Monday, September 22, 2014

Remaking an icon, Maui Mallard, part 3



When we last saw our hero Maui Mallard he was thrown into a volcano by the native Muddrakes. "The Sacrifice of the Maui "was the fourth stage of the game and the stakes had never been higher. Everywhere the player looked there was lava with only a few small stones to leap onto. Players had to turn into Cold Shadow right away and use his bo-staff to swing over opponents and a certain fiery death. Since Cold Shadow was constantly losing his Yin Yang energy it was up to the player to keep moving. To keep climbing higher and higher and try to avoid transforming back into Maui until he reached the end of the stage.



Some of Cold Shadow's ninja abilities came in handy on the level. He could run at super speed over long patches of magma without injuring himself. Of course doing so came at the raid loss of his Yin Yang energy.

The level made good use of light and shadow to frame a hellish scene for our hero. Depending on the version played the background was made up of cascading walls of magma (PC / Sega Mega Drive) or an eerie skull shaped cave (Super Nintendo). The graphics were amazing with lots of little details poured into every corner of the cartridge based systems. In other Disney games one would expect to see "Hidden Mickeys" but in Maui Mallard the developers made sure to hide as many duck shout-outs as they could. Temples, rock-work and even puffs of smoke had hidden duck faces within them. Because this level was meant to invoke fire and brimstone it was reminiscent of another great stage from the library of Earthwork Jim.



The opponents in this stage were unique. Every stage in Maui Mallard featured opponents that reflected the level and this was no different. Inside the volcano players faced bats made out of fire and goggle-clad fire sprits mixing drinks and spitting fire at our hero. They could be taken out with bug bullets or with the staff depending on the strategy of the player.



The level was quite challenging because on certain portions the player would be stuck on a tiny rock as the magma rose. If a player could transform into Cold Shadow then they might get ahead of the magma and find some treasure in the process. Sooner or later however the player would have to land back on that tiny rock and then navigate their way through tunnels that became increasingly smaller. As if that weren't enough the magma would rise faster and faster until the player was navigating the smallest corridors at breakneck speed.



The final boss for this level was an enormous fire spirit shaped like a snake. The player had to keep breaking off pieces of the creature using either bug bullets or well-timed staff attacks until all that was left was a gigantic head. The Genesis version of the character looked far more intense than the SNES one. 

After another Babaluau bonus stage the story continued. You would think that Maui had enough of the Muddrakes at this point but Herneae returned to say that he needed their help in order to recover Shabuhm Shabuhm and save the island. It would be a shaky truce and before the Muddrakes would help Maui he had to prove himself in a "Test of Duckhood."



The fifth stage in the game was a completely different experience depending on which version of the game you played. The Super Nintendo build had our hero attached to a vine that acted like a bungee cord. He was dropped from high above the forest canopy and would have to take out moving Muddrake targets as he fell and bounced back up. It was tricky but not impossible to master with a few tries. The Genesis and PC versions were much better experiences. In it Maui was still tethered to a bungee cord but the level designers had players use bungee physics in order to navigate through the complex levels. They would have to find high platforms to leap from in order to generate enough of a recoil to be snapped into a higher portion of the stage. 



In other portions of the Genesis / PC build the character has to walk hand over hand while tethered to the vine. The stages were tricky mazes with sharpened bamboo posts blocking the player above as well as below. Navigating the stages took some practice but again the springy mechanics were a welcome change of pace.



I'm certain that many players saw the similarity between the bungee mechanics and those featured in the Major Mucus battle in Earthworm Jim. For the SNES version of Maui Mallard there was a similar level of difficulty. Players had to avoid the jagged edges of a Muddrake maze while carrying the little ducks to safety. The final battle in the SNES version against a gigantic frog was a bit anti-climactic. The frog sat there while Maui shot his belly forcing the frog to snap up Muddrakes using his extending tongue. The frog eventually ate all of the Muddrakes and then Maui could proceed. In the other version of the battle players had to use exploding bug shots and time them to fall into the mouth of the frog every time he opened it. All the while they were tethered to a cord and would be pulled back into the jungle canopy. 



At this point in the story Maui had passed the Test of Duckhood. The Muddrakes welcomed him as a brother and were now willing to help him in his quest. The Muddrake chieftain said that his magic was not powerful enough to track down Shabuhm Shabuhm and the only one that could was an ancient Muddrake shaman named Quackoo. The catch was that the remains of Quackoo were at the bottom of the ocean, resting inside of a haunted pirate ship. Just another day at the office for Maui when you stop and think about it. 

The Muddrake chieftain put a spell on the duck which allowed him to breathe underwater. The following stage, "The Flying DuckMan" was one of the most memorable ever put in game form. Maui could not transform into Cold Shadow in this stage. It wasn't a bad thing considering the unique game mechanics that Disney Interactive featured on the levels. Maui moved in slow motion as one would expect underwater. He jumped further than normal but also much slower. The ship was enormous and navigating it meant that Maui would have to find some sort of propulsion. It turned out that firing the bug gun underwater allowed Maui to move in any direction. Players learned to shoot opposite of the direction that they wanted to move. It was an amazing experience that really set this title apart from Earthworm Jim and every other 16-bit classic.



With the newfound ability to move through "three-dimensional" space our hero could get into every corner of the ship while seeking out the remains of the Muddrake Quackoo. Finding hidden treasure along the way was a bonus for our ninja detective. Of course nothing in the game was easy and neither would navigating the Flying DuckMan be. Puffer fish and pirate ghosts were waiting at every turn to bring Maui down. The animation and character designs throughout the game were all amazing but the ghostly ducks really set the bar for console animation.



An underwater tempest would rage on certain portions of the DuckMan stage. The tempest would rip the ship apart in chunks and it was up to the player to navigate through the maze-like ship before the wall of foam and debris claimed Maui as well. The side-scrolling portions of the tempest kept me on edge as I fired my bug gun furiously in an attempt to stay just ahead of the wave of destruction. 



In the end of the stage Maui found the remains of the Quackoo inside of a glass jar. A pirate duck took Maui off the ship aboard a tiny schooner named the Sea Hag. Of course getting away without a fight wouldn't make sense. In this case the floating head of the pirate captain rose out of the captains quarters and launched sea mines and puffer fish at our hero. If he managed to get enough shots in on the giant head then he would finally be allowed to surface and continue on his journey. The next blog will feature the final stages in the game. I hope to see you back for that.

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