This Super Famicom exclusive has the distinction of being the first to be directed by Eiji Aonuma, a name you may remember from his work on another little Nintendo series called… oh, what was it? Ah! The Legend of Zelda (Ocarina of Time onwards, as I’m sure you already know). Marvelous: Mouhitotsu no Takarajima is at heart a puzzle-based adventure starring three characters – Dion, Max, and Jack – all energetic young boys with their own particular talents: Dion’s the small and speedy one, Max is strong and a good swimmer, Jack’s great at jumping and using a fishing rod, and so on. It’s the same “Use the right person for the right job” setup we’ve all seen many times before – The Lost Vikings and Trine are two obvious examples, and even those Lego games with (roughly) a million unlockable characters fall along broadly the same lines – games where the nimble one is used to reach any switches left un-poked on high ledges, the big one pushes heavy things put of the way, and the other one… does whatever special thing it is the other one’s supposed to do. Only… that’s not quite how it goes in Marvelous. The puzzle elements here aren’t as rigidly compartmentalised into “high thing/heavy thing/small thing” but presented in an almost infinite selection of imaginative ways instead; maybe you’ll need to take part in a quick game of football, throw a baseball while riding a minecart, remotely control a pirate-themed robot through a room filled with explosive crates, or even undo the zip on a pirate’s monkey costume (it makes more sense in context, I promise) – and this is all in the first chapter! Even better, some solo puzzles can be solved by anyone, avoiding the weary “Oh but I already brought over [Person]” sighs that follow so many overly-fussy tricks and riddles in similar experiences- a small bit of leeway that gives players the chance to spend more time with their favourite and also allowing for the game to flow more smoothly. The same relaxed attitude applies to the vast majority of positional puzzles too (ex: you need to have the boys spread out across three sides of something heavy to lift it up) – it doesn’t matter who is standing where so long as they’re all standing nearby when you click the catch-all “Teamwork” button.
A slew of similar enjoyment-first features can be found wherever you go in your light-hearted search for Captain Maverick’s titular treasure “Marvelous”: Items that can only be used by one of your trio can’t be acquired or given to the others under any circumstances, saving a lot of almost right frustrations or time wasted wondering if your solution’s not working because Jack for example is trying to use an item, rather than Dion. Herding your three explorers is always astonishingly easy – a tap of the R button switches the leader to any of the three on the screen, and you can always tell who the leader is because they’ll be wearing the official leader hat. Splitting them up is as easy as selecting the character you want to go solo and then moving around, and grouping everyone up is a simple case of pressing a button to blow the whistle they all carry, every team member on the screen immediately rushing over to the current leader’s side (AI pathfinding and environmental hazards permitting). Is someone (or sometwo) off elsewhere and out of sight? No problem! The boys are given a radio each early on – just select that item, select the kid, and that’s it! And should you become stuck and low on patience the helpful bird Pillac can often be found flying overhead, happy to offer helpful hints on where to go or what do in exchange for a flat fee of one Luck Stone; an item found in copious quantities throughout the game or won in potentially infinite quantities from various minigames.
And all of this streamlined problem solving is wrapped up in a breezy adventure filled with talking monkeys, pirates, hidden treasure, hand-drawn maps, time travel (yep, really!), and the general background excitement of kids let loose on a camping trip. You aren’t just told this is an exciting time for the boys, you really feel it for yourself as you poke around the various larger-than-life islands you visit and while it may not be entirely safe (anything from falling rocks to scorpions can drain your health, and a major ongoing plot point is the boy’s teacher getting kidnapped by pirates), it’s always pitched around a “scraped knees” level of peril that encourages you to give whatever you just tried one more go – even falling off a platform into the dark below will either make you reappear in a nearby lower room, Zelda style, or return back to the nearest safe spot unharmed – and should you really find yourself short of health it’s never anything a juicy tomato can’t fix. This freedom to explore makes everything feel interactive and alive, a world filled with “Touch, don’t look“; you’ll see water and wonder how to jump in, or something will catch your eye up in a tree or across a gap and you’ll wonder how you could possibly reach it, your curiosity always encouraged and rewarded. Even just examining an object or talking to someone could bring up a unique image, anything from a forgotten photo to an animated close-up of a grumpy looking fish.
Marvelous: Mouhitotsu no Takarajima may have been released before Aonuma had any direct involvement with Link’s adventures but even so this is clearly inspired by the pink-haired hero’s SNES outing in all the right ways, understanding the pleasure in seeing some wooden posts and finally being able to hammer them down and explore the land beyond, the joy of sneaking into a mysterious cave or getting involved with an amusingly unusual selection of villagers – some kind, some cranky, some with secrets of their own… There’s a lot of light comedic touches in here too – I think my favourite’s watching the boys run full tilt at a door with a battering ram… only for the “door” to peel away from the wall, Looney Tunes style. If that doesn’t appeal then perhaps you’ll enjoy seeing penguins in places penguins shouldn’t be, or a cow that says “Moo~” with the translation underneath reading “Moo~“.
Imagine a Zelda game without dungeons, a Zelda game focussed on using a wide range items to creatively navigate an ever-unfolding landscape (er, have I just described Breath of the Wild?), and you’ve got yourself in the right frame of mind for this marvelous sunshine-soaked adventure.
[Ko-fi supporters made this post happen – and they got to read it a week early too! Thank you so much!]