Monday, April 22, 2024

Wrecking Crew: Another brick in the wall

Another five hours of my life invested into Wrecking Crew, another dozen levels completed - some of them are real bastards. I'm getting there. Slowly.


Level 71

This level wastes no time putting you in danger - run! Run left, wrap-around to the right, and drop down - the wrenches will follow.

Next you'll have to smash the row of walls and ladders being chased by wrenches. The first key to surviving this is to make sure you take out the ladders first - wrenches only change directions when passing by a ladder, so if you smash them, they'll just continue in a single file in an infinite loop letting you lead them and wrap around as many times as you need to demolish the row. The second key is praying that the fireballs spawn at times when you have a chance of avoiding them.

After clearing the row, you have a chance to lose the wrenches, but you have to move fast and precisely. Climb down two levels, drop the barrel, then climb up and over the barrel, and if you do all this and stay ahead of the wrenches, they'll bunch up and get trapped between the barrels, leaving fireballs as the only remaining danger.

No. No. No!

But if you can make it to the bottom, you're good.

Level 76

Level 76 is horrible - took me well over an hour to pass this one through sheer luck. Even without fireballs, there are just so many ways you can find yourself flanked by approaching enemies on both sides, and the more ladders you destroy, the less chance you have to escape. With fireballs, it's just insanity, especially on the upper half of the stage.


Which isn't to say that there's no strategy involved. With some quick and strategic demolition on the middle levels, you can get the wrenches stuck on a ladder, leaving you free to demolish the upper ones with only the eggplant(s) and fireballs to worry about. Which is plenty to worry about. Of course, once you've done that, you've got to skedaddle down the ladders to the lower half of the stage, smashing everything on your way down, and not get caught by anything - and that takes luck.

You'll also want to make sure both eggplant men are in the stage's upper half.

If you can make it here and take out the ladder behind you without anything following you, then you're doing well. If anything followed you down the ladder, or fell down to the bottom level from having the ladder knocked out from underneath them, you are good and screwed. Seriously - best of luck clearing out that bottom floor with more than one enemy going after you.


Level 80

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the most diabolical level of the game yet. For the first and so far only time, I had to use a mid-level save state to beat it, and it took me days of trying still.

You have to problems to deal with immediately. First, there's Spike. If he knocks you down to the bottom of the level, you're not getting back up. Second, you absolutely cannot allow a single enemy to escape from the upper three floors, or they will wind up getting stuck on one of the ladderless floors of gray walls bounded with dynamite, making it impossible for you to clear it.

Solve both of these problems at once by immediately destroying three ladders - the one just to your left, and the two leftmost ladders on the floor below you.

This drops Spike to the bottom where he'll be a problem for later, and creates a stable running loop for the eggplants to keep them on the upper levels, even if they reverse direction.

But now you have to clear three fairly dense floors of debris while four enemies and fireballs roam around this rather narrow space!

I managed to get the wrenches stuck on the leftmost ladder, unable to pathfind their way to the top floor where I set up a base camp. And here, I made a save state.


I found that as long as I stayed on the upper floor, the wrenches would not leave their loop. Eggplants could be avoided individually by standing on the correct floor segment. Fireballs could be dodged by climbing a few rungs down the ladders (but not all the way, to avoid luring the wrenches out of their neat little ladder trap). Having both eggplant men approach at once, or one eggplant approach at the same time as a fireball could be impossible to avoid, in which case I'd reload.

The dark walls on the second floor from the top were the next to be demolished, and I could get at them by climbing down the ladder between them, smashing them down in three strokes, and climbing right back up to the top floor. With good timing, speed, and a little luck, the wrenches wouldn't have a chance to leave their loop. But the window for doing it safely is brief indeed.

The next and most difficult part was taking out the ladders. This part has to go like clockwork, or you die.

If you wrap around before both wrenches pass by the rightmost ladder, one will reverse direction. And then you're screwed.

Succeed and you can take out the dark walls in peace, unbothered by anything except maybe a fireball which you can dodge by wrapping-around.

Hopefully you trapped all of the enemies on the upper floors - without connecting ladders, they can't follow you. Spike still awaits you on the lower floors, but he can actually help!

Now there's no enemies patrolling the bottom floors and you're free to destroy the dark walls here. The first floor is simple, but do not touch the dynamite - it will blow up the ladder and you need that to reach the others. I've made that mistake multiple times thanks to the stress of getting this far.

The second floor is a bit trickier - make sure Spike is trapped on the fourth floor, let him knock you down so that you can escape it yourself, and then climb the ladder to the third floor, wrap around left, and drop down. Hit each brick exactly once and use the dynamite to both finish the job and knock you off the ledge back down. And pray that fireballs don't come - you only get one chance to do this right.

To clear the fourth floor, where Spike should still be trapped, just let him demolish the row for you! You might fall down a few times, but be patient, be mindful of fireballs, and do not under any circumstances use the dynamite here or knock Spike down himself until the whole row is destroyed.

Finally, you can drop down to the bottom floor and destroy the ladder to finish the level.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Wrecking Crew: If I had a hammer

Wrecking Crew has couple of secrets lurking in the depths of its NROM - what would a Mario game be without a few? I had some glimpses at them in past sessions though never quite cracked their inner workings. Until now.

Unfortunately, one secret isn't worth puzzling out, and another is so obscure that it feels like it wasn't meant to be found.

In past sessions, I had occasionally heard a cheerful tone after smashing a wall, leaving behind a letter 'M.' Sometimes I'd also find an 'A' in this manner. In at least one occasion, I even found an 'R', but never more than that.

Spelling "M-A-R-I-O" (or "L-U-I-G-I" if you're the second player) earns you an extra life, and the method is obscure but straightforward. Each level simply has five invisibly designated walls that you must destroy in sequence for the prize. All of the other walls are irrelevant and can be destroyed at any time. The catch is that if you destroy any of the prize walls out of sequence, you get no letter from it (or any subsequent walls), and no clue that you did anything wrong.

It seems that repeated trial and error on the same level is the only way to uncover the hidden sequence, which of course will cost you more lives than it gains you. I suppose you could learn and memorize all of the sequences ahead of time and then hit them all on a replay and earn tons of lives, but it hardly seems worth it.

The obscure one is so well known that "wrecking crew nes golden hammer" is one of Google's top autocomplete predictions, but the method to get it is crazy.

I had noticed on occasion that after setting off dynamite, it might spawn a valuable prize, like a pig, a cat, or a Santa Claus costume. But it wasn't often, and never a golden hammer.

As it turns out, some levels - not many - contain "prize bombs" which may yield a prize if you set it off under correct circumstances.

  • There is at most one prize bomb in any given level, and there is no way direct to tell it from the others.
  • To yield a prize, it must be the third bomb detonated. So you can't get this on levels with two or fewer bombs.
  • The prize given is determined by this logic:
    • Take the level number.
    • Add the number of times you swung the hammer.
    • Divide by 8 and keep the remainder.
    • A remainder of '1' gets you the golden hammer. Any other remainder gets you a lesser prize.

The golden hammer is terrific - you move faster, you swing much faster, you demolish the heaviest walls with a single tap, and you can bonk Spike right on his stupid head with it. You can even bash and stun regular enemies, though the timing is very difficult and risky, and will cause some of them to speed up once they recover.

Getting it also changes the music - there's a whole other tune that only plays when you've got the golden hammer - and it lasts until you lose a life.

Despite the hammer's usefulness, I decided to ignore it and keep playing without trying to find them. The prospect of discovering one whether by accident or by figuring out the method fairly seems remote at best, and it wouldn't last long even if I did. And at least one of the levels would have been impossible to beat with it!

Level 46 - Picking right up where I left off last session, six enemies haphazardly walking around the stage and no opportunities to barrel-trap them! The eggplant men don't pursue you, but they move fast and their Amidar-like patterns aren't always easy to predict.

They can be trapped, though, but it takes some patience and perhaps some luck. When the coast is clear, wreck one of the upper ladders, climb down the ladder below it, move out of the way, and wait for an enemy or two to climb right back up the lower ladder into the negative space before you break the lower ladder beneath its feet, trapping it there.

It took me a good number of tries to pull it off perfectly three times, but I got all of the enemies out of my way in this manner eventually.

Level 49 - One jam-packed demolition site! Big ladders on either side give your enemies plenty of chances to surround you, and all those ladders in the middle give you plenty of chances to escape them (and of course the fireballs)... until you start smashing them.

I'm not really sure how I beat this one - my various attempts to be smart or clever just would inevitably just get me trapped and killed, often by a fireball coming in one direction and an enemy coming from the other. I did discover that enemies above you can be delayed a bit by smashing a ladder just as they start descending it, which helps but isn't a surefire victory strategy. Breaking either of the big ladders before you've cleared all of the upper floors will definitely screw you over in the end. But mainly I just ran around a lot, kept my distance from enemies when possible, and eventually had a run without any unlucky inescapable fireballs.

Level 54 - Six enemies and not a lot of escape venues despite the apparent complexity. Good news is that there are several opportunities to trap them. Bad news is there are even more opportunities to trap yourself in a softlock situation. But that makes this one of the more logic-driven stages in this session, which I consider a good thing.

Level 57 - Oh man, talk about a pain. Six eggplant men would be bad enough, but you have to deal with Spike too, and he loves to ruin your day by bashing out a ladder or support before you're done using it.

You want Spike out of the picture here. If your timing is really good (or you're just very lucky), you can get him to knock out a support and drop a barrel on his own head, but this takes frame-perfect and pixel-perfect maneuvering to pull off.


An easier method, one I discovered by accident, is just to drop one of the barrels and then lure him on top of it, getting him stuck there. The eggplants can be enstuckened in a similar way.

Level 60 - Another dense level, with ladders on both sides. Two barrel traps can eliminate up to two of your enemies, but Spike won't make it easy for you.

Getting him to drop a barrel on himself makes things less chaotic, but certainly not easy, and that leaves only one barrel to eliminate one more enemy with. Dealing with three enemies and fireballs as you run around the site breaking everything isn't any picnic, but it's better than your starting conditions.

Level 62 - Probably the hardest level of the session! It alone took me a good hour to solve, and the solution feels dirty. Incidentally, this one is impossible if you have the golden hammer.

The wrenches can be lured into the doors, and with the correct timing, trapped inside permanently.

The upper eggplant man will walk around in a loop for awhile until you smash the upper-left ladder, and then will eventually drop down into the central area with his twin, leaving you free to smash the gray blocks (don't use the dynamite or you might free the wrenches).

After that you have a problem. Both the leftmost and rightmost ladders need to be destroyed, but they can only be smashed at their bases - and breaking either one will trap you on that floor. Destroying the support below the left ladder is no good either; that will drop the lowermost rung out from the ladder, causing the rest of it to be suspended in air with no way of breaking it.


The solution - drop down into the central area, carefully, so that you don't get caught by the eggplants here.

Tap the thick wall once, cracking it but not destroying it (the golden hammer will destroy it, which you don't want yet). Break the isolated wall and ladder here.

Then you must tap the dynamite, but you have to be standing at a pixel-perfect position just a bit right off center. You want to be at the rightmost pixel of the explosion's radius. Too far right and you'll avoid the explosion and be trapped on the floor and probably get killed by an eggplant. Too close to center and you'll fall down and be trapped between two barrels on the bottom floor. But if you do it right, you'll set off a chain reaction that destroys the row of walls behind you and the leftmost ladder, and the explosion will knock you down to the bottom floor, where if you stood at the perfect position, you'll be able to walk right through the barrel that would otherwise be trapping you, and finish the level.

And the whole time, you can get blasted by fireballs. Sheesh - I know the fireballs come at periodic intervals, but I really wish Wrecking Crew gave you a fireball warning timer. Nothing's worse than a perfect execution ruined because a fireball comes at you and there's no way to dodge it.


Level 64 - This reminds me a bit of level 57 with its horizontal layout and minimalism. At least Spike isn't here.

You need to use the bottom floor to do most of your ladder traversal, but this is where the six eggplant men all tend to wind up, and they reverse direction when bumping into each other, making it a nightmare to try to slip into their ranks. Knowing that you can scroll the camera up and down when the game's paused can help you to decide whether to descend a ladder on one side of the platform you're on versus the other.

The most dangerous part is dropping down to clear out the bottom floor, teeming with eggplants, which is best done with the dynamite.


Level 70 - A complicated level, and what would a complicated level be without Spike thrown in to screw things up for you?

Ruin things for me he did indeed, and my efforts to trap him under a barrel failed repeatedly. Until I wound up accidentally trapping him and one of the wrenches above a barrel instead.


After that, trapping the other wrench and clearing the stage was a piece of cake.


This last session was about over three hours of gameplay, and my principal experience here was frustration. Which beats boredom or hopelessness, but the moments of joy from solving a good puzzle have been vastly outnumbered by the moments of relief from passing one that I failed a dozen times.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Wrecking Crew: Breaking walls

I've been a bit busy lately with some personal and professional issues and haven't had much time for games, but I squeezed in about an hour and a half for Wrecking Crew this week. As with when I covered Lode Runner, I've made notes on a few of the more interesting/frustrating levels.


Level 28 - Four Gotchawrenches chase you up the ladder... and the fact that they don't all move at the same speed makes it impossible to corral them into a single unit that you can easily avoid. Once you disembark from the ladder, you either go left and smash down a row of walls before dropping down onto the floor below, which might not be safe, or you go right, wrap around to the left side of the screen and drop down all the way to the bottom, which definitely won't be safe. This level also just loves spawning fireballs to come at you from the left just when you get off the ladder.

This one probably took me the most tries out of all the levels I finished during this session.

Level 30 - In retrospect, I think I missed an easy solution - smash the supports near the bottom so that the barrels come down on the Gotchawrench's heads, taking them out of the picture. With two of them in the picture, though, the two pockets of walls on the second floor are deathtraps where the only way to leave is climbing down the ladder, where a wrench might be goaltending.

Instead, after a few false attempts, I wound up dropping down into the left pocket right at the start, smashing the walls, and climbing down before the Gotchawrenches could block off my escape. Then, evading them, I climbed to the top, demolished the top row, and climbed down the middle, breaking the walls there, before dropping down to the right and finishing in the right pocket.

Level 36 - Eggplant men don't pursue you, but walk in semi-predictable patterns, climbing ladders wherever they can. Breaking the ladders beneath them makes them tumble into the bottom level, and you'll have to deal with that later. This can be a big problem if they're too spread out or if some of them have reversed their direction.

Level 40 - A nasty stage where the ladders are the only way to get off a level. Find yourself in a situation where a wrench (or fireball) gets on either side of you, and you might not have any escape. Dynamite will destroy the adjacent ladders, so don't use any of it until you're done on the floor above. It can be tempting to use it to stun the wrenches, but they'll recover and get faster each time.


Level 43 - Four Gotchawrenches and Foreman Spike. Spike just loves tapping opening the doors on the stage, enticing the wrenches to pass through to the background and out of your hair... until he opens a door somewhere else and they pass right back through to the foreground and into your hair.

As with other stages with long, unbroken platforms spanning the entire floor, fireballs can be a serious threat, spawning and giving you no opportunity to get away by dropping down.

Level 45 - This was the second most difficult stage of the session, after level 28. There's no escape from the Gotchawrenches; anywhere you can run from them will dead-end. So you've got to drop barrels on them, and you've got to do it without crushing or dead-ending yourself.

Even after getting both of them, there's still the non-trivial task of getting to all of the destructible walls in one pass.

Not quite halfway done, but I'm neither bored with this, nor excited to continue playing.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Game 408: Wrecking Crew

Mario and Luigi's final outing in their prehistoric, pre-SMB era is weird. In two months time they'd settle on their lifelong careers as a plumber brothers, but first they'd moonlight as a demolition team in a puzzle platformer not a little reminiscent of Lode Runner, with perhaps a bit of Door Door thrown in. There's even a Lode Runner-style level editor, though the save/load function requires the Japan-only tape deck peripheral.

Your goal - demolish 100 buildings by destroying all of the gray walls and ladders with your hammer and whatever dynamite is lying around the site. Your opposition - sentient wrenches, killer eggplants (not the first or the last time Nintendo would vilify eggplants), errant fireballs, and the foreman Spike (Mario & Luigi are non-union).

The main puzzle element comes from figuring out the logical order of element destruction - you have to knock down everything gray, including the ladders, but destroying a ladder or support pillar too soon could leave a wall or two inaccessible, making the level impossible to finish. This isn't terribly complicated compared to the challenges faced in Lode Runner, but the enemies make things complicated in a hurry; you haven't got many means of fighting them, and by the time you reach the early teens, you'll need to figure out ways to manipulate their movement so that you can reach tricky spots without getting surrounded. Fireballs, which periodically come shooting off the sides of the screen, can also ruin your day if one happens to spawn at a time that you don't have a route to get away from it.

Then there's Spike, who follows you around, breaking stuff with his own hammer, and loves to "accidentally" bash through things and hit you on the other side, sending you plummeting to the bottom of the site. He's usually more of a nuisance than a threat, and can even be helpful on occasion by breaking stuff or sometimes knocking you down to an otherwise inaccessible part of the stage, but he can also screw you up by knocking you into an enemy or inescapable pit or demolishing a key ladder or support beam too soon.

Eat it, hard hat.

Spike also shows up every four stages for a bonus round contest to find a gold coin hidden inside a concrete wall for some points. It's somewhat mindless luck, though not without some room for strategy - you could just try to smash the wall more efficiently than Spike and have more chances, or you could actively try to interfere.

Wrecking Crew is alternating players only, not even offering Luigi a palette swap, though Vs. Wrecking Crew would add simultaneous play. Like Ice Climber before it, you can start on any level you wish, effectively giving you unlimited continues - running out of lives has no consequence except resetting your score.

If you care about that, though, the game has one bit of arbitrary cruelty. If you get stuck in such a way that you can't die, you have to reset the game, and therefore your score. They even programmed the select button as a game reset button - why not have it just reset the level and cost you a life? This is no oversight either; they deliberately made it possible to get stuck and force a game reset; should a barrel fall on your head, you don't die, but become trapped inside the barrel. Forever. Even fireballs will not kill you.

I don't care about that, though, and I'm only concerned with completing as many of the 100 levels as I can.


Level 12 was the first to give me trouble. In retrospect it's not especially difficult, but the key here is realizing that once you leave the central area, there's no going back, so demolish everything inside first. Spike can ruin things for you, but arranging a little "accident" of your own will send him tumbling to the bottom and keep him out of your hair for awhile. The only safe way out is by knocking down a support beam near the top level, letting the ladder fall down, and using it to climb over the barrels.

19 was another tricky one. The dark grey walls take three swings to knock down, and demolishing a whole row takes a pretty long time - the Gotchawrenches have a tendency, if you stick around on one floor for too long, to flank you on either side giving you no chance to escape. Fireballs are also a threat to the player who stays on one level too long. And of course there's Spike, whose attacks will send you down to the bottom level where there's no escape, but two can play that game.

24 was the most difficult yet. Four Gotchawrenches and Spike, and only one ladder on the left side to ascend levels makes it all too easy to find yourself surrounded. And if Spike breaks this ladder, you're screwed. Smashing the ladders on the fifteen floating platforms provides you with a moment of safety... until the fireballs start coming and force you to drop down to a lower platform which could very well be a deathtrap.

I am currently on level 26 and things aren't getting any easier. I don't think that Wrecking Crew's mechanics lend themselves to the same sort of puzzle complexity as Lode Runner's - at least not without demanding Championship Lode Runner-like levels of precise AI manipulation, and I'm praying it never goes that far. But this one's going to be a multiparter, which is a first, I'm pretty sure, for any console game.

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