Today's game is Miracle Girls, where the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc team up to fight the forces of hell using an exhilarating mixture of Catholic doctrine and really big guns. Except it isn't, it's a Super Famicom platformer based on, you guessed it, a manga called Miracle Girls. I know, I thought the other thing sounded more interesting too. Oh well, we're stuck with it now, so on we go with Now Production and Takara's 1993 enforced-type-2-diabetes-em-up Miracle Girls!
There are the girls - twin sisters, to be precise - now, looking very excited at the prospect of starring in a SNES game, as well you might be. I'd be excited if I had my own SNES game, but knowing my luck it'd turn out to be Bubsy with a pixellated version of my grim visage slapped over the top of Bubsy's smart-arse face. We even get to find out what the girls are so excited about, thanks to a fan-translated version of the game by RPGOne, so no twist or turn of what I'm sure will be a deep, compelling story will pass us by.
Wow, these kids have quite the chins on them, don't they? The longer you stare at them, the more unsettling the proportions of their faces become, even by the usual saucer-eyed, no-nosed standard of the manga form. It's difficult to look at them and not imagine that they're hooting a low, monotone mooing sound right into each other's faces. Anyway, the girls and some of their friends are having a normal day at school when, without warning, they are transported to a strange and unfamiliar world. That means it's time to pick one of the girls and head out of a journey across this bizarre and, if the background is anything to go by, rather idyllic land. I'll let the girls introduce themselves.
This is Tomomi, and she's the dumb jock. Is it just me, or is "having great reflexes" a really weird thing to boast about? Maybe she's part-cat. This is based on a manga, after all.
And this is her sister Mikage, and she's a loser nerd. Oh ho ho, what a pair they make! They're like chalk and cheese, apples and oranges, erm, nerds and jocks, but they love each other despite their differences. They love everything, every tiny element of their existence, if their constant expressions of boggle-eyed delight are anything to go. So they're happy kids, but why are they miracle girls? Is it because they're forever enraptured by the sheer miracle of being?
Oh, I see. Wait, what? That's a very low-key way to announce that you possess phenomenal mental powers beyond the ken of ordinary man. Seems like that's just how Tomomi and Mikage the Psychic Mutant Twins roll. Hopefully I'll get to use their powers, I can see teleportation being a very useful ability to have in a platformer.
First I have to choose which sister to play as. I went with Mikage. You might think that Tomomi would be the better choice to play as in an action game because she's the sporty one, but I have my reasons. Those reasons are that I was flicking the cursor around and it stopped on Mikage, and also that it doesn't matter because they both play the same. Tomomi breaks down in tears when she is rejected, the big wuss. Didn't see that one coming with you mind-powers, huh?
Miracle Girls starts out of Flower Road, which is about as nice an alternate dimension as you could be hoped to be dragged in to against your will. It's a very gentle introduction to an overall very gentle game, the kind of light platforming that you've seen a thousand times before but sanded down a little further than usual, presumably to appeal to a younger target audience. Even the roaming enemies aren't particularly threatening. It's hard to fear a cartoon mole in a hard-hat, even if he is coming right at you on a pneumatic drill. You'd think that a mole of all creatures wouldn't need a tool to help it dig, but then the brightly coloured blocks that make up Flower Road's bedrock do look pretty solid.
To defend herself from the roving hordes of benign lil' cuties, Mikage has a secret weapon. No, it's not psychic powers. Why would you think that? Oh, right, because she's psychic. Maybe her powers only work on humans, with animal brains lacking the necessary complexity to be manipulated. Instead, she throws candy at them. If a creature it hit by the candy it is momentarily paralysed and can't hurt you while it munches away. As a secondary bonus, you can also stand on paralysed enemies and use them as platforms. Seems fair enough, I'd let someone stand on my face if they gave me enough sweets, too. There are a couple of points in the game where you can build a staircase to reach bonus items by stuffing woodland creatures with your poisoned candy, but most of the time you'll be feeding them and moving on as quickly as possible.
The only other non-standard element of the platforming comes from these red and white flowers. One of them is a solid platform, while the other will collapse as soon as you touch it. The only way to tell which is which is to consult the mental projection of your twin sister that appears when you reach the flowers. She actually says "red" or "white" out loud so you know which flower to stand on, and it's sort of a neat touch although as uses for telepathy go it is hardly the most thrilling imaginable.
There's a fortune teller in hidden in the stage, and by "fortune teller" I mean "slot machine" so it's almost certainly got a better success rate at predicting the future than your common-or-garden palm reader. The reels spin and you can get extra lives if matching symbols line up, but the machine also dispenses some advice before you leave. Come on then, oh wise and knowing one-armed bandit, what does the future have in store for me?
What do you mean, "a time like this"? The time I'm spending skipping through a mostly harmless pastoral dreamland filled with swaying flowers and hoppity bunnies? Are you threatening me, Fortune Teller? Is that it? Well, I'm on to you. I'll take my extra lives but then we're done, you hear me?!
So, uh, yeah. Platforming. Jump over holes, throw sweets at monsters, although "monsters" is a bit of a strong term. I suppose there is something a little monstrous about a sentient dandelion clock the size of a child's head, doubly so when they look more like the ghost of a sperm than anything else, but it's hardly zombies and dragons. What else would you expect from a place called Flower Road? It's all jolly enough, I suppose. I don't have anything to complain about in terms of the controls or the game mechanics, at least - the developers were obviously shooting for the most middle-of-the-road platformer they could muster and boy did they ever hit that target. They did mix things up a little with the boss battles, mind you, so let's meet the first end-of-stage guardian now.
It's Buzz Stingington, the sex offender bee! Ha ha, don't go near him girls! And if he comes near you, make sure to give his parole officer a call!
Then the game suddenly turns into a close of Bomberman. Unexpected, but a welcome change even if it's not as good as an actual Bomberman game. Rather than bombs you both have water pistols, and an umbrella that you can protect yourself with. The aim is to shoot the bee with your water pistol without getting shot yourself, and whoever has landed the most hits when the time runs out is the winner. There are two ways to go about this: you can either lay in wait for the bee and shoot him as he rounds a corner before quickly ducking back so he can't retaliate, or you can take the lazy man's route, which involves standing right next to him and repeatedly shooting. Once you've got a few points, just wait a while and some blue balls will drop into the arena and start rolling around, deducting one point from whoever they hit. The bee is far too stupid to avoid these balls, so as long as you make a token effort to avoid them yourself the bee will lose all the points he's accumulated and you'll win handily.
Yes I am here to help you and no, I am not exhausted after that bee guy because he was too thick to understand the rules of the game he challenged me to. Who are you, by the way? Oh, you're Mikage and Tomomi's teacher. I must say, given that you don't have psychic powers you're taking all this much more calmly than I would. Also, you might want to invest in some larger spectacles, unless those aren't your glasses and you're just holding on to them for a friend who is a scholarly cartoon owl.
Welcome to stage two: Clouds Island, home of the fucked-up ducks. Christ knows what's happened to the poor thing's spine, it's as though someone tried to wring its neck in preparation to cook it but got bored half-way through and let it go.
As you can see, this stage is a romp amongst the fluffiest clouds you ever did see, with a background of twinkling stars, a moon with a human face and, weirdly, lots of minarets. I usually like "cute" games, possibly as a reaction to most modern-day releases, but I think Miracle Girls might be a bit too cute. Playing Miracle Girls feels like a twenty-four hour marathon of Hello Kitty and internet kitten videos has been condensed into an hour or so of gameplay, an adorable cudgel that is being used to thump you over the head repeatedly.
I spent so long trying to bounce on this resolutely non-interactive ring, you wouldn't believe. I meant just look at it! It's clearly an embedded trampoline of some kind. Why yes, I have been playing Donkey Kong Country recently, why do you ask?
A platform above a fatal drop, a signpost and the opportunity to make a joke that is far too dark to appear in this article. Instead I'll explain that there are air currents here that you can ride on my jumping into them, hence the sign. You might be wondering why Mikage doesn't just teleport over the gap, and if you did wonder that then you'd be pleased to note that she teleports over a bloody gap right after this section. The difference is that Tomomi is there to help her, so... they can only teleport if they're both involved? That makes it a much less useful power, especially when you consider all the time you'd have to waste on convincing the other person that you should teleport into a bank vault.
Oh shit, it's Wade from US Acres! Oh, US Acres, or Orson's Farm as it's known outside the US. Second fiddle to Garfield, of all things. You poor bastard.
The duck wants to play a card-matching game. A card appears in the centre, and you have to move to the matching card and select it before the duck does. This is precisely as exhilarating as it sounds, especially when you factor in the odd quirk that the non-centre cards also change, sometimes leaving you without the correct card to match. Above, for instance, only the duck's side has the devil card. I guess I'll just sit this round out, then? No, no, that's cool, if you want to win by cheating then that's up to you.
I guess? Sure, let's go with that. I mean, I have no idea who you are but we'll get you home safe, nerdlinger.
The next stage is Sweet Hill, because this game wasn't sugary enough already. The difficulty level is slowly but steadily increasing, mostly because enemies are placed right where you're going to land when jumping between platforms and there's the occasional springboard semi-hidden in the floor that it's easy to run in to, but it's hardly Contra or anything. On the plus side, look at these little waddling tea cup guys! They're very cute for being abominations. Lemon with tea? That's just not right.
By the way, Mikage has one other move at her disposal: a limited-use, screen-clearing smart bomb attack wherein she spins around and flings candy everywhere. This doesn't just paralyse the enemies, it destroys them outright, so if you have a burning hatred for anthropomorphic tea cups then this is the attack to use. Also don't watch Disney's Beauty and the Beast. On the subject of those tea cups, do you think they constantly live with the crippling fear that someone is going to grab that Jammie Dodger over there and forcibly dunk it into their exposed... liquids? I know I would be.
Then the girls get tired of pretending they don't have god-like supernatural powers and simply fly over this massive hole to reach the end of the stage. Makes you wonder why they split up at the start of the game, really. Probably they just wanted some time apart, having to be right next to each other in order to use their powers is going to put a strain on the relationship.
Because you're creepy as hell, Rat-Clown?
Rat-Clown has a game for you to play, naturally. Surprisingly the stakes are not your eternal soul, but rather that he'll tell you where one of your missing friends is if you beat him at a game of spot-the-uncoordinated-flailer. The four characters above do a little dance, but one of them is ever so slightly out of sync with the rest, and you have to identify the one that's ruining the dance recital to score points. It's an interesting idea, and because the difference in the movements is so subtle it becomes a weirdly psychological challenge as you second-guess yourself repeatedly. Fortunately Rat-Clown doesn't seem that into it, and it's rare that he'll make a guess of his own so you can take your time in determining which of these twitchy, giant-headed weirdos is a quarter-beat behind the pace.
Thank you, Extremely Generic Anime Boy. Your enormous, SETI-satellite-dish eyes should help on that front.
Stage four is Toys Bridge. "Toys" is pushing it a bit, mind you, because it's mostly made up of dice and playing cards. If I'd asked for toys at Christmas and received a deck of cards and a couple of D6s I'd have been very disappointed. There are floating cat heads with angel wings and little red booties, too. Probably best not to ask where they came from, although the angel wings suggest that they were very good and pious cat-heads in life.
Oh no, this die heard me smack-talking his fellow random number generators and now he's out for revenge! Tiny, hopping, easily-thwarted-with-sweets revenge! I have no idea why anything in this game causes Mikage harm, you know. Ninety percent of the enemies are actively fuzzy, and the ones that aren't are hardly bristling with poison spines or rending talons. With this guy, you could scoop him up in a cup and shake him around. He'd probably love it, too.
The toy theme goes even further off track with the appearance of cannon that try to shoot you. When I first saw them I thought "I'm surprised they don't have grumpy faces that are spitting cannonballs out of their cartoony mouths," but then I noticed that the cannonballs have eyes, so there you go. As an appliance on The Flintstones might say, "it's a living," although a severely truncated living given that they're being launched over a bottomless pit.
The boss is quite possibly the least terrifying Jack-in-the-Box of all time, and he wants to play a game. Maybe something with playing cards, or the rolling of dice? It would make sense with both the theme of the level and the game's commitment to minigames as boss battles.
Nope, it's the water pistol thing again. Yay. The Jack-in-the-Box isn't any tougher than the bee, as you might expect from an opponent with a box instead of limbs, and the same tactics work just as well here. They didn't even bother to give him his own toy-themed background. Very disappointing.
The defeated spring-thing offers up the information that someone called Majo-Majo is behind the girls' interdimensional abduction, and so they set off to the final stage - the Magical Forest. The Magical Forest of the dead, if all these ghosts cluttering up the place are any indication. The ghosts - which are rather lovely and charmingly sleepy - make this the hardest part of the game by far, popping into existence without warning and often right in front of your face. I suppose I should have know. Ghost is super effective against Psychic, after all.
The developers wanted to get spooky but they just couldn't bring themselves to ditch the cutesiness, so we've ended up riding on skull-flowers. As everyone in this game has huge eyes and tiny mouths, I think we can safely assume those are human skulls. Mikage doesn't seem perturbed by this. Mikage never seems perturbed by anything, she's constantly smiling like an under-three's version of the Joker who fell into a vat of cuddles and chocolate milkshakes.
At last, the villain is revealed and it's the owl witch called Majo-Majo. Again, Majo-Majo is carrying a staff with a human skull attached to it but the girls don't give a shit. They must have seen far worse than this on their other, less cutesy adventures. If you have the power to delve into people's minds you're going to see some dark stuff, stuff that leaves a mark on your psyche. So, what fiendish game has Majo-Majo got in store for the girls?
Ah yes, the dread curse of repetition. Three more instances of the same games as before, only slightly more difficult (and I do mean slightly). You don't even face off against Majo-Majo, it's the same bosses as before, and the whole thing feels like a complete waste of time.
It turns out that Majo-Majo abducted these people because he / she / it was lonely, which almost feels worse than if it'd grabbed them for some nefarious purpose. The world does't revolve around your happiness, Majo-Majo, these are people with their own lives, you can't just transport them to the Cuteness Dimension so you can have a playmate. If you're lonely, join a book club or something. The girls are much more forgiving than me, though, and they tell Majo-Majo that they've had a fun time risking life and limb but they'd like to go home now, please. Majo-Majo agrees to send them back, leaving the owl-witch to rattle around in its big, empty castle. Maybe you'd have more friends if you didn't accessorize with the bones of the dead, Majo-Majo.
It wasn't very difficult, and the amount of fun I had was minimal at best. Don't lie to me, Miracle Girls.
And there we go, another generic platformer conquered through cheerfulness and smiles. On the girls' part, I mean. Miracle Girls did not make me especially cheery or smiley, although those ghosts were pretty great. It's a licensed platformer for kids, so the odds of it being amazing were fairly low, although I will give it huge credit for this: it's a game clearly aimed at a very young audience and yet, unlike so many other similar games, it manages to not be completely patronising and utterly devoid of challenge! It's an easy game, sure, but it has its moments and if you're in the target demographic then it's a good, gentle introduction to the genre. If you want to chill out with something so cute it makes a basket full of puppies look like a basket full of dead halibut, you can give it a try but it's never going to compete with the classics. I suspect you knew that already, though.