Friday 3 July 2015

Snes Review - Magical Quest : Staring Mickey Mouse (Game 085)

Capcom were known for sprinkling magic on any Disney game they came into contact with. But can a game that’s designed to be easy for children offer much enjoyment for someone used to a ‘Mega Man’ level of difficulty?

Developed by Capcom
Published by Capcom
Released in 1992.

Before zombies roamed mansions, before lawyers objected, before peoplefought on the street, Capcom were known for one thing. In the 8bit days the publisher’s name on a box usually meant the game inside was an unforgiving platformer; one that had tight precise controls and impressive graphics. Considering their games included the original 'Mega Man' games, 'Bionic Commando' 'Strider' and 'Ghouls and Ghosts' it's clear that Capcom were onto a winning formula. In the crowded NES market Capcom were the shining beacon of excellence. Obtaining the rightsto include Disney characters in their Nintendo games only served to propel their popularity and success further. Indeed, even today, 'Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers' and 'Duck Tales' sit in many a critic’s lists of best NES games. Super Play Magazine once said Capcom were “everyone’s favourite games company – to the extent that a major release from them is almost bound to do well.”   It was a success that they carried through to their Snes platforming releases and one of the first was a caper involving Disney’s mascot.

What is perhaps most strange about 'Magical Quest : Staring Mickey Mouse' is that despite being a superb game it actually doesn't do anything that original  or ground breaking. Everything on offer has been seen before in other games, the story is simplistic and the total play time is short. However it's a game that is so polished and so finely tuned it's impossible not to love it.

Starting out with an introduction sequence that screams nineties era Capcom, we meet Mickey playing catch with his anthropomorphic chums Donald and Goofy. True to form, Goofy throws the ball too far, Pluto chases after it and somehow he manages to plummet off the side off a cliff. Mickey of course runs after his dog, whilst the idiotic Goofy searches in the wrong direction only to be seen again in the fourth level (when he has seemingly given up on the hunt for Pluto). At least a helpful wizard is on hand to inexplicably aid Mickey, conveniently explaining that Pluto has been captured by Mickey’s nemesis Pete. He also warns that should our heroic mouse not rescue his pet,
Pluto will become the subject of magical testing. This certainly gives a sense of urgency to the game, but feels rather at odds with the happy joyous feeling that permeates the game. Unsurprisingly 'Magical Quest' looks beautiful, especially considering that it was a game released so early in the Snes' life cycle, back in 1992. Reviewers certainly appreciated the visuals, unanimously praising the detailed sprites, rich colourful backgrounds and the smooth animation. Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine even thought 'Magical Quest' offered “the best graphics on any system” up to that point, eclipsing Nintendo's own games. “Make no mistake, this is a gorgeous game” reiterates Jason Brookes in his review for Super Play Magazine. “Some of the greatest sprite designs on any system, an exceptionally well crafted game”.

This beautiful world is defined by six varied levels, which range from blazing infernos to ice plains and lush woods. Each level comprises of 3 stages, concluding with an end of level boss. Inhabiting these environments are equally diverse enemies too, with some only found in one stage. The opening level's chickens for example never appear again in the game, making the game look varied even if its game play is more formulaic.

'Magical Quest' is a platform game in its most clichéd form. What you do in every stage is pretty much the same. Every level scrolls from left to right, you jump, collect coins, break blocks. Enemies can be dispatched by jumping on their heads,
shops sell upgrades and routes through levels are opened by pulling switches. If it all sounds familiar it's because it's following a generic template that's tried and tested. Like Mario before him, Mickey’s collectable suits give him different skills and once found they can be used on any level.  At the press of a button Disney’s most famous mouse can become a magician, a fire fighter and a mountaineer, with their unique abilities allowing progression through stages easier.

It’s a clever dynamic and one that echoes the publisher’s 'Mega Man' games. Bosses are easier to tackle when Mickey is wearing the right suit, and the few difficult parts of the game become less of a challenge when the powers they offer are used.  Once all of Mickey’s suits have been unlocked it's even worth searching levels to find all the secrets they contain. There's little reward for making the effort of course, except the smug satisfaction that only comes from knowing you have got everything you can from a game.

Given the subject matter, there is an obvious audience that'll be attracted to ‘Magical Quest’. The game is un-ashamedly cartoony, sold as family friendly fun for all.  It is after all “a game that looks so nice you just want to share it with everyone” thought Brookes. There's an argument that once the game has been bought, how far the player can progress is somewhat irrelevant to a publisher. After all they already have the customer’s cash. This does presuppose that the publisher doesn't want to sell future titles to the same player, as little Jimmy won't want another Capcom Mickey Mouse game when they couldn't progress further than the first level in the last one. Evidently, to safeguard future sales it's always better to leave a young players wanting more rather than have them irritated by an insurmountable challenge. Super Play even alluded to the fact that it was the Disney Corporation who insisted on the game being easy, “so Mickey’s younger fans wouldn’t get frustrated”. For 'Magical Quest' to be to be accessible to younger children the infamous Capcom difficulty has been tapered and it harms the game as a result. With the exception of a rather brutal section that tasks you with climbing a vertical chamber while cannons shoot at you, no levels posses too much a headache.
Even the impressive screen filling boss battles can be finished easily provided the right suit is equipped and their attack patterns are memorised. Copious extra lives litter levels and continues are infinite. If you have grown up pulling your hair out after failing to complete a level filled with vanishing platforms, 'Magical Quest : Staring Mickey Mouse' will offer little challenge at all. “Great graphics are all well and good but you also need consistent challenging game play” remarked Jason Brookes. “This stuff’s fun but you’ll romp through it.” For skills to be tested “hard mode” must be selected and you'll have to impose your own limits on the number of continues you use. However, as Total! Magazine whimsically said in their review "that's not something you're gonna do is it?"

Ultimately though, I would rather have a game that I have to make artificially difficult through self imposed limits, than have a game that’s difficult due to bad game design. When you compare Capcom's approach to a Mickey Mouse game to Sony's its obvious why people prefer 'Magical Quest' to 'Mickey Mania'. Despite the latter coming out two years later and arguably looking better, people universally agree that Capcom’s ‘Magical Quest’ is a far better game.  'Mickey Mania' was a frustrating infuriating mess of a game, where a player would die though no fault of their own.
It's doubtful many saw level three, let alone very young children who just wanted to have fun with their favourite cartoon mouse. Though deaths in 'Magical Quest' are almost too infrequent, at least the few difficult parts can be overcome with practice.

Any player would be hard pushed not to see the game’s denouement within an hour and like the gameplay its clichéd and familiar. There seems to be no reason why the whole game had been a dream beyond justifying the surreal nature of some of the levels, but given the scant story in the first place its conclusion is of little consequence. If the target audience is the young a strong narrative is somewhat redundant and few play a platforming game to find themselves mesmerised by plot. Like the cartons that inspired the game, plot is second to spectacle and fun. #

Like a five minute Disney short 'Magical Quest : Staring Mickey Mouse' is brief, accessible and visually exciting. Fun for the whole family but not particularly substantial or original.

Where did I get this game from?

Like the game, the story behind my purchase is familiar and predictable. I bought it on eBay for £15.00 including postage. I had little motivation to do so, beyond the astronomical expectation that comes with Disney licensed Capcom games.

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