Shuffling panels has never been this much fun!
To Beat: Reach the Ending
To Complete: Beat both the game and the Extra mode
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 8/7/17 – 8/18/17
My Difficulty: 7/10
Videos: Mendel Palace Longplay and Mendel Palace Extra Mode Longplay
There are a lot of weird video games out there, especially today when the barriers to development and distribution are much lower. The NES was around in a time when some gaming conventions were being defined, so developers had the liberty to make some weird games too. Ghoul School is one that comes to mind that I’ve already played. I classify Mendel Palace as a weird game, and in this case I mean it in a good way. Mendel Palace is a frenetic action game that is dripping with character.
Mendel Palace was released in North America in October 1990. The game was developed by Game Freak, who are best known as the developers behind Pokémon. This was the first game they developed. The NES version was published by Hudson Soft. This game debuted first on the Famicom under the name Quinty. There it was released in June 1989, over a year earlier. Quinty was published in Japan by Namco. Mendel Palace has not been re-released, nor are there any sequels.
Mendel Palace is a single-screen action game. You play the role of Bon-Bon. The princess Candy has become trapped in a dream that she cannot escape, and so you might fight all her dolls that have come to life and free Candy. It’s the typical save the princess trope. The object of the game is to defeat all the enemies in each stage. There are 100 total levels spanning several different worlds. If you clear all the stages, then you save Candy and win the game. You can go at it alone or play with a friend in the two-player mode.
The main gimmick to Mendel Palace is how you attack enemies. Each stage is in a top down perspective consisting of a 7×5 grid of large panels on the floor. You can walk around in the four cardinal directions using the D-pad. When you press the A or B button, you will shuffle the floor panel in front of you. It is a little tricky at first to determine which panel you will move. If you stand on the edge of the panel facing the middle of it, you will shuffle the one you are standing on. Otherwise, you will shuffle the next tile over in the direction you are facing. The idea is to shuffle tiles when enemies are standing on them, which causes the baddies to get pushed away a short distance. Enemies are defeated when they get shoved into the side of the screen or against a solid object. Sometimes enemies can push you into the wall as well, but if an enemy touches you then you can also die that way.
The other side effect with shuffling panels is that you can reveal other panels underneath. This is not merely a binary flip. Sometimes there are three or more different layers underneath each panel that continuously cycle as long as you keep shuffling. There are many kinds of tiles that can appear in Mendel Palace, including several different item tiles. The most common item tile is the star. You must stand exactly on the center of an item tile to collect it. Stars are accumulated through play and you can see how many you have in a counter at the bottom of the screen next to the amount of lives remaining. The final star tile in a level will blink and you get 10 stars if you grab that one. Collecting 100 stars awards you an extra life, and it also makes you walk faster.
There are two more item tiles that are not as abundant as the star tiles. The first of these is the roulette tile. This cycles between four different items and you get whichever one is face up when you collect it. You can get either a puny 10 point bonus or a generous 10,000 point bonus. You can get a 10 star item for more precious stars. The best award is the 1up! Aside from star collection, this is the only other way to gain lives. The other item panel is the time panel. This is labeled FIVE SEC when you see it in the game. Each level has an invisible timer that causes the enemies to become very aggressive when it runs out. Grabbing these panels extends that timer.
There are a few panels that can affect nearby panels. The most common of these is the cross panel. When you step on it, the tiles in all four cardinal directions will shuffle chain reaction style. If you can get an enemy caught up in the shuffle wave it almost always sends them all the way to the wall. There is a similar panel that does not show up often called the clock and time panel. This one looks like the cross panel but with only one direction lit up at a time. Like a clock, the lit direction changes rhythmically. Stepping on this panel causes a wave in only the direction it is pointing. The sun panel is the most powerful of these in that it shuffles all tiles on the screen radiating outward from the sun panel. Most of the time this wipes out all the enemies in one shot, so it can be very nice to find.
There are a couple of bonus panels that transform the game board in ways that can be helpful. The more common of these two is the moon panel. This one dims the lights in the level and replaces all walkable tiles with stars. There is a tradeoff with this one however. Solid panels remain solid but you cannot see them in the dark. If you are being pursued by enemies in a level with now invisible solid panels, it may not be worth the extra stars. The better bonus panel is called the special bonus panel. It has a swirl design on it and flashes colors. Run into this panel and you will be whisked off into a bonus screen filled with stars and no enemies. There will be an additional counter at the bottom of the screen indicating how many stars are available in the bonus area. Sometimes you need to shuffle panels to reveal stars, but most of them are visible from the start. There is a time limit indicated by faint color changes in the small tiles around the border of the level. If you collect all the stars before time runs out, then you get bonus stars. Play proceeds to the next level, so using the special bonus panel is an easy way to clear a stage for free.
Here are the remaining panels in Mendel Palace. The metal panels are solid panels that appear raised on the screen. You cannot pass through them, but you can shove enemies into the metal panels to defeat them. Some enemies can smash through the metal panels leaving behind a broken panel, which acts like the standard blank panel. The lock panel has screws in the corners indicating that this square can no longer be shuffled. The attack panel is an orange panel with the same swirl design as the special bonus panel. This launches you forward in the direction you enter the panel. It’s called the attack panel because you can defeat enemies if you collide with them after this panel pushes you. It spins for a little while so you can run back into the panel to do more damage. The final panel is the game is the enemy panel. It looks like a warp portal, and it acts like one too. New enemies will spawn from the enemy panel if there is room for them in the level, and then the panel transforms into a blank panel. Revealing these panels can keep the level going even if all other enemies have been defeated.
At the start of the game, you are shown a map screen with nine different houses. You can choose any of the houses except for the one in the center which is saved for last. Each house is based around a specific enemy type and consists of ten levels. The enemies themselves may have multiple variants, and the more difficult versions appear in the later levels of the house. The final level in each house is a boss fight that somehow incorporates the base enemy for that house. Let’s talk about each one!
The upper left area is the house of Moko-Moko, and this is the recommend level to begin the game. Moko-Moko is a rather plain enemy that doesn’t do anything other than walk around. The second form of Moko-Moko has light blue coloring, and he splits into two smaller enemies whenever you push him.
The upper area is the house of Dragon. This enemy moves by making small jumps across the board. You can only push Dragon whenever he lands on the ground, so you have to time your shuffles to fight them. There are three different versions of Dragon. The normal one wears pink pants. The second version wears green pants and they don’t start hoping around until you approach them. The third version wears red and makes longer jumps.
The upper right area is the house of Vinci. These are often referred to as doodlers. They move slowly around the level and will occasionally stop on a panel to draw on them. This leaves them vulnerable to attack. If the finish their drawing, that panel becomes locked. The normal doodlers wear pink, and the green ones can also generate a ghost enemy upon completing a drawing. One interesting tactic is that is it possible to leave every tile in the level locked by either doodles or lock panels. If this happens, you win the level automatically and get a large point bonus to boot.
The right area is the house of Toby. These enemies take a long jump straight up if you try and shuffle the panel beneath them, but they are vulnerable when they land. While waiting for one to land, you can easily get surrounded by other ones. The ones with red hair jump higher than the ones with brown hair.
The lower right area is the house of Mira. They attempt to imitate your movements. They take a step forward when you do, and they shuffle panels when you do. They will even move if you simply turn your body in another direction. If you stand still they don’t move at all and the music even stops. They can shove each other so you can get them to defeat themselves sometimes. The red versions move faster than the yellow ones.
The lower area is the house of Wasser. They are swimmers and are often referred to as such. They will walk around the perimeter of the level and then swim straight across the stage when they line up with you. As they swim across, they shuffle the panels behind them with their feet. Wasser is a clever enemy type in my opinion. The regular version of Wasser is colored green and they swim in straight lines, while the harder blue version swims at angles and can also turn toward you mid-swim.
The lower left area is the house of Tako. These enemies are dancers and resemble ballerinas. Most enemies cannot move diagonally, but Tako can. They glide around the level homing in on you, but they take time to turn around if they pass you. Eventually they wear out and stop for a break before moving again. The normal Tako is orange, and the red ones move much faster and can break through metal panels.
The left area is the house of Sumo. These are large, slow enemies that only get pushed a short distance, so the idea is to keep pushing them several times consecutively. After a Sumo is shoved, he will attempt a sumo stomp that shuffles a wave of panels away from him. The white Sumo is the regular type, and the purple one is heavier and takes more shuffles to move.
Once all eight houses are finished, Mendel Palace in the center opens. This stage features ten more levels that use all the enemy types so far. After that, there are ten final levels that feature one last enemy type.
Mendel Palace is a difficult game to take on all at once. The enemies swarm constantly and it takes either good technique or luck to get the breathing room to start defeating them. The difficulty is mitigated heavily by unlimited continues. After Game Over, the title screen displays the word Continue and all you have to do is press Start to resume play at the same level you lost. As long as you keep the NES powered on, you can brute force the entire game one level at a time. Holding the A button causes the Continue text to disappear, so if you want to start all over you have to press Start with A held down. It’s very kind of the developers that they made it simple to continue and you have to go out of your way to start completely over.
I have played some Mendel Palace before for the NintendoAge contest. I got a taste of each of the houses as I tried to figure out the best way to score the most points. The later part of the game was all new to me. Mendel Palace is not exactly common, but it is not hard to find online. I picked up my copy at a local store during a buy two, get one free promotion. I believe I bought Mendel Palace, TaleSpin, and Whomp ‘Em together for $16 total. That is a little more than what Mendel Palace is worth alone at the time of this writing, and I did particularly good on Whomp ‘Em given its current price.
I intended to play Mendel Palace for about an hour, but like most good intentions of mine that turned into me beating the game over about two hours. Some of the later levels are very challenging and it made me want to keep playing until I could surpass them. However, not only was I not recording my playthrough, but I also forgot to take a picture of the TV when I finished. It took me about a week before I got the time to play through the game with everything set up. I think I played the second time a little better but I still died plenty.
Mendel Palace has a secret Extra mode containing 100 new levels. Nothing in the manual or the game mentioned this mode. To play Extra mode, first make sure the NES is powered off. Then hold down Start and Select and turn on the NES. If successful, you will see the word Extra on top of the title as well as a different color on the title text. This mode has a few differences over the normal game. The biggest change is that there is no map or level selection. Instead you play all 100 rounds in the same order. There are stars but there is no counter displayed like in the normal mode. The number of extra lives caps out at five and even the lives display is different. You will get different enemies from level to level instead of grouped together. This mode is significantly harder than the normal game. It took me almost three hours to finish all the levels and I stayed up way too late to get it done. The ending you get is the same as the normal game, so this is purely an optional mode. I beat it anyway because I really like Mendel Palace and I’m not going to leave new levels on the table.
Mendel Palace is a very fun game and one that I give my full recommendation. There’s not another game quite like it, and all the different enemy types, stage layouts, and the action all bundle together nicely. The music is upbeat and catchy, and the graphics have a pastel and almost cell shaded look to them. There’s a lot of stuff going on at one time, from the multiple panel shuffling animations to the marble spray when an enemy bites the dust. Mendel Palace manages to run fast despite all the action on screen. There is a lot of sprite flicker, and that’s a negative you have to accept for a game like this on the limited NES hardware. A few stages and bosses are very frustrating in their difficulty too. Aside from those complaints, Mendel Palace is this weird game that’s a blast to play.