Mickey Mousecapade (NES) review
"Even if you have a fairly simple stage, such as the forest, you'll soon find the developers have worked overtime to irritate you. Proceeding through the forest requires shooting almost every tree to reveal hidden doorways. As you progress, you'll enter a door and the season and enemies change. This is a nice touch. But the minute you enter a door in the wrong order, it's back to the start for you."
An identity crisis of one form or another has made many a middle-aged man buy a sports car or leave his wife. It's made for some dangerous criminals, too. For the most part, it's safe to say an identity crisis is just that: a crisis. I say this as a way to introduce you to the topic of this review. The game is Mickey Mousecapades, and it's a platformer aimed squarely at children who want a fun romp through a Disney world. Or is it?
The first thing you'll likely notice when you play the game is its cheery title screen, which reads simply 'Mickey Mouse.' But the game is called Mickey Mousecapades on the cover, isn't it? Well, yes it is. And is this the identity crisis I referenced in the previous paragraph? No. But it's a rather odd portent.
No, the identity crisis goes a lot deeper than just a title screen blunder. Once you begin playing the game, this becomes almost immediately evident.
The first stage you'll encounter (unless you use the stage select feature referenced in the instruction manual) is a fun house. Mickey and Minnie must race through several rooms, shooting paintings and passing through doors on the way to find the deviant who operates the joint. There are few enough enemies here, just the usual Disney sort that aren't a huge threat if you take things slowly. Mickey and Minnie will learn that they must work as a team if they are to succeed. Wherever Mickey jumps, Minnie follows. They can never stray terribly far from one another (unless you use the cheap trick I'll talk about momentarily when fighting Pete in the pirate stage).
As the game starts, Mickey can fire a dangerous star from his happy little mitts, and Minnie can do nothing but follow. So as players go through the fun house, they'll want to put an end to that unfortunate fact as quickly as possible. This means shooting random parts of the wall, until Mickey's shots reflect. This can happen anywhere, from a patch of wallpaper that blends in perfectly with it surroundings, to the edge of a picture frame. Shoot that same spot a few more times and something might happen. A guardian mouse might appear to grant the duo a brief moment of invincibility, or they may discover a diamond that refills part of their life meter. Or, frustratingly, an enemy might swoop out of the background and steal Minnie away, forcing you to find her before completing the stage. The game practically forces you to play through trial and error, because you do want that second star item if you're going to attempt conquering the game.
Eventually, players will likely memorize enough of the fun house that they can grab the star rather quickly, and work through to the boss. Bosses in this game are devilishly tough (but then, so are some stages, yet another thing I'll discuss in just a moment). They tend to take what seems like an unfathomable number of hits before they fall, and they make short work of your own life meter. Without exception, the boss monsters fight by heaving mass quantities of projectiles in your direction. It's just not possible to avoid them all for very long, because you have nowhere to hide except the opposite side of the screen. This often means that you'll reach a boss with a low life meter, then die with no chance of defeating him or her, and then have to repeat the whole process all over again.
Supposing you get past the first stage, things quickly grow both more enjoyable and more challenging, with a heavy dose of the latter. The second stage you come to is the ocean. This level is my personal favorite in the game (followed by the forest) because it is a mostly straight-forward affair. Mickey and Minnie hop along small islands leading to the right, avoiding a huge assortment of sea creatures who for some reason have leapt to the surface of the ocean to assail our plucky heroes. As you work to the right across ledges and logs, you'll find that huge waves also wash over the area. Both they and the jellyfish that leap from their crests will deplete your life meter. By the time you reach the crocodile boss at the end, you'll probably be all but dead. Unless you grabbed the hidden diamond just before the boss. The whole level takes about thirty seconds to play through, and is one of five levels in all.
The other three levels are as different from one another as the first two, but they do all share a few common traits. Regardless of the locale, you can know upon entering a new stage that you're going to find a frustratingly difficult and quite short little zone to explore, followed by a nearly impossible boss encounter. This is the set of rules by which you must play, like it or not.
Because of this constant abuse, the game can grow quite frustrating. Even if you have a fairly simple stage, such as the forest, you'll soon find the developers have worked overtime to irritate you. Proceeding through the forest requires shooting almost every tree to reveal hidden doorways. As you progress, you'll enter a door and the season and enemies change. This is a nice touch. But the minute you enter a door in the wrong order, it's back to the start for you. Again, trial and error plays a huge role here.
Then there's the pirate ship. It's about six screens long, another really short level that takes less than a minute to rush through. And when you get to the end, Pirate Pete can easily drain your entire life meter. Smart players will soon find that though Mickey is very vulnerable to all sorts of damage, Minnie is not. So, since she can fire shots just as easily as Mickey, they'll cheat the game and work it so Minnie is on Pete's level (he's the one boss that starts on a separate level) firing shots while knives pass through her invulnerable body.
Speaking of those knives, they're about the only truly violent object in the game. The rest is syrupy sweet. The enemies are cheerful as they slam their bodies against you. The boss monsters look cute, almost without exception. Cheerful music accompanies each area and the levels themselves are drawn in a unique style that is simple, but pleasing to the eye. Parents watching the game will think they've found the perfect treat for their children.
However, they have not. Mickey Mousecapades is ridiculously challenging, to the point where even seasoned adult gamers will likely find it quite difficult to reach the game's end (where at last they are rewarded by a short ending that reveals the identity of the girl they have been working to rescue). Cheap deaths are not infrequent, but more often than that, the game just throws so many challenges toward the gamer all at once that survival is all but impossible. To top it all off, the game is about as short as a platformer gets. It's almost like Hudson's developers had a long game in mind, then decided to cram it all into a 10-minute package.
I won't say the game is awful. It can actually be fun for short spurts of time, in fact. Surprisingly fun. There's a certain charm to the visual presentation, and to the audio. But whether you love this game or hate it, you can play through it within ten minutes. In the end, it's this and not the identity crisis that sends Mickey Mousecapades to the graveyard inhabited by forgettable games. Play it if it's convenient or if you remembered liking it as a child, but don't waste your time searching too hard for it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 10, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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