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Disney's Aladdin (Genesis) artwork

Disney's Aladdin (Genesis) review

"an adventure that captures perfectly the charming look and feel of all the films that were released during Disney’s early-90s resurgence"

Aladdin was released right in the middle of Disney’s early-90s renaissance, a period in the company’s long and chequered history when it seemed that they could do no wrong. Children across the world were captivated by the likes of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, while the VHS release of classics like The Jungle Book cemented Disney’s reputation, proving that great animation is timeless.

Although it wasn’t my favourite film of the period, the video game adaptation of Aladdin manages to capture the charming essence that made all of those early-90s releases so special. It’s a wonderfully animated platformer that shifts masterfully between light-hearted wit and classic Disney melodrama. One minute you’re laughing as clumsy pot-bellied guards drop their trousers to reveal heart-print underpants, the next you’re thrown into a tense duel with Razoul, the fearsome chief of guards.

It’s hardly a surprise that Aladdin manages to capture the vivid style and cheerful visual humour of Disney’s early-90s output. After all, the game was developed in collaboration between Disney animators and Virgin coders. The lavish animation certainly looks like the work of skilled professionals, while the vibrant levels squeeze every last drop of colour out of the Mega Drive hardware. Perhaps the most memorable are the deep reds and fiery oranges that turn the once serene Cave of Wonders into a treacherous hell of bubbling lava and molten rock.

Over the years a few people have suggested that the animation actually hinders precise control. While it’s true that Aladdin’s movements are more elaborate than those of Mario or Sonic, this does not affect his dexterity or the ease of controlling him. Once you understand the rhythm of the game you’ll be bounding about the levels without a care in the world, chucking apples at snake charmers and duelling with angry guards. The animation never detracts from the energetic pace of the game because it has been implemented to feel like a fluid and seamless extension of the action. So you’ll laugh as guards burn their toes on hot coals or lose their trousers unexpectedly, but these antics won’t prevent you from dispatching them quickly with a well-timed thrust!

Aladdin is definitely not a case of style over substance. The stage design flaunts the same boundless creativity and imagination that is evident in the superb presentation. What’s most impressive is how distinct each level feels. Agrabah, the opening level, abandons the conventional “left to right” structure of most platformers. Aladdin is sent back and forth through the sun-drenched streets as he climbs ropes and slides down poles before leaping across the rooftops. It’s an exuberant display that highlights the game’s energy, but Aladdin is capable of slowing the action down as well. The dingy palace dungeons are filled with spike traps, unreliable stone platforms and even exploding skeletons! Aladdin is forced to tread carefully through this deadly prison.

Often it’s the contrast between the two different styles of play that make Aladdin such an exciting adventure. When you first venture into the Cave of Wonders the dominant sapphire-blue colour scheme evokes a solemn beauty that suits the gentle tone of the level. You can take your time, treading carefully over the piles of gold strewn carelessly across the rocky ground. However, once Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu attempts to steal a piece of treasure, the peace is shattered as the Cave of Wonders is transformed into a fiery hell. The frenzied music urges a hasty escape as you struggle to evade giant boulders and hurry through the inferno. It culminates with an exhilarating magic carpet ride, a unique sequence that has been faithfully recreated from one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Aladdin benefits from being based on the story of an animated film. Unlike platformers that take you from the snow level to the sand level to the underwater level without much to connect these disparate locations, Aladdin’s quest builds purposefully towards a climactic showdown with Jaffar. Mind you, that's not to say that the game isn't willing to deviate from its source material and explore imaginative diversions. One level even takes place inside the Genie’s lamp. Don’t let the jubilant tune and silly visuals fool you into thinking that this crazy level is going to be easy, though. One of the harder sections in the game involves a series of platforms that resemble the Genie’s chubby blue hand. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also very tricky because the hands constantly change in size, forcing you to time your jumps carefully.

Although it’s not as difficult as Rocket Knight Adventures or even The Lion King, Aladdin can still be a tough adventure. The levels are crammed with demanding jumps and obstacles, while enemies are fairly strong and possess devious methods of hurting you (such as the skeletons that blow themselves up). It was hard enough for me to rely heavily on the level select code when I was younger, although I always found it frustrating that after one level the game would dump me back in the desert, which is the second stage. But then maybe that was the developer’s cunning way of emphasising the film’s moral message, that sometimes the fulfilment of wishes is not such a good idea.

Such attention to detail wouldn’t seem out of place in an adventure that captures perfectly the charming look and feel of all the films that were released during Disney’s early-90s resurgence. Aladdin almost feels like an animated feature film, such is its faithfulness to the company’s aesthetic. Crucially, though, this visual style does not come at the expense of the gameplay. Behind the stunning presentation Aladdin is quite simply an excellent platformer. Even if you weren’t over-keen on this particular Disney film, the game is still lot of fun.

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Featured community review by JANUS2 (August 14, 2009)

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bigcj34 posted August 17, 2009:

Ah yes, that was a classic game, which was, as you rightly said, pretty darn hard. It really is a stunning looking game and looks every bit as authentic as the fuilm, if only the modern Disney games got the same treatment. A great review as well, you've nailed home how the visuals don't come at the expense of the game-play, detailing all the elemtns, how it's not the conventional platform game (quite a few twists to the formula).
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JANUS2 posted August 18, 2009:

Hey, thanks. I enjoyed your review of The Lion King, too. I've been playing all those old Disney platformers recently and although Aladdin can be tricky, it's nowhere near as difficult as The Lion King. I can't get past the Elephant Graveyard! I think in that case the animation does hinder control because sometimes Simba's jumps get "stuck," causing you to fall down gaps or off platforms. It still looks great, though!
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bigcj34 posted August 18, 2009:

Haha, the elephant graveyard certainly wasn't the hardest level in the game, but was a little crafty at times, I have to admit. The jumping elements of the game were a bit unconventional, but I found Aladdin quite tough, even on practise mode. Does practise make it easier or just give more lives?
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JANUS2 posted August 18, 2009:

I think it just gives you more lives, but you can't beat the game on practice mode because it just stops after a certain point.

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