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Aladdin – Sega Genesis

Aladdin – Sega Genesis

Aladdin_genesis_cover

Platform: Sega Genesis

Developer: Virgin Games

Publisher: Sega

Release Date (NA): November 11th, 1993

Genre: Platformer

Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10

 

“(16 bits) will give you such a crick in the neck!”

                                                            –Old Arabian Proverb.

Like everything else I grew up with on the Genesis, Aladdin is a mixed bag of nostalgia and frustration. The Genesis version of Aladdin is a different game entirely from Capcom‘s effort on the SNES, one that had Virgin Games working in tandem with Disney artists and animators. The result is a faithful rendition of the movie’s characters and locales. Character and enemy sprites are large, detailed, fluidly animated, and just as expressive as their movie counterparts. Aladdin himself skips across the victory screen whenever you complete a level, but special mention goes to the enemies. For example, strike a palace guard with your sword and there’s a good chance his pants will fall down, revealing his polka-dotted boxers. It’s funny, but it also gets you a free shot when the embarrassed guard stops attacking you to pull his pants back up. Then there’s the part in level 1 where you run over hot coals. If a guard tries the same thing, he’ll struggle across, clutching his burning foot and hopping up and down on one leg. My personal favorite, however, is the guard who’ll keep stuffing his face until you get close enough for him to notice you. These little touches go a long way in catching the movie’s humor, and it’s clear a lot of effort went into getting everything to look right.

The partnership also resulted in "Lion King." "Mickey Mania," and a million Genesis controllers snapped in half worldwide.

This partnership also resulted in Lion King, Mickey Mania, and a million Genesis controllers broken in frustration worldwide.

That attention to detail extends to the levels too. Like any decent movie game, Aladdin takes the player through the film’s most memorable set pieces, but interprets and re-imagines them in a way that’s better suited for a video game. Throwaway gags from the movie (like the sword-swallower and the hot coals from the “One Jump Ahead” sequence) find their way into the Agrabah Marketplace level as an enemy and a level hazard, respectively. The bizarre conjurings of Genie’s “You Ain’t Never had a Friend Like Me” sequence lend themselves as assets for one of the most interesting (albeit frustrating) levels in the game.

The humor found in the character sprites also carries over to the backgrounds via a number of sight gags, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. Examples include Abu bouncing on a fallen guard’s belly, a modern day STOP sign in the middle of the ancient Arabian desert, a Mickey Mouse hat hanging from a clothesline, and an engraving of Goofy’s face on the column of a desert ruin–and that’s all just on the second level. All these little touches and the charming graphics that go with them make Aladdin one of the most graphically and artistically impressive games on the Genesis.

Aladdin looks on in curiosity as Abu murders an employee of the state.  Also, that outhouse.

Aladdin looks on curiously as Abu murders an employee of the state.
Also, dat outhouse.

The sound’s no slouch either. In addition to gritty (but decipherable) voice samples for many of the characters, Aladdin includes synthesized versions of the the movie’s most well known songs, including “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World.” Of course, the Genesis’ soundscape isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I grew up with the damn thing, so I love it, but the sound has a very late-80s synthetic quality to it. I see this as a characteristic rather than a flaw–play to the strengths of that characteristic and you’ll get something beautiful. Aladdin is an example of something beautiful. Okay, that’s overshooting it, but it does sound good. None of it sticks out either; there are several level, event, and incidental tunes composed exclusively for the game, all of which were made with input from the movie’s composers.

So the presentation’s flawless. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t. Strip it of the Disney elements and Aladdin is a competent platformer mired by a deluge of tiny design flaws. Standard platforming conventions apply: run, jump, climb, collect. You collect apples to throw at enemies, and you collect jewels to buy extra lives and continues from the merchant shops randomly scattered throughout the game’s levels. Levels are mostly “Get from Point A to Point B,” but occasionally you’ll need to collect some flutes or some scarabs. Or fight a boss. Or ride a carpet. You know, standard stuff.

Almost redeems level 6. Almost.

This stage is a blast, and almost redeems level 6. Almost.

Also you have a sword. That’s cool, I guess. Unfortunately, the sword doesn’t work like it should. And neither do the jumps. Or the platforms. Actually, nothing works the way it should. Most of these issues seem to stem from faulty collision detection and misleading sprites. Sometimes you’ll swing your sword at an enemy. The sword clearly makes contact with the opposing sprite, but the enemy doesn’t react; according to the game, your hit didn’t register. The problem’s exacerbated by the fact that many enemies take more than one hit to destroy. The result is you’ll just swing your sword wildly at every enemy. To the designers’ credit, enemies telegraph easily and are predictable once you get their patterns down, but attacks simply never feel satisfying. It’s not quite broken, but it doesn’t feel very polished. You’d think you could fall back on just throwing apples to circumvent the issue, but your ammunition’s limited, and many enemies simply slice anything you throw at them in half.  I find it weird that Aladdin has a sword at all. The animators went through all the trouble capturing the spirit of the movie and decided to stick a scimitar on you, despite the fact that Aladdin only has a sword near the end of the movie. For like two minutes.

Issues with collision detection plague the jumping and ledge/rope grabbing. Often Aladdin will clearly make contact with a platform only to fall through into a river of lava or a row of stalagmites. Sometimes the jump’s fine, but the timing is off – the Sultan’s dungeon stage, for example, has a series of platforms that move in and out of the walls. There are several instances where two platforms merely have to be jutting out for you to land on them, but a third one requires precise timing. Even if that third platform is clearly there, and Aladdin clearly made the jump, the game says “tough shit, you jumped too soon.” That’s to say nothing of the wonky jumping mechanics themselves. Aladdin can hop from platform to platform decently enough, but controls feel clumsy and, worse, inconsistent for anything more acrobatic.

Harder than it looks.

Harder than it looks.

Level 6 is a veritable nightmare because of this jumping issue–there’s a jump that literally requires you running down a slope, jumping right at the very end of that slope, and grabbing a floating platform that’s considerably higher up. Every jump of this type up to this point has been made at the end of the pathway preceding the slope, and the slope in every other instance leads you to your death. But here? It’s the only way you’ll make that platform. By the way, if you screw up, you start over at the beginning. It’s too early in the level for a checkpoint, but just far enough along that going through the process just to get back to that fucking slope is a nightmare. Need more pressure? You’re being chased by a giant boulder the whole time. I know this sounds like I’m going off on a tangent, but it’s this level where Aladdin’s flaws pose the biggest threat to player enjoyment. It’s hard to judge platform sweet spots, the effective range for your sword, Aladdin’s jump arc, etc.; it all feels imprecise and wonky. Again, it’s not to the point of being broken, but in some ways that just makes it even more frustrating.

Fuck this level and everything about it.

Fuck this level and everything about it.

All in all, Aladdin is a very pretty and very playable effort. If you’re a platforming buff, the Capcom-developed effort on the SNES is probably more to your liking. The visuals aren’t as true-to-toon as the Genesis Aladdin (nor for the most part is the music),  but they’re still gorgeous in their own right, and the actual game-feel is more natural. Granted, that’s probably because the games were made with different goals in mind. As a tribute to its source material, Aladdin for the Genesis feels more faithful than the SNES counterpart. As an actual game, Aladdin is merely competent. There’s nothing wrong with opting for simplistic combat and platforming over flashy acrobatics as long as the end result feels right. To me, Aladdin doesn’t quite hit that nail on the head. It’s still worth playing, just don’t expect too much from it.

/fin.

/fin.


Written by Nerd Bacon

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3 Comments

  1. Nike Halifax says:

    I do like the SNES version, but this one still holds a special place in my heart. ;-;

     
  2. StarSpangledEggs actually reviewed the SNES port forever ago:

    http://nerdbacon.com/aladdin-snes/

     
  3. The SNES version is crazy good. Try it out!

     

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