 barrels I missed. I went all over this level already! It involves a lot of jumping on window ledges on some pretty tall buildings. There's a lot of ground to cover is what I'm saying.

I don't get why games keep throwing in these bullshit item hunts. Well okay I understand that it's to pad the level out, but this level didn't need padding! It was fine as it was!

Man, can you imagine if the Mario games had pulled this shit?

Sorry Mario! But you must collect fifteen mushrooms to continue!
Super Mario All-Stars (kind of).
It's ridiculous isn't it? Blatantly obviously not good game design. By all means fill a level with stuff for the player to find, everyone loves to stumble across something cool. But don't make it mandatory!

Uh, what was I doing again? Oh right, yeah, looking for six barrels. Joy.


FOUR BARRELS AND NINE LIVES LATER.


Man, I'm doing absolutely shit right now. I practically flew through this level first time around, but now I'm throwing lives away for stupid reasons. It doesn't help that all the enemies respawn each time, so I can make the same mistakes again. I think the game has crushed my fragile spirit and now I've lost all hope.

But hey, at least I've collected some magic football boots which have given me a temporary machine gun! (I dunno, maybe they fell in sludge or something.) You'd think an assault rifle would be a big step up from a football, but look at where my bullets are going. I can't hit shit with this thing! I can only fire horizontally or straight up, no diagonals, and I can't fire while jumping. And I can't even bounce on it to get extra height!

Basically, it's made me appreciate what I had with the football.

Oh shit, that was a lucky landing! A pixel or two left or right and Marko would suffer a fatal nail wound to his foot. And with 0 lives left that'd be game over. I may be utterly demoralised and despondent, but I still haven't given up on getting those last two barrels, dammit!

Oh, well I totally failed that jump. Like I said, it's been little difficult for me to get him to land exactly where I want him to. I'm still struggling with that.


LATER.


Wow, how the fuck did I end up back on Radnor Road? I'm not sure I've ever played a platformer that takes place entirely above and around one street before. Well at least the barrel hunting's over with now; this is a straight run to the finish line.

Also holy shit, what happened to this place while I was gone? It's become utterly infested with armed criminals and demon rodents. It takes me time to recover my football you know, I simply don't have the balls per second to take this many enemies on at once. Also I can't help but notice that no one I'm fighting right now has anything at all to do with Colonel Brown's evil scheme. Even the hedgehogs and rats are just regular wildlife, not slime mutants. When I am I gonna fight some hired goons or something?

Well I guess now I'm sorry for what I wished for.

This is actually the first boss in the game so far, took him eight levels to turn up. Not that I'm happy to see him. I'd be very grateful in fact if he wouldd piss off to the end of the game and wait for me there. Or you know, disappear entirely.

Fortunately I learned the secret to this one at the last second. He can't actually harm me! Only his sludge cannon can touch me, so as long as I stay out of slime's way I'll be fine.

Also I've learned how to do a straightforward high arcing kick now, so I can hit the turret. I was always trying to press up and kick, which only makes him bounce the ball. Instead I have to hold kick, and then press up a fraction of a second later. Simple! And with a big of practice I might be able to pull it off almost a third of the time!

Well I've finally hit the forest level. It was perhaps inevitable as the gods of platformer tradition must be appeased, but the developers have shown admirable restraint by delaying it until now. I wish they'd shown some restraint with these snake turrets while they were at it though.

I mean I'm fine with snakes shooting glowing blue bullets across the screen. Not a typical method of attack for a snake perhaps, but hey I can appreciate the benefits of variety. But being able to fire at me from off screen is a bit too much. Also it'd be nice if there was a bit of a delay between when they appear on screen and when they start firing at me, so I can have half a second to register their existence and dodge out of the way. Otherwise...

... I could end up jumping clear across a lake, then immediately get knocked backwards into it by a snake firing at me from the trees. Inevitable death.

Also you know I said before that I wasn't so sure about the collision detection? Well, I'm pretty sure that ain't the water I'm colliding with right now. And yet he drowns once more.

Little did Marko know they'd swapped out his girlfriend with a kid on a mutant space hopper after he closed his eyes, with hilarious consequences!

Can I go back to the sewers yet? This level's making me suddenly miss the sewers. At least down there all of Marko's deaths were caused by my ineptitude rather than bullshit.


BUT EVENTUALLY EVEN THE FOREST LEVEL FOUND IT WAS NO MATCH FOR MY PERSEVERANCE AND EXTREME FOOTBALL PLATFORMING SKILL.


Oh no. Clowns. Can I go back to the forest? Or maybe that item hunt warehouse level, I think I might have missed a few barrels!

Aw fuck it, my patience for the game has just ran out. At least for now.


I wasn't that interested in Marko's Magic Football at first, but then it started to grow on me after a level or two. It was still flawed for sure, but not enough to put me off. Though as the next few levels dragged on, it really managed to wear me down. Too many blind jumps, bullets flying in from off screen and other bullshit, and not enough (or any) continues. It seems pretty short too, seeing as I'm already on the preantepenultimate stage and I doubt the final three after this will be much longer.

But hey, the game's reasonably slick, reasonably well made, the animation is fantastic for the time and at least I can't accuse it of being a total cakewalk. I wouldn't necessarily call it a good game, but it can be enjoyable.

9 comments:

  1. So in the end it lost its gold star!
    Strangely enough, I think I've heard about that game before, which is odd, but considering underdogs were dumped around there, I suppose I might have spotted the cartridge somewhere.

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  2. Picked this game up today and thought I would do a little research on it. Was pleasantly surprised by this editorial. You have an excellent narrative voice, thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece and I love this idea for a blog. I am a community manager/ writer for a business called Inglorious Gamer, and I would like to talk to you about a possible collaboration of efforts. Please contact us at staff@ingloriousgamer if you're interested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for this ridiculously late response. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your praise of my writing and you do have a nice looking site there, but I've been kinda busy and distracted lately so I don't see it working out. I mean it's taken me 3 days just to reply to a comment!

      Delete
    2. Haha! Understandable. If you ever change your mind the offer stands, in the meantime I will continue to enjoy your blog, thanks for the reply! Would you mind if we plugged your blog on our FB page?

      Delete
    3. Do I mind? Very much the opposite, I assure you. Plugs are great.

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  3. i want to know where i can find this game..... plz... tell me

    ReplyDelete
  4. this is my id....gagandeeper748@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. My nan used to live on Radnor Road in the Nineties and I can verify that this is an entirely accurate representaion of life on the street. Marko was a bit of a dick in real-life though,ended up in borstal for ram-raiding.

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    Replies
    1. Well that'd explain why everyone's always trying to kill the little git at least.

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