I think every gamer in the NES era had some random games in their collections. While we all had some of the big hitters like your Zeldas and Mega Mans and Contras, every single one of us had some oddball carts that nobody else we knew owned. Games that nobody else we knew had even heard of. These were games usually published by smaller companies. And they were generally not the kind of games covered in the popular magazines at the time.
Usually these oddball games arrived in our collections via one of two methods. The first was the gift by a well meaning relative. You know what I'm talking about here. This was when your uncle went to a toy store and asked what the newest popular NES game was and the jerk at the store pawned off a copy of some crap game that was overstocked. And there you were opening up a copy of the latest LJN release on your birthday.
The other way we obtained oddball games was the way that I wound up with a copy of Mendel Palace. My step-mother had brought me out shopping one day. I guess she must have promised that if I was good during the boring shopping trip, she'd let me get something at the toy store. So I was good! And when the time came, I don't know - it was either a matter of having to find a NES game that I didn't already own? Or maybe it was that I had to pick one within a certain price-range? My memory is fuzzy.
I can only tell you that for some reason I came home with Mendel Palace, which was a game I had never heard of before the purchase. And looking at that cover art, I don't know why I'd have been excited about it. So it must have been as simple as this: I was promised a new NES game, and I wanted to get something instead of just saying "nah, none of these look good" and getting nothing. After all, I had been good. I had earned this.
What I do remember about the game from way back then is that I brought it home and thought it made zero sense. I pretty immediately regretted the acquisition, and then called this kid Anthony who lived down the street. Anthony was a couple years older than me, and was super good at NES games. He beat every game he'd buy. Tough ones. Games like Faxanadu, and Crystalis, and all of the Dragon Warrior games. I told him that I had gotten a new game and that I didn't like it, and I'd trade it to him for literally any game he wanted to give me that I didn't already have.
So he walked down the street, and brought me... something. And that was that. I don't remember what game I got in exchange, but I know we did the trade, and Anthony went on to beat Mendel Palace fairly quickly. And that was pretty much the last time I thought of this game.
But recently I got Namco Museum Archives Volume 2 downloaded on my Xbox. Though the whole Namco Museum thing has been done to death over the years, the two volumes of the Archives are actually really cool and unique as they focus on NES/Famicom versions of games, whereas the Museums have generally been arcade collections. Anyway, I noticed that Mendel Palace was on this collection so out of a bit of nostalgia, I started to look into it.
Through Wikipedia, I learned some things. Mendel Palace was originally released as Quinty in its homeland of Japan. And it was the first game developed by Game Freak. Woah! It's pretty weird that this unassuming and kind of weird little game was what set Game Freak off on their quest to keep making games until hitting gold with the Pokemon franchise. Crazy!
I was probably around ten years old when I last played Mendel Palace. Now I'm forty. So I figured, hey, I've got three decades of gaming experience under my belt. Surely I'll be able to play this one with some fresh eyes and brains and see the goodness in it now?
Hilariously, my take on Mendel Palace today is still pretty similar to my feelings on the game way back on NES.
Mendel Palace feels like a very old school arcade game. Each stage is a single screen. You control a character from a top down perspective a la Zelda. The stages are arranged in grids, with rather large tiles on the floor, and you can flip over tiles in front of you. Flipping tiles has an effect on what they do. That's your only means of interaction by the way. There's no jumping, no attacking. Well, unless you count flipping a tile that an enemy is on. Anyway, the point of each stage is to use your tile flipping as a means of sending enemies flying either into walls or into spots on the floor that kill them.
In some ways the simplicity is rather charming. But overall I find the game to be borderline not fun. The simplicity feels annoying when taken in conjunction with the rather aggressive nature of the AI. I basically feel like the enemies have way more freedom than the player does. And the way in which you maneuver and flip tiles just feels like it never really gels with me.
I haven't talked to Anthony in about 20 years now. And even if he was still around there's no way for me to trade away a digital game. But then again, this collection features multiple other games that I am actually interested in. And it was fun to revisit an old game that I had this weird memory of anyway - even if it only reaffirmed my hunch that this game wasn't for me at all.