Way to ruin everyone's intense poses, Robin Williams.
When you think classic video games the word Disney might not immediately come to mind. And when Disney is brought up you might think of crappy tie-in games and you'd be justified in thinking so. Or you might think of Disney's modern triumphs like Kingdom Hearts and Epic Mickey.
Even so it's pretty much ingrained in all of us that movie-tie-in games are for the most part pretty bad. In the 8 and 16-bit eras we'd already learned this lesson though Disney managed to be an exception to the rule pretty often. Disney's Aladdin for the Sega Genesis is one of those exceptions.
Obligatory title screen shot.
Before we get on to the review there's a little history to get out of the way. One of the main draws of the SNES over the Genesis was its color palette. The Genesis is capable of displaying a meager 512 colors. The SNES had more than 32,000 at its disposal. Genesis was also a lot more limited in terms of how many colors it could throw up on the screen at the same time. This lead to obvious discrepancies when a game was released on both systems as movie-tie-ins usually were. The Genesis games would almost always look washed out and not as nice as their SNES counterparts. This could have been avoided by making specific versions for each console that played to each console's strengths but obviously it was cheaper and easier to make a one-size-fits-all version which usually left Genesis owners holding the inferior copy. The faster processor on the Genesis wasn't worth much in games where that speed wasn't a factor. Except in games where slowdown was an issue on the SNES, the pretty graphics were a much more tangible and desirable trait.
Don't mess with Aladdin. He's from the streets.
That didn't happen with Aladdin however. Both consoles had distinctly different versions of the game. How did this happen? The answer is actually pretty simple. Disney was looking towards Virgin Interactive to make games for them and so they were given the assignment to work on Disney's Aladdin for the Genesis. Over on the SNES however the venerable developer Capcom still owned the license to develop Disney themed games on Nintendo's consoles. Capcom had some good Disney titles under their belt from back in the NES days, one of the most legendary being the excellent Duck Tales game. Instead of waiting for Capcom's claim to expire they went ahead and let them produce the SNES Aladdin game but in 1993 the Genesis was still beating the pants off of Nintendo's new console in America so it was unimaginable that they wouldn't release an Aladdin game for Genesis and they didn't want to sign over those rights to Capcom who they were waiting to get rid of.
Camel jumping is a national pass-time in Agrabah.
Luckily for Genesis owners, Virgin Interactive at this time was full of talented designers who were very passionate about the project and out to make a name for themselves. Much of the team that worked on Aladdin would later move on to their own company and create Earthworm Jim, one of the most highly praised games of the 16-bit era.
The end result was that Genesis owners got an Aladdin that was a labor of love created by new talent with new ideas that really poured their hearts into the project. SNES owners got a decent but very by-the-numbers game made mostly for the money. The SNES version isn't really a bad game, it's just not a great one and lacks the things that make the Genesis version special.
So what about the actual game! I suppose I should start talking about it now. Let's start with the graphics since you're going to notice them immediately.
Apple vs. Hot Dog?
Right from the opening Sega logo we're introduced to some of the Genie's antics and as soon as you take your first few steps in the game you're treated to extremely well done sprites with some of the most fluid animation in the Genesis library. The developers ingeniously crafted the game's sprites using cel animation instead of creating them from scratch. The result looks and feels like you're actually controlling a cartoon and I have no idea why more developers didn't take notice and make use of this technique. Their crafty use of the limited color palette to incorporate the bright and attractive scenery from the movie into their level design didn't hurt either.
The graphical bonanza doesn't end there. The attention to detail in this game is truly superb. The game is loaded with cartoony visual gags, fourth wall breaking references to other Disney films and little touches as simple as throwing an apple at an enemy and watching it get cut in half by their swords. Everything feels animated, alive and interesting from the obvious things like your enemies to the simplest things like level-checkpoints.
Mickey Mouse Club: Middle East Division
None of this would really matter if the gameplay was awful but thankfully that's not the case. The game is a fairly standard platformer and with all of the animation involved I was expecting it to be difficult to control like the original Prince of Persia series. Although I do feel it can be a little slippery at times I was pleasantly surprised to find the controls generally responsive and very fun. Good controls are what make platform games worth playing and bad controls make them a tedious chore. Aladdin is a good sport who allows you to control him with ease and it's a joy to move him around the game's interesting, movie faithful environments.
He has his reasons for keeping the monkey around.
Like most platformers, you're faced with various jumping puzzles and an assortment of enemies. These range from the expected stock baddies like the royal guards you face in the first level to some comical foes like skeletons with a bomb for a head. The enemies vary in their degree of annoyance and you have two ways of fending them off. Your first weapon is a scimitar used for close range brawling and deflecting projectiles. Relying on this is taking a risk and will cause you to get hit more often than not. The sword play could have been a little better but I'm thankful it's there at all since Capcom felt the need to not allow you to play with pointy objects in the SNES game. For your second weapon you throw apples which seems a little lame but it gets the job done. The apples are a ranged weapon and you're going to rely on them pretty heavily. Their number is limited so you need to use them wisely or you'll end up having to fight risky enemies with your not so trusty scimitar.
Hang in there kid.
There aren't many bosses in the game, and the ones you do get aren't too tough. You'd think this would be a problem in a game like this but it never really gets monotonous because it's just so fun to play. Levels often have you collecting certain items but for the most part you're just making your way through each level to get to the next. The story is told through little text scenes between levels but it's not really necessary and just there to remind you that you're playing the movie.
The overall difficulty of the game is pretty well balanced. You're going to die quite a bit your first time but it never becomes frustrating. It's not hard but it's not without challenge. They took into account that this game would have younger players, but this was the 16-bit era so you still need to put up a fight if you want to beat it. You can obtain more lives by collecting gems and buying them from a hidden shop keeper in the levels or by winning them in a slot machine bonus game you get to play by collecting Genies along your way to the end of the stage.
That skeleton's got a bomb!
The sound is also a pleasant part of this title. While none of the sound effects are going to wow you at least you won't find them annoying which is always a good thing. The music on the other hand does stand out. They made excellent Genesis arrangements of the already great movie soundtrack that will have you humming along if you're a fan of the original animation.
Overall this is a great video game conversion of one of my favorite Disney films. They went out of their way to capture the feel of the movie and put a lot of effort into recreating the scenery and animation when they could have just copy-pasted the Aladdin characters into a forgettable platformer like Capcom did. In 1993 this game won Best Genesis Game of the Year and Best Animation in Electronic Gaming Monthly and it was well deserved. It's still fun to play and nice to look at today. As I said before it's like playing a cartoon and while that may not seem that spectacular in an age of high-definition graphics it was really something to see on the Genesis.
Can't catch me suckers!
Presentation: 10 It's faithful to the source material and it feels like you're playing a cartoon. Full of detail, humor and shout-outs to other franchises. The Disney magic is definitely present in this one. It simply doesn't get any better.
Gameplay: 8 Aladdin is easy to control and the difficulty doesn't frustrate. It might feel a little slippery in parts and the sword sometimes doesn't feel that useful but overall everything is very fun.
Graphics: 9 Top notch graphics for the Genesis. Great use of the limited palette. Nice and detailed sprites with some of the best animation on the console. Interesting and detailed backgrounds.
Sound: 8 The sound-effects are passable. The music really shines with catchy arrangements of the original movie songs.
Lasting Appeal: 8 It might not be the best platformer on a system loaded with platformers but it's certainly one of the better ones and to me a good platformer that's fun to control has infinite replay value.
Overall Average: 8.6/10
Collector: It's a great Genesis exclusive game with an interesting history. Since it's a Disney game with an extremely high print number you can get it for next to nothing. It sold somewhere around four-million copies. The only Genesis game to sell more was Sonic the Hedgehog 2! It deserves a place in any Genesis collection.
Gamer: If you feel like checking out a new platformer don't be scared of its Disney heritage. Fire up the ROM, I bet you'll enjoy it.