Game Freak is a developer that is most widely known for making the gigantic contribution of Pokémon to gaming, but they had very humble beginnings in a little game called Mendel Palace. This quirky NES puzzle game is not extraordinarily well known, but the few people who have crossed paths with the title seem to walk away from it happy. Admittedly, I met with Mendel Palace entirely by chance myself. It was a game that was chosen at random as a rental one weekend, and I had no idea what it was that I had gotten myself into as the game did not come with a manual and I had never encountered anything like it before. I never rented it again.
I revisited the game as an adult on a whim, and saw it through to the end. Now that I know who Game Freak is and can comprehend strange Japanese-made games, I found Mendel Palace to be an extremely fun, if chaotic, puzzle game.
When I first approached Anthony about writing some Games Time Forgot, Mendel Palace was the first game I had in mind to feature because it seemed like a pretty obscure title before I ever even put any research into it. I asked him if he had ever heard of it, and he said no. I then asked my good friend Aaron Linde if he had ever played the title. His answer was also no. In fact, I could not find a single other person who had ever even heard of Mendel Palace, let alone played it. The game is so completely buried in time that no one even paid attention to it while it was new.
How is a game about walking and flipping tiles even worth remembering? Hit the jump to find out.
Mendel Palace, like most other NES games, presents the player with the simplistic plot of having to save a damsel in distress. The lady in question is a princess named Candy, who has become trapped in her own nightmares by the creations of her own imagination. The player is put into the shoes of a young man wearing a cap (who looks a lot like Red/Blue from the first two versions of Pokémon), who must travel through each floor of the nine palaces that were formed in the princesses’ dreams and defeat all of the dolls that have come to life, because girls obviously dream about nothing but castles and baby dolls.
In a time where puzzle games consisted only of Tetris-inspired block dropping, Mendel Palace offered gameplay that was unlike anything else. Each level is covered in tiles that the player can flip over. Any enemies that are on the screen can only be defeated by flipping them into one of the walls. Think of it as pulling the rug out from beneath someone, causing them to fall and be flung one tile forward in the opposite direction that you pulled. Some enemies are easier to push around than others, and some are able to flip tiles themselves, which will ruin your day if you do not deal with them quickly enough.
Adding to the chaos are the many different types of tiles that you will encounter. Besides your standard tiles, there are star tiles, which can be collected when walked over. A hundred stars will earn you an extra life. There are also unmovable tiles, shockwave tiles that continue flipping after being flipped once, and glowing tiles that spawn enemies continuously (it will try to ensure that there are always six enemies on screen at the same time) until it is flipped into a different tile. The most dangerous tile by far is the sun tile, which will flip every single tile on the stage, sometimes revealing multiple glowing tiles or other dangerous situations. A tile can be flipped as many times as you wish in order to get the type that you want or need.
Each palace has ten floors, and each one must be cleared of all enemies, including any that are being continually spawned by a glowing tile, in order to progress. The top floor of each palace features a boss fight against several overpowered dolls, or one that will transform you into that palace’s resident doll and forces you to fight using your enemy’s powers.
Why you’re probably not playing it:
Hardly anyone knows the game ever existed, or even that Game Freak has done anything besides Pokémon games. The game had one of the worst commercials for a video game that I can recollect, and a pretty terrible name to boot. The people who do know of it either played it and never thought about the game again, or they may have a hard time convincing others that it is worth playing, as just watching the gameplay or hearing about it (“This game is great! You flip tiles over!”) may not be extremely enticing.
However, things are completely different when you get to play the game yourself. It is like saying, “Hey, this is a game about rolling stuff up!” about Katamari Damacy. It sounds dull, but is something that is unique and fun in practice. There was nothing else like it at the time, and it is still a very unique puzzle game experience. It can also get pretty challenging as you progress, and you fill face bizarre doll enemies that dance like ballerinas or swim through the air. The game gets even more fun when you are able to fight bosses in the shoes of a doll who can sumo stomp or do kung fu. It can also be played with two players, which sounds like it would possibly be even more fun than playing the game alone. Things can get extremely crazy extremely fast, which may be another turnoff for single players.
While there is no bigger fan of the Pokémon games than myself, I can’t help but be saddened that they overshadow this gem of Game Freak’s past. Mendel Palace was a great start for a great developer, and though it has long been forgotten, those who have revisited the game were met with a fun little NES puzzler.