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Disney's Aladdin (Genesis) artwork

Disney's Aladdin (Genesis) review

"Aladdin, at least in this Genesis incarnation, is well-known for being splendidly animated, for recalling the film marvelously, and for being a wholehearted sensory delight. Now surely the film was great -- many of my generation feel a twinge of nostalgia at the mere mention of the grandstanding blue Genie or the audacious mischief of Jafar. Our hearts skip a beat when you mention the touching tableau of the starveling street urchin canoodling with the gorgeous princess upon his magic car..."

Aladdin, at least in this Genesis incarnation, is well-known for being splendidly animated, for recalling the film marvelously, and for being a wholehearted sensory delight. Now surely the film was great -- many of my generation feel a twinge of nostalgia at the mere mention of the grandstanding blue Genie or the audacious mischief of Jafar. Our hearts skip a beat when you mention the touching tableau of the starveling street urchin canoodling with the gorgeous princess upon his magic carpet. The film was an enormous success for Disney -- but none of this helps sell the Genesis title. We’ve all learned that success on the big screen hardly translates to success on the game console. But don’t fret; developer Capcom does a brilliant job here of taking a license and using it not merely to market a game, but to enhance an excellent structure in all the right places.

There are two steps to creating a good video game from worthy source material. One, by far the easier I think, is to vividly recreate the world and characters of the original; it’s those beloved faces and that well-formed fictional world consumers are paying to see once again. The second requirement, and the more important, is a base of compelling gameplay. Tons of licensed games meet the first demand -- though not many do so with such flair as Aladdin -- but few can meet both, and it’s Aladdin's success in both departments that makes it worth playing.

From the moment you launch the game, you’re thrown into the world of the film, an Arabian land of powerful kings and still more powerful magic. Specifically, the first two levels set the tone brilliantly.

In the first, we are treated to a taste of the city of mystery and enchantment, Agrabah. Immediately you’ll be ask to leap over pits of glowing coals -- the Middle East is full of fire-walkers but Aladdin isn’t one -- and cross swords with thuggish palace guards. An array of moves that includes slashes, parries and thrusts will permit you to thoroughly wallop them. Lithe knife throwers will force you to block blade with blade, swinging your sword to parry their endless supply of tossed stilettos, and mysterious unseen figures will toss skull-bruising pots from second-story windows. Stiffly upright cobras transfixed by a snake-charmer’s zurna will carry you soaring to upper levels and rooftops. The complex, multi-level structures of the city really give one the feel of being lost in a vast urban chaos, one riddled with secretive nooks and rooftop hideouts just as in the Agrabah of the film.

The second level takes us out to the desert -- the quintessential Arabian location, of course -- where Aladdin is in search of a missing scarab. Here the screen shimmers with heat rising off the sand. We see dunes littered with animal skeletons, the flesh desiccated away and the bones stripped bare by coarse sand lifted on the wind. Ruined buildings offer a bit of shade but also present maze-like passages and fateful encounters with guards or desert snakes. But even in such lethal locales the game doesn’t lack the enterprising, fun spirit of the movie: even while he’s dodging poisonous fangs or a relentless rain of knives, Aladdin will be using apples as his secondary weapon. That’s right: sweet, juicy apples. A single strike might stun an enemy momentarily, while a full barrage is eventually enough to kill the toughest boss.

Everything, from the smallest apple -- the fruit splits into two distinct halves when it strikes a guard’s scimitar or a tossed blade -- to the largest building or most fearsome king cobra, is portrayed in perfect detail, animated almost as fluidly as the film itself. Capcom deserves extra credit for recreating the source material faithfully but nevertheless adding a creative flair -- a special achievement that makes the game not just a rehash of the movie, but a worthwhile and unique companion to it. With a spare storytelling style leaving much of the plot to the viewer’s background knowledge, this title concentrates mostly on a believable recreation of the movie’s feel, and it this it’s very successful. A cartoonish style recalls the lush work of Disney, with bright and lively hues abounding, and the music is all adapted from the terrifically Arab-feeling yet entertainingly jazzy soundtrack Alan Menken put together for the film. The technical grace of the cart is truly superb.

Aladdin has received the bulk of its acclaim for its brilliant presentation, but its most significant success is that it’s simply a marvelous platformer, rivaling contemporary classics like the Super Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country 2 and El Viento on Genesis. You won’t just be scrolling rightward Mario-style; Aladdin will find himself scurrying all over the map -- most of the game’s difficulty comes not from defeating the abundant yet inept enemies, but from timing jumps and generally figuring out where to go. The levels set in Agrabah are particularly complex, as you’ll find yourself shimmying up ropes and leaping from rooftop to rooftop by swinging hand-over-hand along clotheslines strung across yawning gaps.

Even those stages can’t compare to a later scene where you’ll be along racing on your trusty flying carpet, staying just a singed hair ahead of a roiling wave of scorching magma -- this isn’t the pitiful “bright red area at the bottom of the screen” lava effect seen in other games, this is vivid and FORCEFUL. Yet even though that level possesses it in abundance, intensity is the one thing this game could use more of: perhaps targeted to a very young audience, the cart is below-average in difficulty -- not even hard enough to really whet the throat of an experienced platformer. Experts in the genre will be done before the sheer beauty and pleasure of the game can really sink in. A paucity of tough boss battles -- the crowning jewels of most hack-and-slash titles -- is a big part of this problem, though the cart makes up for it with a very engaging final fight with Jafar.

A low level of difficulty is a fault that can be debated, but the fact is that you’ll want this title to last much longer than it does -- which is a passionate tribute in an age where even good games begin to drag at the end. Excelling at everything a licensed game ought to do, it offers you the best of the movie wrapped around a damn good game.

Genie, offering his services to the boy who rubbed his lamp in the show-stopping number “Friend Like Me,” tells Aladdin to “have some of column A, try all of column B.” Aladdin makes you the same offer -- don’t sacrifice quality action just for the familiar and enjoyable atmosphere of a licensed title. With this cart, you can have your fill of both.

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Community review by denouement (June 03, 2004)

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