Mendel Palace

Developer: Game Freak
U.S. Publisher: Hudson
U.S. Release: December 12, 1989
Genre: Action
Format: 2-Megabit Cartridge

Based on: Strange dolls that represent strange people doing strange things. Think Rozen Maiden but with additional murderous intent.

Games | Nintendo Entertainment System | Mendel Palace

Article by wumpwoast | September 17, 2007

Few realized, back in 1990, that when they played Mendel Palace, they were actually watching 8-bit representations of San Francisco's most colorful residents play a combination of Twister, Dance Dance Revolution, and stay the hell off my lawn. But it's true: Game Freak's first creation demonstrates the developer's apt nomeclature; it's singularly unique and certifiably insane, for one or two players.

Like DDR, Mendel Palace's most basic, fundamental move is the step. Imagine walking through a dark alley with some random Rufus Wainwright song crescendoing in your head. About twenty paces away is a group consisting of excitable, slightly tipsy Oriental aliens; a pair of twin fetus punks with mohawks; bloated martial artists disciplined in both sumo wrestling and kickboxing; and the Lathrop High Swim Team of 1978, last seen in their tour bus careening to their deaths down a 200-foot drop into the Tanana river, now returned from the dead as zombies. Add the Nintendo Seal of Quality and you have a complete package.

Fortunately, you're a pop superstar. Your busy career of voguing onstage has taught you how to step -- for every press of the D-pad, you move one-third of a tile, a small but significant advance across the field of thirty-five tiles. That way, when your enemies approach and start flickering in and out of existence thanks to the NES's pitiful sprite limitations, you know just how to dodge these ghostly apparitions: With the fewest moves necessary. It's a familiar sensation for anyone who's ever spent time as a pedestrian in San Francisco; when the city's more whimsical characters approach at an intersection, you step away from the freak.

Unlike real life, though, step away from the freak is subsequently followed by shove the freak into oncoming traffic and observe it explode into fifteen pieces. The tile in front of the player can be shuffled, uncovering items, bonuses or flippers while sending the adjacent enemy into the nearest wall, killing them on impact. Flipper tiles can be used in tandem to propel the player into enemies, items, or bonus tiles, many of which shuffle entire ranks, files, even the whole field. Two players can do this cooperatively, and the result is no less than total anarchy.

Play starts out at a moderato pace -- say, 120 bpm. You can get into a groove here, paying close attention to how the enemies respond to your steps. Each enemy type tackles the cardinal directions in a unique way, and at the outset they won't simply turn on a dime just to tag you. If you know how far and how straight your foe/dance partner will move, you can walk right by them without fear. It's like ballroom dancing to an 8-bit calliope. By yourself. In a room full of crazed mutants.

Fortunately, only six mutants are allowed on the dance floor at one time. After all, how much competition can a player handle? Rest assured that you will be dogpiled regardless thanks to special gateway tiles that spawn fresh foes once the total headcount drops below six. Waste time and the musical tempo leaps to 200 bpm and those newly-spawned ballerinas and fetuses begin thirsting for blood. The ballroom devolves into a mosh-pit, with everyone flinging around the field at near-ludicrous speeds.

Game Freak is much like Raymond Scott -- their works are recognized by millions, and yet their names remain known only to enthusiasts. Scott composed many of Looney Tunes' most memorable motifs, while Game Freak is solely responsible for creating the Pokémon franchise for Nintendo. Aside from business savvy and knowing the right people, the only way a small developer earns the trust of a larger one is by putting out quality product.

So try out Mendel Palace. Because in this freakshow, quality is job #1.