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Grab Bag: Capcom’s Disney on the NES

NRW Gaming -The Place Where Dreams Come True. Join Bryan as he stacks up five of the numerous NES titles Capcom produced for Disney during the console's heyday and golden years.

Disney owns everything now. They own Darth Vader and Spider-Man. Disney is a monolith… an empire. We kneel at its majestic feet and howl that we are unworthy to bask in its glow. We fork over heaps and heaps of dough to soak generation after generation of our children in Disney’s particular flavor of saccharine, and that company has more money than some countries do. Disney has us on a leash.

And because we crave abuse, sweet sweet abuse, we love it.

It definitely spills over into the video game market. Of course it does! They have a whole department of people who examine and analyze all the other shit that kids and preteens are into, and they make sure they’ve got a finger in the pie. What started with the Nintendo Entertainment System continues with series like Kingdom Hearts. You’ve got Squaresoft writing games involving twiggy little blond anime kids saving the Magic Kingdom alongside Goofy. Sure, it sounds absurd… but the things is, most of the games are good.

Capcom yielded a bumper crop of NES titles for Disney during the middle and latter periods of the system’s lifespan. They developed many of the titles, and published a few as well, keeping their hand in the till as the house that Walt built wrote check after check. This resulted in a pretty high standard of quality; while LJN was pulling licensing deals out of a Powerball machine and releasing uninspired digital gruel, Capcom was taking the stairs instead of the elevator and making sure they looked you in the eye when they shook your hand. I’ve plucked a couple of games from this family for review in the past, but I figured it was time to immerse myself (and as a result, you) a little deeper.

 

The Little Mermaid

1991

 

The Little Mermaid was a pretty big fucking deal in the early 90s. Did you know that the early VHS release had a dick on the cover? It was hidden as one of the towers on the castle! As a grown man, that is the first thing I think of when the film is mentioned.

Let's put it this way: if that's NOT supposed to be a schlong, then Freud would have a field day with this artist.

Let’s put it this way: if that’s NOT supposed to be a schlong, then Freud would have a field day with this artist.

Anyway… you know how Capcom do. They turned this bitch out. I mean, at least for a game based on Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The intro is long, covering a paraphrased and liberally switchboarded version of the movie’s plot. These narrative scenes are the game’s only real flaw; the characters all seem like doll-eyed mannequins in some calm but churning hell. The music, which is decent everywhere else in the game, is meandering and bland.

“Listen, I don’t know, I’m just a fucking crab, okay? I emcee for your dad, I pay my bills, and occasionally bet too much on the seahorses and end up in hock with the mob. How the hell am I supposed to know how to get you a pair of feet? Ursula’s as good a bet as any, honey. It’s that or stay down here as the sexiest little chicken of the sea. Carpe diem.”

The game itself is worth aggressively skipping the cut scenes for. Ariel swims through the familiar locales of the film, dealing with threats by trapping fish in bubbles to throw as weapons or picking up loose items. It’s similar to the Chip n’ Dale NES cart Capcom released the year previous, but Ariel is a good deal more versatile and also doesn’t run around bashing herself on the head like those little assholes do in their game. There’s an additional aspect where you collect pearls to up the power and range of your attacks, as well as some light puzzle solving. I hadn’t messed with this one much as a kid, but revisiting it was a fun experience.

I would describe the graphics as “slightly shittier than Mega Man.” There’s not a ton of definition in a lot of the sprites, but hey, they’re fish. The backgrounds look pretty good (especially on the ice level and the sunken ship) and things have a colorful but controlled tone to them. As I said before, the music during game play is pretty good, an upbeat and lighthearted soundtrack that I found very appropriate for imprisoning little fish inside bubbles and hurling them brutally at their kin. This isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t quite reach “classic” status for me. I’d say that if you collect, and you see this for $15 or less, go for it. Don’t get nuts over it, though.

 

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom

1990

 

The first tidbit I have to offer you about this one is that Capcom did not release it domestically in Japan; Adventures in the Magic Kingdom was released only in Oceania, North America and Europe (France, UK and Scandinavia). Another one that flew under my radar as a kid, this game seemed powerfully stupid at first when I revisited it, but it grew on me as I ignored the premise and focused on the gameplay itself.

The game opens on a beautiful day in Disney’s fully fabricated reality: the Magic Kingdom. Mickey’s got a parade all planned, but his day’s about to hit a serious speed bump in the form of his dipshit friend Goofy the dog. Mickey had the bright idea to trust Goofy with the keys to the gate. Goofy left the golden key inside the castle… and also locked himself out of the castle in the process. I swear to God, Goofy, you’d lose your ass if it wasn’t attached to you.

That really narrows it down. Look at his face. He's got that oblivious serenity that only a total nimrod can manage. The kind that just makes you angrier at his sub-animal stupidity. Goofy is one of the luckiest morons in the world, because he has no idea that he is a fucking moron. There's a lesson in that somewhere, but it's probably not worth meditating on.

That really narrows it down. Look at his face. He’s got that oblivious serenity that only a total nimrod can manage. The kind that just makes you angrier at his sub-animal stupidity. Goofy is one of the luckiest morons in the world, because he has no idea that he is a fucking moron. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, but it’s probably not worth meditating on.

Mickey, with the air of a celebrity who’s used to being obeyed, casually fobs this problem off on you. You’re some kid dressed like Curious George’s dad, running around completely unsupervised, acting as an unpaid intern for Mickey Mouse. The object of the game is to find all six of the silver keys in the different parts of the Kingdom where that hillbilly schmuck Goofy lost them. Maybe it’s time to find someone else to carry the key ring. Forgive me if I seem judgmental, but if someone’s actual fucking name is Goofy, maybe they should be limited to low-impact responsibilities.

The levels are based on Disney’s popular rides/attractions at their amusement parks, and a lot of the “characters” you have to deal with to find the keys are just Mickey and Goofy in costumes. This is some kind of spiritual torture, some means of annihilating the ego of a gamer to achieve anti-enlightenment. Space Mountain is pretty sick, involving some fast-paced piloting and shooting. The Old West one is absolute bullshit as you careen downhill in a runaway train while boulders ricochet across your path at random, but the Haunted Mansion one is probably my favorite.

Look at his face. He seriously looks like he's worried about getting murdered.  Don't worry, little gaucho boy... it isn't the ghouls and Draculas you need to worry about at Disney World... it's the alligators and the room-temperature food.

Look at his face. He seriously looks like he’s worried about getting murdered.  Don’t worry, little gaucho boy… it isn’t the ghouls and Draculas you need to worry about at Disney World… it’s the alligators and the room-temperature food.

One thing Adventures in the Magic Kingdom deserves a lot of credit for is how it mixes up the gameplay style. You’re racing in cars and spaceships, walking around in overhead view to gather clues and info, then plowing through some formulaic platform action. As much as I jokingly make this game sound like a secondhand bag of farts, it’s really fun. The challenge level is certainly a tad more “Capcom Difficult” than The Little Mermaid, but things are still manageable if you have basic chops and quick thumbs. Things progress in a far more linear fashion than one may think, so the game’s only a time commitment if you go in totally blind. Don’t do that, though. Damn.

Click an Image to Enlarge.

The music’s a bit of a throwaway in places, but as with Little Mermaid above, the level themes are great. It turns out that the composer for Adventures in the Magic Kingdom was Yoko Shimomura, who would later go on to write the music for Kingdom Hearts. The graphics are… well, they’re fine. Another vividly colorful palette, a variety of lively sprites and some well-drawn (if uninspired) backgrounds. Most of what’s fun about Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is knowing you’re playing a couple games at once.

 

Darkwing Duck

1992

 

I always thought it was cool that Launchpad McQuack was able to find a client after DuckTales. He’s a good guy, he works hard, and even though he’s kind of a goof, he’s always there when you need him. You can’t ask for more than that in a private helicopter pilot.

The hero behind the hero.

The hero behind the hero.

I’ll come right out with it: I never gave two shits about Darkwing Duck as a kid. By 1992 I think I was more interested in the campy horror films I could get away with watching on rented VHS and making my first forays into the world of RPGs. This game got added to the stack because it’s one I hear mixed things about. I took Darkwing Duck for a spin, and I can sum up my impression of it pretty quickly: It’s Mega Man except you’re Darkwing Duck and you can hang on hooks and lanterns.

I’m not saying it’s bad. Relax. It’s actually better than the Mega Man games in terms of mechanics, as someone who loathes Mega Man‘s extremely limited control scheme. Darkwing Duck can actually crouch, and has a neat little trick where he can grab things hanging against the background to get across tricky areas. Seriously though… play this shit for about ten minutes and tell me it isn’t just Mega Man‘s format with a few extra dashes of flavor. You still only shoot straight in front of you, though. The dopes in Contra can aim in eight directions, and they die in one hit. Get it together, Rock. You have no excuse.

Click to Enlarge.

I don’t know who any of the characters are except Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack, but the graphics they’re drawn in are really well-done. One thing I’ll say for the Mega Man series is that it is visually appealing, and the same quality and style is present here. The music is addictively cool, a jazz-themed score with a ton of variety and finesse. The sound effects are worth mentioning; there is a slight but noticeable jump in quality, and if you need a ready example, just listen to Launchpad’s helicopter. That’s pretty damn slick for the NES.

 

Mickey Mousecapade

1987

Even the title screen is sparse and drab, like a tenement at the turn of the century. Mickey and Minnie wear forced smiles, choking back the leaden contempt they have come to feel for one another, themselves, and every living thing. There is no turning back now, no starting over, no exit from the whirlwind. This will end in tragedy, but it's better than the shame of being alone.

Even the title screen is sparse and drab, like a tenement at the turn of the century. Mickey and Minnie wear forced smiles, choking back the leaden contempt they have come to feel for one another, themselves, and every living thing. There is no turning back now, no starting over, no exit from the whirlwind. This will end in tragedy, but it’s better than the shame of being alone.

 

Hudson Soft actually developed this one, but Capcom published it. It was released in Japan a year before the Western world got it, as Mickey Mouse: Fushigi no kuni no Daibouken (Mickey Mouse: Adventures in Wonderland). Before getting into the game itself, there’s one more bit of trivia to share: if you were to take the cartridge apart, you may notice a hidden Mickey Mouse symbol on the game’s circuit board.

DO IT, GO PRY YOUR COPY OPEN TO SEE IT IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT

DO IT, GO PRY YOUR COPY OPEN TO SEE IT IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT

Petey the Dog is a huge creep and has kidnapped Alice (yes, from Alice in Wonderland). Mickey busts through the door of the Fun House like a train wreck on a mission to rescue her, and drags poor Minnie along on his quest. It’s pretty clear based on context clues that Minnie would rather be doing something else. Those context clues are her reluctance during the first intro animation (wherein Mickey barks her name like an abusive boyfriend to get her to comply) and the total lack of interest she seems to display in 1 player mode while following Mickey. The real goose turd is that if she doesn’t keep up, you can’t finish a level and you’ll have to backtrack to find her. The misogyny is painted thickly with a wide brush in Mickey Mousecapade, or at least I’m willing to read into what I saw and make a mountain out of a molehill.

“Don’t you make me wait on you, Minnie… and God help you if I ever see you talking to another man. Now come on, we’ve got to go rescue a young blonde.”

I’m very sad to report that this is not one of Hudson’s usual home runs. Even QC and oversight from Capcom failed to render Mickey Mousecapade more than barely playable. Progress is tedious right from the get-go as you navigate an impossibly huge fucking house with no real clue what your specific goal is. Mickey throws stars, and they travel through the game’s space way fucking slower than you’d imagine a star would move. You have to worry about two characters getting hurt while having only nominal and indirect control over one of them, and this gets old quick. Minnie will drown, get bitten by animals, chopped with swords, etc. as you duck and weave trying to put 10 pounds of mouse shit in a five pound bag.

Minnie plummets to her watery grave as her loving boyfriend turns callously away; Judging by the snake’s face, he’s having a better day than you. Click to Enlarge.

Graphically, the game’s on par with late 80s NES fare. The backgrounds are rich once you reach the flowery part of the forest before the castle, and some of the bosses are nicely detailed. Otherwise, it is adequate. I don’t think they put much time into the audio side of things, but it’s not offensively bad or a distraction or anything. It’s just not impressive. I just end up more focused on Mickey and Minnie’s apparent codependency and the severe peril to which it exposes them both. Mickey Mousecapade makes me think about things… about the nature of how we love each other, and how that can become poison to us. Run, Minnie. Get out while you can.

 

Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

1993

A few more lines on Dale's face... the job and the trucker pills will do that. Chip lives cleaner, sure, but he holds on to a lot more from the streets when he clocks out. Takes the demons home with him. Men of honor live thankless lives that rob them of their very humanity... but it's in their blood now. Once a cop, always a cop. Fighting a war you can't win. It still bothers me that neither of them wears pants.

A few more lines on Dale’s face… the job and the trucker pills will do that. Chip lives cleaner, sure, but he holds on to a lot more from the streets when he clocks out. Takes the demons home with him. Men of honor live thankless lives that rob them of their very humanity… but it’s in their blood now. Once a cop, always a cop. Fighting a war you can’t win. It still bothers me that neither of them wears pants.

 

Everyone’s a little older, a little wiser, and yet these two gumshoes are still throwing themselves at danger like suicidal moths to an infernal flame. Chip and Dale both want to die; they crave the taste of ashes and dream often about the cold of the grave. One day. But not yet. Not until every pint-sized criminal has been driven off the streets in a great welter of blood and smoke.

Hence the NES sequel.

I wrote about the 1990 original earlier on in my tenure here at NRW; it’s an exercise in insanity that requires either a hint of masochism or some very sharp reflexes… and overall, I like it. It’s both good and bad that this is essentially the same game with different levels. There’s a bit more of a story, something about Fat Cat releasing evil spirits from an urn to rules the world, but all that does for me is produce comedy gold like the screenshots below:

 

As the thumb-sized duo tangle with the supernatural to put a stop to Fat Cat’s plans, you can still nail each other in the head with boxes and generally get in each other’s way, either deliberately or on accident. It’s the only thing not to like. The same frantic sense of action is present, along with a mind-boggling variety of enemies and a new set of clever challenges.

The graphics are improved somewhat, and this comes through especially well during the otherwise laughable cut scenes. That little extra touch more shading, more detail by a few pixels, makes quite a difference in the presentation. The soundtrack rivals that of the first game with its madcap vitality and hyperactive pace, and there seems to be a good deal of musical competency at work. Looking in at this game from the outside, they didn’t just remake Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers for the NES… they made a second one and may have accidentally even improved it.

 

AND THE WHEAT IS SEPARATED FROM THE CHAFF

Little Mermaid: 7/10 (Novel and engaging, visually appealing. On the good side of average.)

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom: 7/10 (It wouldn’t be so good in my eyes if it didn’t have the variety in it that makes it stay interesting.)

Darkwing Duck: 5/10 (You phoned it in, Capcom. Whatever. You can get away with shit like that sometimes. You’re Capcom.)

Mickey Mousecapade: 4/10 (It strikes me that game design decisions were made on short notice, with little foresight or perhaps even testing o results. It also strikes me that those involved may have just hated the project and wanted it to be terrible. Good job.)

Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2: 8/10 (WELL SOME TIMES / SOME CRIMES / GO SLIPPIN THROUGH THE CRACKS / BUT THESE TWO / GUMSHOES / ARE PICKIN UP THE SLACK / THERE’S NO CASE TOO BIG / NO CASE TOO SMALL / WHEN YOU NEED HELP JUST CALL)

 

bryan.eddy@newretrowave.com

Review overview

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