In the Red
Oh, the Virtual Boy. In the hall of grand Nintendo mistakes this console stands right up there with the WiiU, a will meaning fiasco that had grand ideas but really couldn't do anything it intended to do at all well. Players were promised virtual reality, fully 3D gaming they could take on the go with some goggles and a controller but the reality was far from that. Although fun enough in its own right, the console was neither the revolutionary 3D device that fans wanted, nor the portable console the "Boy" in the name promised. It just didn't work on any of those levels.
Some of the problems with the console, though, really needed to be blamed on the games themselves. Or, put another way, the limitations of the console also limited the games that were possible, so while the Virtual Boy was technically a 32-bit 3D console, in reality it had offerings that were little better than what was getting released on the Game Boy (and sometimes much worse). Does the console deserve its infamy? Yes and no, but games like Mario Clash certainly didn't help its reputation at all.
At its core, Mario Clash is a sequel to the very first game (ignoring, of course, Mario's early appearances in the Donkey KongCreated as the titular villainous ape for his first game, Donkey Kong, along with the whole Kong family, has gone on to have a ling and varied career in a variety of Nintendo games. games) in the whole Mario series, Mario Bros. That arcade classic was a one-screen affair (as many Nintendo games were at the time) where Mario (and sometimes Luigi) went along different platforms, knocking out enemies (from below) before stomping on them. Stomp all the enemies to clear the stage and move on to the next. The same principle applies here, just with some key differences.
Mario Clash retains the very basics of the Mario Bros. setup: multiple tiers of platforms, with enemies coming out of pipes to chase around Mario. The difference here is that the platforms are all spaced out so you can't jump up and knock the enemy from below. Instead, your goal is to jump on koopas, the lowest little enemies, and then steal their shells so you can throw it at other enemies. single-horned spikeys only need to be hit once, and can be taken out from any angle, but the tougher spineys and other enemies will require throwing shells across the screen (to show off the 3D effects of the console), and that means you have to strategize to really get all the enemies.
The basic mechanics of Mario Clash are fun. There's something satisfying about aiming yourself at the enemies across the screen, lining up and blasting them, catching the shell as it bounces back, and then hitting them again to knock them out. Lining up shots like that makes you feel like you've become a trick-shot master, able to quickly and effectively deal with all foes that come at you. The game play does get more frenetic as more and more enemies come out, so mastering your tricks shots is key if you're going to get through all the stages in the game.
That is one key difference between this game and the original Mario Bros.: where that game was an infinitely spawning arcade game that let you go until you died, Mario Clash has a very specific 99 levels. Yes, once you beat those 99 levels the game goes back to level 1 to spin through it all again (with faster enemies), but there is a finite amount of content you can see (and getting 999,999 points will net you a "finishing" cut-scene).
The set number of stages with specific layouts and enemies, along with the goal of killing everything, gives Mario Clash a distinct feel over it's predecessor. Where that was an action platformer, this Virtual Boy title feels like a puzzle game. You can beat the stages any way you like, effectively, but it's pretty clear the game has specific goals for you to learn, challenges to crest, and ways you "should" play. This game is all about mastery of the skills and besting the challenges, learning the action to beat the specific goals of the game the "right" way. It's interesting.
That being said, the game isn't that interesting. Although it is 99 levels long, by about the 10 level mark you'll start to feel like you've already seen all that the game has to offer. Yes more enemies get put in, and hey each have their own way they attack, and can be attacked in return, but that's doesn't really change up the basics of the game play. You're still throwing koopas around to kill everything else. The only difference is now you're doing it with goombas, or on ice, or on a slightly different level layout. It all, deep down, feels very "samey".
Also not helping matters is the hardware. While the stereoscopic 3D adds a nice effect to the game, it's hard to feel like it's essential. You could get the same style of game play on, say, the Game Boy Advance, just without the true 3D effects, but still able to convey basic distance and size via sprites and coloring. The closer objects would be brighter, the farther ones dimmer, but it'd be just as playable without the 3D. The fact you could also get color sprites in the game if it wasn't hobbled by the red-only graphics would help, too. Sure, the sprites here are clean and bright and there's never any confusion, but nothing about this game screams that it absolutely had to be on the Virtual Boy. If we're being frank, none of the games on the console screamed that.
Maybe this game could have helped the console had it be built with a little more varied challenge. Larger stages, more to do, things to collect instead of simply always killing enemies in every single stage. By building this game on the back of Mario Bros. it hobbled how far outside the bounds of that game this sequel was able to tread. Or maybe it was just that Nintendo wanted to easy into this new console so they built a limited game with a simple, core concept. However it was developed the game just doesn't really shine.
I want to say that maybe this game would be better remembered if it had been the pack-in title with the Virtual Boy (instead of Mario Tennis, which also kind of sucks) but I don't know about that. Both this game, and the console it was on, were hobbled by the gimmick of the system, neither really showcasing themselves, or each other, very well. Mario Clash is perfectly playable, but not an absolute winner by any stretch, which is exactly how I feel about the Virtual Boy as well. Both are fine, but neither would sell the other, or themselves. They just kind of exist.