A friend of mine left Mendel Palace at my house with the assurance that it was a game that ate up a large amount of his childhood. I thought this was weird because I had never heard of the game, but after playing it for a bit I can see the appeal. Known as Quinty in Japan, this game is probably most remembered in retrospect as the first game from Pokémon developers Game Freak. Oddly enough, the two friends who recommended this game to me were also my two friends who were bit hardest by the Pokémon bug back in the 90's, but I don't think they knew they were both designed by the same guy.
Mendel Palace has a weird first impression due to the odd-looking box art, but this goes away as the game boots to the slightly less weird title screen, and finally you can forget about it as you see the cute in game sprites. So, there are all these different characters, and you get to choose which ones you want to face off against in any order you want, Mega Man style. The actual game is an arcade puzzle sort of game, where you are given a board full of cards, and you can push them over. Enemies walk all over the board, and it is your goal to push all of the them to the edge of the screen, causing them to explode.
Pushing over a card that has an enemy on it will cause them to get pushed back, and the distance they are pushed depends on the enemy. You can also kill enemies by stepping on special cards that flip all the cards in certain directions. So, you have to strategically plan how you will avoid enemies and get them off the screen. All the while you pick up cards that give you points or stars, which can net you an extra life. There are also bonus cards that generally just get you to an area with even more stars.
The thing that makes this game interesting, other than the nice, cheery music, is that each area contains different types of enemies which act in different ways, causing you to think in different ways. When you finish the the ten parts of each level, you will find your girlfriend who is promptly re-kidnapped. I assume that once you defeat the eight levels, you storm the castle for the final challenge.
When you lose a life, you continue essentially where you left off. The board resets the enemy positions, but the enemies you've defeated and the cards you've picked up are still gone. After you've lost all of your lives, you lose your score, but you can continue where from the same floor you were on in the level. This setup of infinite continues, plus the ability to play two player co-op, explains why my friends would apparently leave their NES on for days, so as to not lose their progress. I wonder if they ever beat the game?