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Wrecking Crew: The forgotten Mario game

As a child I was ignorant of nearly all NES games beyond what I and my friends owned, but I remember seeing pictures of Wrecking Crew (perhaps in Nintendo Power). It was hard to believe there was this janky-looking Mario game no one I knew had ever played! Now that I've played it, it's still kind of hard to believe.

Wrecking Crew reminds me of Clu-Clu Land. It's kind of irritating but can suck you in, if you play it long enough. It's addictive, not because it's especially fun, but because you always want to solve the next stage. You want to prove that you can master this old game's weirdness! (Or I did, anyway.)

The game it most reminds me of is The Adventures of Lolo, except that game is cute and this thing is ugly af. Visually, I hate it. Mario looks terrible. And why are some of the enemies eggplants!? (What is up with Nintendo and eggplants?)
Not the most beautiful game ever created
The goal of each stage is to smash all the breakable walls. They are in the background, so breaking them doesn't open any paths, but sometimes you have to destroy ladders, too. This is where some of the puzzle element starts to come in, because you may need some of those ladders! Levels generally have to be solved from top to bottom due to the one-way ladder called gravity.

In addition to breaking walls, some stages have bombs, which, when hit, can cause a chain reaction of destruction. They can also destroy certain platforms holding empty drums. With careful timing, you can trap an enemy inside a falling drum. Exploding these platforms can also open up new pathways, or even block your path, forcing a restart (by pushing SELECT).

After the ugly gray-brown visuals, my second least favorite part of Wrecking Crew is the enemies (especially Eggplant Man). They zip around following a homing pattern, and you have to constantly avoid them. As the levels get harder, figuring out patterns for avoiding the enemies becomes increasingly important and difficult. It doesn't help that you're constantly avoiding fireballs as well a la Mario Bros., but unlike in that game you can't jump, so if there's an enemy behind you, you're doomed.
Who at Nintendo was traumatized by eggplants?
After a few hours, I was able to complete the first 25 levels. It has an impressive 100, and you can choose any level you like, no password necessary. They do get a little repetitive, but their puzzly nature distinguishes one from another (unlike, say, Ice Climber). Each stage feels like a fresh challenge. As a result, Wrecking Crew can become addictive.

Different people enjoy different games. While I found this game somewhat tedious and frustrating, I can easily imagine other people loving it, especially with 100 unique levels on offer. Not only that, but you can design your own! The level-editor is intuitive and gives you total freedom. Too bad you can't save them (except through save states in emulation)! I've learned from Jeremy Parish's NES Works that in Japan you could save your levels in both this and Excitebike by purchasing a tape recorder peripheral. Although the NES has an expansion port on the bottom, nothing was ever released for it!
I made this level and named it R-♥.
It's not my cup of tea, but Wrecking Crew isn't bad. With 100 levels, a robust level editor, and plenty of challenge for action-puzzle lovers, it's a solid launch title.

Grade: C

Gameplay: Sporadically fun or niche (12/20)
Theme: Interesting concept and characters, if a bit generic (16/20)
Controls: Controls are smooth and let you do what you want (15/15)
Difficulty: Goldilocks: Not too hard, not too easy (15/15)
Graphics: Doesn't look great (9/15)
Sound: Music and sounds are repetitive (9/15)
This wraps up my series on launch titles. I have never even seen a real R.O.B. (needed to play Gyromite and Stack-Up), and 10-Yard Fight and Kung Fu have not been re-released. There's a reason for that: they are the only two launch titles made by third parties. It wouldn't surprise me if Nintendo eventually strikes up a licensing deal to put either or both of these on Nintendo Switch Online, and in that event I will play them.

My next series will be some early Famicom games that never made it to the NES. Stay tuned!

Linked Reviews
"Wrecking Crew is an ambitious game, and even in the face of the occasional exhausting aggravation, this puzzle-platformer has a lot to offer."
— Stephen Kelly, Nintendo Life, 6/10

"A simple game, this title has enough unique puzzle action to keep things interesting, at least for a short while."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo, 3/5

"Wrecking Crew remains addictive and enjoyable to this day. For my money, it’s one of the quintessential puzzle titles for the system alongside the Lolo series."
— Dylan Cornelius, Questicle, A-

"Wrecking Crew feels like a bit of an orphan in Nintendo’s history, the final experimental Mario game before the character’s true canon was established once and for all, destroying his freedom to undertake such oddball efforts."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

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