Solaris Japan

Friday, 17 April 2015

Snes Review : Mickey Mania (Game 077)

There must be a reason why a game this pretty ... [LOADING] ... isn't universally loved ... [LOADING] ... as a classic.

Released in 1994.
Developed by Traveler's Tales
Published by Sony ImageSoft


The first time I saw a video game wasn't on a Nintendo console it was on a British made home computer called the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. If you were to look at the machine it would seem so archaic that you would wonder how games are even possible on it. Visuals were displayed in up to 15 colours, sound was limited to one channel and as the games came on a cassette tape; they had to be loaded. While I have vague memories of the games I played on this computer I remember loading them vividly. For ten minutes you would have to wait as colours scrolled up the screen, all the while a deafening noise would come from the inbuilt speaker. Loading is never a good thing for a gamer. It delays getting into a game and tempers excitement.
Should a loading screen appear mid way through play, the sense of immersion is shattered as you have to wait for the action or narrative to resume. No one wants to look at a loading screen, no one wants to be forced to stop playing. This is why, as a child, I liked consoles. You would put the cartridge in the console and within seconds the game would be onscreen. No waiting, straight to the gaming. 

Until recently I thought it was impossible for a cartridge based game to have to load. While my knowledge of the inner working of games machines is basic at best I was under the impression the console is able to instantaneous access any part of the cartridge's content at any time. I thought loading was impossible until I played 'Mickey Mania' a game that has so many loading screens no amount of good content can justify the wait.



‘Mickey Mania’ was released in 1994 on both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive. Originally the game was intended to celebrate Disney’s mascot mouse turning 65 years old. However, to hit this milestone, British developers Traveler's Tales would have to complete the game in less than six months. It was deemed impossible to finish 'Mickey Mania' in time and though the game would no longer tie into a birthday, it would still celebrate Mickey’s life. A time travelling narrative was used to explain the concept of Mickey travelling back in time to his own original classic cartoons. 


While recreating the events of each short, 1994 era Mickey Mouse must save his classic former self.  It's a treat for animation historians, especially as 5 of the 6 levels in the game are set before the fifties.  Each stage is gorgeously realised and visually inventive. The first stage, based on Mickey's first foray on screen, 'Steam Boat Willy' is actually black and white for the bulk of the stage. Other stages are more subtle in their homage to the past, with appropriate enemies and music for example.  For the most part the game sticks to tried and tested 16 bit platforming tropes.
There are a few basic puzzles that typically involve throwing specific things at targets, or pushing an object into or under something. However, in the main, running and jumping will be what Mickey does most. There's little that hasn't been done before and while the visual stylings in 'Mickey Mania' may come from classic Disney cartoons, what you do in each level is largely borrowed from other platformer games. One stage sees Mickey have to descend a staircase, the most notable feature of the stage, is that when Mickey walks left or right, he always stays in the centre of the screen. Instead the tower behind him turns to give a convincing sense of depth and motion. If this sounds familiar it’s because you’ve played the celebrated 8bit game 'Nebulus' (also known to some as 'Tower Toppler').
Another often talked about stage is the rampaging moose level, which sees Mickey fleeing from the subject of the 1937 cartoon 'Moose hunters'. Playing like an invited racing game, play is viewed from the front of Mickey. To escape the moose he needs to avoid all rocks, get apples and leap over water. It's certainly an impressive stage, one that will seem recognizable if you have played the stampede stage in 'The Lion King' of more recent games like 'Crash Bandicoot'.

Clearly this isn't a game that wishes to dazzle you with original thinking or outrageous new genre defining ideas. Instead the game is more about showcasing a character and celebrating his past, it's all about presentation and aesthetics. In a Super Play review, Tony Mott was quite a fan of ‘Mickey Mania’s sprites. “At times they are quite exquisite – in fact I can’t remember seeing animation of this quality on the Snes. This is knockout stuff”.  The game looks fantastic and, perhaps because the game takes visual inspiration from the past, it really has aged better than many of its contemporaries. Colours are rich, backgrounds are varied, and animation is smooth. Incredible animation shouldn’t be a surprise when the game’s box states that ‘Mickey Mania’ was the first video game to feature animations by real Disney animators.
This is somewhat difficult to believe as 'Aladdin' had come out a year before, but regardless the huge character spite has a hand drawn feel and it's difficult to imagine a way for Mickey to emote that isn't in the game.  The problem with such a large beautiful sprite though is that it takes up a lot of the screen. With a bigger on screen presence comes greater difficulty dodging enemies. This becomes worse when the screen starts filling up with far too many things that can hurt Mickey. There aren’t bullet hell Platformers but if there were, ‘Mickey Mania’ would be a prime example. Exploding skeletons become far more irritating than they should since their showers of bones are near impossible to avoid.
Likewise a simple level enemy like a flower becomes harder to beat than an end of level boss once it stars spraying a fountain of petals. Every enemy projectile seems to gravitate towards your character yet irritatingly your own projectiles only cause damage half the time. Mickey throughout the game can collect marbles which can kill foes should jumping on their head not be possible. These are limited in supply, so when they consistently pass through an enemy causing no damage at all it makes the game just feel unfair and broken. But the terrible collision detection is hardly a flaw when compared to the shocking amount of loading the game demands you sit through.

As wonderfully animated as Mickey maybe, no one wants to spend half their playtime watching him against a black screen looking at his watch. Loading times in ‘Mickey Mania’ are so bad, you’ll wonder how it was ever seen as being fit for release. It’s not just at the start of each level. Finish a level section and the game loads. Meet a boss and the game loads. Fall into the first pit 10 seconds after starting a level and the game loads, even though what it is loading is on the screen already. Its agonising and its “game breaking”; it makes progressing through a stage a chore as every time you find yourself successfully navigating over a tricky section you are rewarded by not being able to play. Its somewhat ironic that the subtitle for this game is “The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse” as such copious loading really does make you aware of the passing of time,

There's no way to really sugar coat it, but the Snes version is greatly inferior to the Mega Drive game and not just because you spend more time looking at loading screen that you do playing. There is a lot missing in the Super Nintendo version; there’s less voice samples, less frames of animation, less parallax scrolling and even less levels. The same game on the Mega Drive has an additional stair climbing section and a bonus stage based on the short ‘The Band Concert’ - both absent in the Snes version. Most bizarrely several intermission cut-scenes when Mickey is suppose to meet a previous iteration of himself have been lost. If the point of the game is to celebrate the many adventures of Disney’s most famous rodent, doesn't removing scenes like this also remove the point? 

“From a technical and graphical point if view, this is one of the strongest Snes titles produced. It plays well, but is well good enough?”  Tony Mott once asked. The game is certainly attractive, but it is just as nice to look at on Sega’s 16 bit machine, only without the ludicrous loading times. When there are so many, SNES platformers at your finger tips you have to wonder why anyone would opt to play a game that is such as bad port. Game testers surely would have noticed the collision detection problems yet the game was released regardless.  Sorry Tony Mott, this isn’t “good enough”.  I am a big fan of the “house of mouse” but my patience has its limits, my time is precious and this game isn’t. There is a great game buried in here somewhere,  but as with some many things in life, good things only come to those who wait.

Where did I get this from?
I’ve often wondered ...[LOADING].... why this game sells, so cheaply on eBay. ...[LOADING].... Most days you can get ‘Mickey Mania’ boxed and complete for less than £8. ...[LOADING].... The Mega Drive version however sells for twice this. ...[LOADING]....  Evidently in our fast paced lives, ...[LOADING].... the idea of reducing waiting times...[LOADING]....  is something most will pay for! ...[LOADING]....  


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