Thursday, March 15, 2012

Disney's Aladdin (GBC) Review

2000 Virgin//Disney Interactive/Crawfish/Ubi Soft

Reviewed: March 12th-15th, 2012
One of my favorite animated movies made by Disney growing up is Aladdin, which had a great Arabian atmosphere, awesome animation, memorable music from composers Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman (rest in peace), fun characters, and a very good plotline. And it's still one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. I never saw it in theatres back then, since I was only one at the time, but I was introduced to it by the VHS copy. The movie was such a success that it garnered two direct-to-home sequels (Aladdin and the King of Thieves being the better and most superior out of the two, in my opinion), a TV series (following the events of The Return of Jafar), and of course there was no question that there would be several video game adaptations based on the all-time classic. And like pretty much every '90s kid, I managed to play a video game version of the movie. The first one I played was the Game Boy original version based on Virgin's MegaDrive adaptation, and honestly I don't feel it has aged very well; but luckily, to compensate for that, I also experienced the PC version on the 3 Video Game Classics CD (with The Lion King and The Jungle Book), which was miles better (and as far as I looked up, it's closely accurate to the original Virgin version). I remember when I was little that there was an ad booklet which had some games in it, and one of them included a Game Boy Color version of Disney's Aladdin. I remember wanting that version a lot (despite having already owned a couple adapations), and it wouldn't be until a year or two later that I would play it. I can honestly say that I was pleased, and it was a lot better than the Game Boy original version. But has time been good to it?

In this game you control the eponymous main character, who's an urchin in the streets and steals to survive. The goal of this game is to rescue Princess Jasmine from the grand vizier Jafar, and therefore saving Agrabah. The game is loosely based on the 1992 classic, with some changes here and there that make for an interactive adapation (for better or worse). Virgin's Disney's Aladdin is an action/platformer in the same vein as Cool Spot and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow in that there are large open-ended areas with intricate layouts and (optional) items to gather throughout your progress. Aladdin can swing his scimitar at enemies or throw his apples at them from a distance (careful, for you'll have to be conservative with them). Seeing as the original MegaDrive version had three buttons, in this portable port you're reduced to alternate between the two with the Select button; luckily there's an icon in the lower right corner which lets you know which weapon you're currently using so there won't be any confusion. Aladdin controls pretty decently, for you can run, jump, climb up ropes, hang and move while on the sideways ropes, and there are few moments when you'll even ride on Carpet. It's also possible to swing your scimitar in midair, while on a rope, while ducking, and while moving, so you don't have to just do it while standing still, which is a plus; same for throwing the apples. Scattered throughout the areas are gems and Genie icons. If you've gathered either five or ten gems, bring them to the merchant who appears at the start of the movie, and you can buy either a life (five gems) or a continue (if you don't feel you can beat it with no continues, ten gems). If you collect one or movie Genie icons, you'll be sent to a bonus stage which will give you the chance of getting some items, but should you land on Jafar's mug, you'll leave the bonus stage. You also have a health bar in the shape of blue smoke coming from the lamp in the lower left corner, and there are a few blue hearts around to increase your health. Also around most stages are a black lamp which acts as a wipeout item, wiping out all enemies on screen, and the Genie jars which act as your checkpoint. At the end of each stage you'll be given a short password. The control is good, and the nine stages are decently designed with their own sets of obstacles and hazards.

The movie's original sountrack is really memorable and catchy, and luckily for us, several of its songs managed to be lifted to Virgin's video game adaptation, and they sound just as good; and the original songs aren't so bad either. When transitioned to the Game Boy Color, the results are a little mixed. On one hand, it's pretty cool how the sound tried to stay as faithful to the MegaDrive adaptation's music as it possibly could; but on the other hand, due to the limited capabilities of the Game Boy Color, the music will loop a little sooner than you'd expect, making the songs sound incomplete. But the sound is mostly good. The "Prince Ali" and "Friend Like Me" numbers sound good, and the "One Jump" and "Arabian Nights" songs are all right as well. I like how atmospheric the desert and Cave of Wonder themes are, and before each Genie bonus starts there's a cute "Pop the Weasel" type of intro which is cute. The boss theme (heard a couple times) is the best song in the game, unfortuntely the way the "A Whole New World" song (my favorite song from the movie) was handled in this version was very saddening to me. The sound effects are sweet, too, like the sound from Aladdin swinging his scimitar and the sound of apples being collected. Though I wish a little more would've been done for this department, it's still all right.

While it may not look like much by today's standards, it was pretty impressive for me at the time to play a portable adaptation of the MegaDrive adaptation in color. And considering the hardware, it's cool how this port managed to try to look as close to Virgin's original version as it could. Each location is really detailed and colorful, and they look really good. The streets of Agrabah are a sight to behold with the market-like setting and tall buildings; and the palace dungeon is very atmospheric with the chains hanging over the ceiling and the reflection on the floor from the light of the moon. The Cave of Wonders stages look sweet as well, especially the Rug Ride stage with neat line scrolling that adds some depth. Aladdin and the guards' animations are nicely fluid, and their sprites look good. I like how swiftly Aladdin swings his scimitar, and the way he twists out of the Genie jar after you lost a life and start from the checkpoint. Between most stages there are cutscenes with great backgrounds where characters interact, with large detailed character frames during these moments. There are moments when there might be flicker here and there, but it doesn't detract from the experience. The backgrounds admittedly aren't as detailed as the foregrounds are, but it is cool how there are objects layered in front of Aladdin's sprite (say if a pole were in front of him, for example), giving it good depth. Aladdin even displays good idle animation.

The game has a good amount of challenge, although it is mostly an easy one, even on the hardest of the three difficulty settings. I'll just get it out of the way first, the difference between each difficulty is how much health you sustain when hit and there are a few more enemies. Now let's get on to the rest of this aspect. Each stage harbors different kinds of obstacles that will see to it that you don't progress yourself forward. The enemies can be slain by scimitar, but if you wish to take them out from a safe distance (because some enemies throw little swords at you) then you can just launch a few apples towards them. In the desert stage you have to gather a few scarab pieces while avoiding spikes on the ground and defeating the guards. The palace dungeon has exploding skeletons with bones that eventually scatter around, plus there are spikes emanating from the wall and chained balls rolling back and forth to avert. There are even a few moments when you'll have to make timed jumps with bricks popping in and out of the wall while heading up. The Cave of Wonders has a series of events; evading sword-spewing fez-wearing fish, slaying bats, avoiding little rocks, running from boulders attempting to flatten you, and flying on Carpet while dodging giant floating rocks. Basically there are different ways that you'll be challenged. The few boss fights are decent, especially the one with Jafar. The checkpoints make the stages easier to navigate so you won't have to do it in one go, but the passwords make things a little more easier. Virgin Interactive's original MegaDrive version (and most ports) required you to beat it in one sitting, making the Game Boy Color version the only port of the Virgin version to have the password. The game is pretty manageable to beat in one sitting, and you are given a few continues, but if you don't feel confident, then I suppose the password can be helpful. Each time you're hit, you lose a bit of damage, so you may want to look for hearts to replenish it.

Disney's Aladdin for the Game Boy Color is a good game, and I think it's cool how it tried to be as colorful and good-sounding as the MegaDrive original. Now, with that said and done, what could possibly be wrong with it? It's superior to the Game Boy version, but unfortunately that's where the bad news starts. The Game Boy Color port felt more like a playable remake of the Game Boy version then it did as a port of Virgin's original adaptation. I can understand how some details may have been excised due to the hardware's limitations, but there were things that I missed from having played it on the PC years ago. The original version had eleven stages, including the inside of the lamp stage and the stage where you battle Jago, and it also had bonus stages starring Aladdin's pint-sized monkey pal Abu. I found it a little distracting that the "Friend Like Me" theme was playing on the palace stage, but not during the Genie stage. If you found an Abu icon in the original version, you could take control as Abu, who had to avoid falling pots or rocks to the end, otherwise it's game over for Abu. Aladdin had an upward swing attack, too, but for the Game Boy versions it was scrapped. There's also the deal with the battle with Jafar; in the original once you defeated his human form he would turn into a cobra, but in the Game Boy Color port once you defeat Jafar's human form you win the game. It makes for a rather shorter experience. Maybe if the Game Boy Color version were the first version of the Virgin adaptation I played, then maybe I wouldn't make a big deal about it. It's a good, fun interactive version of the movie, and the great thing about it owning this portable version was playing a version of the MegaDrive original that was as closely accurate as possible. If you play it for what it is, it's a very good experience, but if you play it as a port, you may find yourself longing for more. You make the call!


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