Top X List | Adventures in the Magic Kingdom (of Video Games)
Disney and their electronic entertainment arm Disney Interactive have never shied away from promotional tie-in games. Ever since Mickey Mousecapades in 1987, the entire Disney line-up has been prime material for home and handheld consoles. But lately, Disney’s been more ready and willing to press start. November will be a big month for Disney and Disney Interactive, with that month hosting not only the release of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two but also Disney’s latest animated feature Wreck-It Ralph, about a video game villain who grows tired of doing bad things.
Though there are many games out there, the quality of game has not always lived up to the quality expected from Disney. Some have downright sucked. (Disney’s Magical Mirror Starring Mickey Mouse. There, I said it, and I won’t apologize.) But some games have been so great and so fun that today they stand as icons to the magic (pun intended) that shines through when great games meet the imaginative minds at Disney.
So, on this latest version of “Top X List,” let’s solve for x when x = “The Top 9 Disney-based Video Games.”
The only rule I put forth on this list was that I excluded the Kingdom Hearts series. Fanboys, settle down, here’s my reasoning: Kingdom Hearts and its sequels, while featuring Disney characters and worlds based on Disney animation and creations, is so good and so unique that it has spawned its own universe, its own mythos. I would feel awkward if I saw a Sora character walking around Disneyland, since he belongs in the world of Kingdom Hearts, not Disney. Sorry, I love the series, but I just didn’t feel right including it.
So let’s find out, in order, who’s the leader of the video game club that’s made for you and me.
Number 9: The D Show
I have a confession to make: I am a game show geek. I have no reason why, but I’ve been that way since a kid. My parents think it was my proclivity to shiny, spinning things, of which ’80s game shows had in spades (anyone remember The Joker’s Wild? It was like a six-year-old acid trip for me). Nothing pleases me more than sitting at my laptop with Jeopardy in the background, furiously writing away, stopping only to poke my head up and say something random like “triskadecaphobia” or “Polonius” or the like, and being right on top of it. So there. I like game shows.
The D Show is a title that quietly slipped underneath the radar for most gamers, but for triviaphiles and Disney fans, it was a little slice of heaven. It followed the same vein as the You Don’t Know Jack series, but less bawdy: A snarky “hostess-with-the-mostess” poses trivia questions for “D-bucks,” the in-game currency. Categories can range from Disney dogs to TV animation to “what-happened-that-year” retrospectives. There are many video clues to keep the game visually attractive. Bonus rounds include matching a character to their original rough sketch to guess-the-movie questions based on its cast. The D-Fib-ulator makes contestants show that they know fact from fiction and reality from rumor with rapid fire True/False questions.
If you can find a copy of it, play it. It’s a hoot. It’s fast-paced, not too tough for kids, but not too dumb for adults (I’m looking at you, Disney TH!NK Fast). Ever since ’98 I’ve held out hope that someday there would be a D Show 2 or just a revamp of the original. It’s been 14 years, and yes, someday when I rule the world, there will be a sequel.
Number 8: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Originally, when I forced this list upon my victims – I mean, test subjects – this is what I was brow-beaten for leaving off. The majority of them said “Y U NO PUT ON CASTLE OF ILLUSION???” Sorry, I was a Nintendo kid… Sega stuff slips off the radar. So off I went for information on this 1990 title.
Castle of Illusion features a hero (Mickey Mouse) chasing a villain (Mizrabel the witch) to save the damsel in distress (Minnie Mouse). Hmmm… sound like something else that came out around 1990?
OK, it’s a Mario clone. Let’s call it for what it is. You bop baddies on the head, and you save the girl. A power-up lets you shoot projectiles too. However, this was a solid title for the Genesis, especially since at this point there was no Sonic the Hedgehog. The graphics were great for the ’90s, and the platforming action was pretty solid. I decided to play a little bit of it before adding it to the list, and yes, it was pretty fun, I must confess. And what’s wrong with being a Mario clone anyway? Mario games are fun and they make bank.
As a testament to its lasting legacy, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for the Nintendo 3DS takes as its inspiration Castle of Illusion, as Oswald calls Mickey back to Wasteland as he’s spotted a mysterious castle owned by a witch named Mizrabel.
Hey, if it’s good enough for Warren Spector…
Number 7: Disney’s Aladdin
(1993, Super Nintendo)
I had to specify which console I was discussing on Aladdin seeing as there were three distinct versions released. While all three versions were good, I liked the challenge of the platforming in the Super Nintendo version. It is one of the best examples of a tie-in game – of course we know what happens in the story, but the challenge is getting there. We all know that Aladdin has to bounce and jump through the rooftops of Agrabah to escape guards in the beginning of the movie, but we actually have that challenge in the beginning of the game. Though many movie tie-ins can be sloppy throw-togethers, Aladdin was a showcase of what can be produced with time and effort.
Number 6: Guilty Party
Everyone loves a good game of Clue. (Well, except my friend Emily, who also doesn’t like Cajun food or The Wizard of Oz, so her judgment at times is a bit off-kilter.) We all love searching for clues, prying for information, and shaking down the slimy suspects in the search for satisfaction. If that wasn’t the case, why would the USA Network do Law & Order marathons every other week?
Guilty Party is another title that slipped under the radar, which was either the set up to a new animated TV series or the result of a failed pilot, but don’t let that stop you from investigating it. You take on the role of one of the Dickens family, relatives of Dorian Dickens, also known as the Commodore of the Dickens Detective Agency. As you search for clues to various thefts, you’ll find the common thread to be Mr. Valentine, a masked villain who is the Commodore’s arch-nemesis. Can you figure out who Mr. Valentine truly is? You can, if you find the right clues and do well at several Mario Party-style mini-games.
Many of you may not have found this one, but it’s silly, goofy fun, especially when played in a group.
Number 5: The Little Mermaid
(1991, NES & Game Boy)
Ariel has to leave Prince Eric and return to the sea, since Ursula’s screwing something up in the ocean. I forget what it was, since it doesn’t quite follow the movie’s plotline.
Level one consists of Ariel swimming around, and firing bubbles out of her tail. Bubbles trap the critters of the sea, where you can grab on to them and throw them at other possessed critters of the sea. Then there’s a boss.
Level two consists of Ariel swimming around, and firing bubbles out of her tail. Bubbles trap the critters of the sea, where you can grab on to them and throw them at other possessed critters of the sea. Then there’s a boss.
Levels three, four, pretty much up to the end is more of the same. But it was simple, fun, and one of the most well-animated NES games toward the twilight of that system’s run. Aimed toward younger gamers, it was still a good, albeit short challenge for all ages who wanted to be part of that world.
Number 4: Darkwing Duck
Let’s get dangerous!
It was only a matter of time until we got to the Disney Afternoon games, which aside from Mega Man and Street Fighter was one of the greatest series Capcom produced in the younger years of video gaming.
Capcom, at the time, held exclusive North American rights to distribute any video games featuring Disney characters on the Nintendo family of systems; in fact, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, previously seen on this list, were also Capcom releases. But their Disney Afternoon games were such good, solid works of gaming, that players today can still pick them up and enjoy the challenge presented by each one.
Darkwing Duck features “the terror that flaps in the night” protecting his home city of St. Canard at the request of S.H.U.S.H., who claims that the terrorist organization F.O.W.L., under the lead of Steelbeak, is out to claim the city. Steelbeak has hired the Fearsome Five to assist in this putrid plan, including Bushroot, Quackerjack, Negaduck, The Liquidator, Megavolt, and Moliarty. Armed with only his gas gun and a clever comeback, Darkwing must save the city and stop Steelbeak!
A couple of people have referred to Darkwing Duck as “Capcom Presents ‘Darkwing Duck’ Starring Mega Man,” due to its similarities to the Mega Man series – lots of jumping, platforming, changing weapons, selecting stages, weaknesses to gas gun adapters, etc. I don’t care. I am unashamed in my love for the original Mega Man series, and as such I see the comparison as a compliment. It was solid, it was well-animated considering it was 8-bit, it was re-playable and challenging. It’s one of your go-to titles if your NES still works.
Number 3: Epic Mickey
You thought it, and I thought it too… “A Mickey Mouse game? Is Capcom falling back on old habits? Just what’s so epic about a Mickey game?”
By the time you made it out of Dark Beauty Castle, the first area of the game, you know what’s so Epic about Epic Mickey. The title, published by Disney Interactive Studios itself, is unlike any other Mickey Mouse game, where the adorable mouse skips along, rescuing Minnie Mouse from various perils. In this game, Mickey himself starts the ball rolling, sneaking into Yen Sid’s workshop and damaging his Cartoon Wasteland, a safe haven for everything Disney that has been lost or forgotten. While Mickey’s main goal is to save Wasteland from the Blot and the Mad Doctor, he can do this by fixing what he has wrecked with the Paint Brush, or destroying everything in his path with the Thinner.
And, unlike other Disney games, every little move matters. It’s darker and more intense than any other Disney game created, and it kicks all sorts of hindquarters.
The best part? There’s more darkness where that came from in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, according to game creator Warren Spector.
Number 2: DuckTales
(1989, NES & Game Boy)
What is there not to love about DuckTales? First off, it was based on one of the original Disney Afternoon cartoons. I remember hoping to get home right after elementary school (this was in a dark period before DVR, people) and watching DuckTales, TaleSpin, and all the other great Disney Afternoon cartoons, which, I don’t care what anyone thinks, can still repeatedly kick more ass than the cartoons of today. This is why our youth today is so violent; I would be too if I didn’t have good cartoons growing up.
Secondly, in my humble opinion, this, along with other Disney Afternoon video games, was the highlight for Capcom next to the Mega Man series. At this year’s E3, Capcom’s booth was largely Resident Evil 6 and various iterations of Street Fighter. That’s not the healthy, robust Capcom I remember. The Capcom of the late ’80s and early ’90s produced games with solid gameplay and challenge, well-animated, and with re-playability. In fact, DuckTales is one of the first games I remember with a sort of “Easter Egg” or “side quest.” Did YOU find the extra two treasures? If not, I won’t spoil it, since you probably have the cartridge next to your NES or original Game Boy.
Play was pretty straightforward: you are Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, and you’re after more treasure. You have a walking stick that functions as a weapon, golf club, and pogo stick. Bounce on baddies with your stick or smack them with rocks and collect diamonds, gems, and treasures to earn zillions of dollars while finding mysterious treasure in the Amazon, in Africa, even on the moon! But be careful… your archrival, Flintheart Glomgold, the second-richest duck in the world, wants those treasures too, and will stop at nothing to get them!
DuckTales is one of those games I can still go back to, pop in, and enjoy. In fact, this Top X List’s existence is due to the game, as Warren Spector himself is a huge fan of everything DuckTales. In fact, briefly in an interview with 1up.com, Spector said he would love to make a new DuckTales video game:
I don’t think you need to update the characters; the Disney characters are timeless and classic. I think what you have to do is put them in relevant settings, things that people care about today. And so I would probably be looking for some slightly different contexts, some slightly different types of stories; faster pacing, but still going for that sense of epic adventure.
In terms what kind of game I would make — let’s just say it probably wouldn’t be like Disney Epic Mickey. I have other ideas for what you could do in a DuckTales universe. Maybe I’ll get to do something.
I’m pre-pre-pre-ordering it now.
So what game could possibly be better than DuckTales (woooo-ooh!) on the Disney game list? Get ready to sing along…
Number 1: Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers
Go slipping through the cracks…
But not with these two on the case! Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers was one of my most-often repeated games as a kid. Once you beat it, you tried to get faster and faster. The game, by far, was the best Disney/Capcom collaboration of the time, and while I would love a Warren Spector-designed DuckTales, imagine all the possibilities of a new Rescue Rangers… I just felt a tinge of hope for all of humanity just thinking about that.
Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers was a game for one or two players (early cooperative gaming!) which put you in control of the leader of the Rescue Rangers, Chip, or the second-in-command, fun-loving Dale. The Rescue Rangers are off to find a lost kitty for a girl named Mandy, but watch out, Rangers! It’s actually a trap set up by the evil Fat Cat to capture the talented Gadget and make her build all sorts of robot hench-things for Fat Cat himself. Can the rest of the Rangers track down Fat Cat and save Gadget?
If you’re in my house, the answer is “you bet your ass they can!”
The game was one-player or two-player co-op (then we called it “two-player simultaneous”) which was great because unlike other two-player games such as Super Mario Bros., poor Luigi didn’t have to sit and wait for Mario to blow through fourteen different levels, finally landing wrong on a Koopa Troopa in level 3-2 and leaving Luigi to start back on 1-1. Chip and Dale could work together, and if they weren’t careful, could damage each other as well. A poorly-timed apple or crate could stun the other player, putting them in harm’s way. On the flip-side, if one player couldn’t make a jump, the other had the opportunity to pick them up and carry them to the other side.
The game looked phenomenal for being only 8-bit, the music was satisfying, and all the characters you loved from the cartoon show, including Monterrey Jack and Zipper – how excited were you when you broke a crate and ZIPPER came flying out! HECK YES! – made appearances in some capacity.
There actually was a Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers 2 released for the NES (along with a DuckTales 2), but by that time in 1993, game developers were looking past the NES to the newer, 16-bit Super Nintendo, and Disney was looking past its Disney Afternoon flagships, turning to the newer cartoons like Bonkers, which frankly was dumb, and Gargoyles, which shouldn’t have been a cartoon for anyone other than kids who enjoyed bad dreams and brussel sprouts, because really it was kinda creepy. One can only hope that Spector will actually follow through on his own wishes, and the Disney Afternoon will reign supreme on consoles once again.