Aladdin and Lion King – Disney’s 16-bit gold
Disney were flying high in the mid 90’s. A golden era that brought us some of their most loved classic movies. Disney struck a deal with Virgin Interactive to bring games to Mega Drive, SNES and other platforms. The partnership led to three games, Aladdin, The Jungle Book and The Lion King. Aladdin and The Lion King have been released on the Switch and Retro Faith is seeing how these new ports hold up.
Back in the mid-90’s Disney could do no wrong. Instant classics Aladdin and The Lion King performed well at the box office and created a new generation of Disney fans. We were also blessed with high quality platform games to accompany our new favourite heroes. Aladdin was critically acclaimed by reviewers and voted best Mega Drive title of 1993 by several publications. It is also the third best-selling Mega Drive game behind Sonic and Sonic 2.
26 years later Aladdin still feels like a top game. The swashbuckling, carpet riding antics of the titular character remain as fun today as it always was. Gorgeous animation and fantastic music bring the silver screen to your handheld screen. If you have watched the film you will notice many set pieces lovingly recreated in this platform masterpiece. You jump and sword fight your way through multiple levels that fill the screen. Magic lamps and ropes guide you while antagonist Jafar’s henchmen battle to stop you.
The team behind Aladdin was headed up by David Perry of Earthworm Jim fame. He had been pulled from The Jungle Book development to start work on this new film tie-in. Disney lent support in the shape of art direction to make sure the sprites looked like the film characters. The collaboration has led to arguably the best looking game based on a movie. You feel like the streets of Agrabah have come to life and as Aladdin’s trousers blow in the wind you know this is a special game.
Controlling Aladdin is a joy, you can jump high, throw apples and swing your sword around in several different ways. It feels effortless whizzing around or taking your time to uncover a new secret. The set pieces bring out the best of the gameplay with magic carpet rides and volcanic boulders just two of the amazing devices used to bring the film to life. Some levels are tough but never unfair and you will improve with each playthrough.
If you do not wish to complete this game in the traditional way a handy rewind feature is on hand. We found ourselves using this modern tool during a couple of tricky parts like the carpet ride sections and final showdown with Jafar. Is it cheating? Probably, but then many gamers playing this today will have beaten this over 20 years ago. Accepting a helping hand once in a while certainly keeps the frustration level down.
Between levels you are greeted with bonus rounds that reward lives and points. The excellent rounds feature Abu, Aladdin’s monkey friend, collecting gems as pots or rocks fall. The only negative we find playing this game is a lack of moments with the genie. The late, great Robin Williams’ beloved character only has a few cameos here and there although there is a level inside the lamp that is very fun.
The other title in this re-release is The Lion King. One of cinemas, not just Disney’s, greatest films. Fans will be glad to know that the journey of protagonist Simba from cub to adult is kept intact. Half of the game is played in cub form with limited moves but good agility. The second half is grown up Simba on a mission of Revenge. You must make your way back to your pride and take the evil Scar who murdered your father.
The music is so iconic in this animated classic that it is one of the first things gamers will want to know about. Sadly, The Lion King music does not come through in the game. Even the mighty Yamaha chip in the Mega Drive cannot recreate the drums and African singing so important to the film. You can notice the tunes though, the odd glimpse of Hakuna Matata flows through the eardrum and you will be nodding along.
Although the music is not up to scratch the levels look the part and many of the important scenes are made into the games stages. The comedy duo Timon and Pumpaa make an appearance during the bonus rounds. You need to collect as many delicious bugs as possible while avoiding the dangers. The more bugs you collect the more lives you gain for Simba. The Lion King looks as though it uses the same engine as Aladdin but it is actually a new design with elements borrowed.
The game itself does not hold up as well as Aladdin. Collision detection issues and awkward jumps stop the free flowing action. Controlling Simba is a chore at times with deaths coming frequently. Once you get to grips with the sloppy controls the game does improve and fighting other big cats in the later stages is fun. You will find some of the set pieces frustrating and the monkey puzzle on the second level is unfairly difficult.
The best part is your desperate escape from the stampeding wildebeest. The iconic scene in the film is recreated as close to the film as a 16-bit game can muster. It certainly shows the ageing Mega Drive still had it in 1994. The animation is excellent and watching Simba climb up the rocky scenery is especially impressive. The graphics and animation save the game from being a mess. It may not be quite as good as Aladdin but The Lion King is still a decent game despite its flaws.
The package contains a director’s cut of each game. These improve the gameplay and graphics enough to make them a worthwhile addition. They also contain extras for you to flick through. The animation stills and soundtracks bolster the longevity and will please fans of the games. You can tell that there has been thought and care applied and not just a rushed release.
These Disney classics have aged well and are fun to blast through again. You will enjoy reliving the stories true to the original films. But if you have already played these titles to death you may wish to skip them this time. Certainly a great addition to your collection but you may wish to wait until the price comes down. They are capturing the market of retro and only real platform or Disney fans will see the purchase as worthwhile at full price.