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Throwback Thursday - Disney's Aladdin (1994)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:20pm 05/03/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column on AusGamers where the nostalgic Kosta Andreadis opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

Watch Kosta play and hum along to the music to Disney's Aladdin, embedded above

The Game: Disney’s Aladdin
The Year: 1994
The Developer: Virgin Interactive
The System: PC (DOS)

In the early ‘90s the idea of basing a game off an established movie or licensed product was not exactly a rare thing. In fact, for a number of years this simple formula was adopted by many a publisher. Not only that but the way in which these games were be presented, via a side-scroller where the licensed character either jumped around or punched people, was all but standardised. Which meant that at the time pretty much every movie had its own video game.

“Sir, we should be the ones to make the game for that new Stallone movie. The one where he climbs ice mountains in nothing but a t-shirt.”
“Sure thing, I’ll call the studio and tee it up. That’s your queue to laugh Johnson, that’s a golf joke.”
“Very funny, sir. I’ll get the guys who made the last Run Jump Punch Shoot Side Scroll Thingy to start working on it immediately.”

So with that in mind imagine it’s the year 1993 and you’ve just walked out of seeing Disney’s Aladdin for the first time on the big screen. Outside of singing the lyrics and humming the melodies to classics like, ‘A Whole New World’, ‘Prince Ali’, and ‘Friend Like Me’, you could quite easily picture what the videogame version of Disney’s Aladdin would play like. A side-scroller with Aladdin running around, jumping on magic carpets, and fighting off Jafar’s men whilst Abu and Genie helped? Pretty much.

Although Disney’s Aladdin was developed and published by Virgin Interactive for PCs in 1994, the game first made its debut in the holiday season of 1993 on the Sega Mega Drive. This is important for a few reasons, first because it was published by Sega as part of a deal they struck with Disney to license the motion picture, and second because it was Sega of America that chose Virgin Interactive as the developer, whilst also gaining access to the animators at Disney who worked on the film to contribute to the game. Why is this important? Well, one look at the Capcom-licensed Aladdin game on the Super Nintendo and the difference is night and day.

It’s clear that Sega’s version of Disney’s Aladdin was not only the better looking of the two, but also served as an important milestone in 2D sprite-based animation and graphics. In late 1993 the Sega versus Nintendo wars were in full swing, so having a Disney game that looked worlds better on the Sega Mega Drive than it did on the Super Nintendo was a big coup. Now of course in early ‘90s marketing speak Sega would have cited the console’s ‘blast-processing technology’ as the main reason for this difference, but history has shown us that ‘blast-processing’ is a nonsense term at best, and that the Sega Mega Drive was noticeably less capable, technically, than the Super Nintendo.

Which brings us to Disney, who by 1993 had no problem licensing out their properties and characters to developers and publishers around the world. But what they didn’t really do until the release of Disney’s Aladdin on the Sega Mega Drive was collaborate. The studio heads at Disney had no real understanding of game development and were of the opinion that games were so far behind film that they weren’t worth the investment. So when Sega of America licensed Disney’s Aladdin this wasn’t exactly earth shattering news, the fact that they were able to bridge the gap between Disney the animation studio and Disney the licensor of intellectual property was.

Through negotiation Sega was not only able to get Virgin Interactive access to the Disney film’s assets, but also open up collaboration between artists and animators at Disney and those at Virgin Interactive who would then spend time working out ways to best transpose traditional hand-drawn animation into a video game. And although some of the higher ups at both Disney and Sega felt that this was an unnecessary gamble for a video game, the end product more than proved them wrong. Disney’s Aladdin was hailed by many as one of the best console games released in 1993, and its commercial success led to a similar situation with the video game adaptation of The Lion King the following year. Plus, it even led the formation of Disney Interactive Studios shortly after.

So even though you may be thinking, “A game based on a ‘90s Disney cartoon? Like throw it back to something a little more memorable than that dude”, Disney’s Aladdin was and is an important game. Also, ‘Prince Ali’.

So how does it stack up today? Well pretty great for the most part. The thing about the technical limitations of old hardware is that they can be easily overlooked when the animation and art quality are of the sort found in Disney’s Aladdin. And when it comes to Disney movies, say what you will about their actual storylines, but the character and nuance that Disney brought to the art and animation, especially during its second-wind (the early ‘90s), was nothing short of world class. So when animators with a true understanding of the form team up with technical artists and programmers, the end results are truly special.

As is the case with Aladdin, where the animation and art is impressive even today. Maybe not technically, but when you use your sword to hit an enemy which then causes their pants to fall down whereby they proceed to embarrassingly and emphatically pick them back up, the results are still delightful. Which is a good word as any to use when describing Disney’s Aladdin, it’s delightful. Here’s a few more. Bright, colourful, superbly animated, and a fun game to play through to the end.

Disney’s Aladdin even features digital and MIDI representations of all the great music from the film, and with stages based on the various key scenes from the movie, it has a sense of momentum that many games of this type usually forego completely. In terms of structure and mechanics it’s not exactly ground-breaking but the formula works quite well with only a few instances where the game falters. As seen in a few sections where the difficulty spikes feel almost completely random. These moments, although few and far between, feel like they were put there to simply prolong what would otherwise be a relatively short experience. Plus they unfortunately date the overall design in ways that something like Super Mario Bros never did. But even so, that’s comparing a great game to one of the genre’s masterpieces. And on that note Disney’s Aladdin remains as great as it ever was.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.

Recent articles by Kosta:Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.