Virgin released four very similar Disney based platform
games but only 'Aladdin' gets celebrated. What is so bad about 'the Jungle
Developed by Virgin
Published by Sega
Released in 1994
For a Gaming Historian the story behind the creation of the
16bit 'Aladdin' games has as many twists as the film on which they were based.
The Mega Drive version was started by Blue Sky before Sega lost faith in them
and transferred development to Virgin Interactive. At the time Virgin were
working on an adaptation of 'The Jungle Book', which they halted to quickly
knock together an 'Aladdin' prototype. Sega's hope was that this could be
presented at the 1993 Consumer Electronics show, gaining some press attention. But
in the end it had a bigger impact. Virgin's early work intimidated Capcom who
were midway through development of a competing 'Aladdin' game for the Super
Nintendo. As a result Capcom went back to drawing board, placing even more
pressure on Virgin to develop the superior game. The race was on. Both games have
to be on the shelves when the film 'Aladdin' was released on video. To achieve
this lead developer Dave Perry and his team at Virgin interactive had to
plunder any resource available. This included the game they were originally
working on. "Aladdin was suddenly dropped into our lap by Sega as an
emergency project" recalls Dave Perry.
"I was working on 'Jungle Book', then kind of raided it to get
'Aladdin' done in time."
It's impossible to describe Virgin's take on 'Disney's
Aladdin' as anything other than a success. It was the third best selling game
on the Mega Drive shifting over 4 million copies. While Capcom's Super Nintendo
adaptation found critical approval it enjoyed fewer sales.
Buoyed by the victory Virgin were keen to move onto a
similar project immediately. According
to former Vice President Dr.
Clarke-Willson obtaining the rights to make a game based on the 'Jungle Book'
had proved expensive for Virgin and the studio had no intention of letting it
lapse. "[Virgin Part-owner] Robert Devereux, God bless him, cut a big
cheque to Disney for the 'Jungle Book' license, which got us in the door
there". If Virgin wanted to quickly capitalise on the success their
'Aladdin' Game was enjoying the choice for a follow up was obvious.
"Virgin asked me to go back and finish up 'Jungle
Book'" recalls Dave Perry. "There was some dispute as to what it
should be, now that its heart had been removed, and Virgin just pushed to
"get it done"". Perry, frustrated by this, decided it was
instead time to leave. "At that same time, I got my Green card and so I
could legally form a corporation in the USA. So that's what I did and Shiny got
going almost immediately."
While Perry made a start on a game that would
eventually become 'Earthworm Jim', Virgin were forced to contract Eurocom to
finish 'The Jungle Book'. "We were approached by Virgin Interactive who
had a 'Jungle Book' game in development on Genesis/Megadrive but things weren't
going well and they were looking for an external team to take over the project
and get it finished" confirms Neil Baldwin audio director at Eurocom. "Not having much to lose and because we
saw it as a good opportunity to springboard onto the then new 16-bit platforms
(Genesis/Megadrive and SNES - although we didn't actually do the SNES version
of this game) we jumped in with both feet [...] It was a turning point for
Eurocom - a real make-or-break moment." Their work was overseen by
Virgin's new Vice President of Game design, Julian Rignall. After decades of
game reviews, this famed British journalist had joined Virgin Interactive in
California, responsible for product design and licensing acquisitions.
Given its origins it's hardly a shock that 'The Jungle Book'
is so similar to ‘Aladdin’, with familiar echoes of Perry's earlier work too.
Like 'Global Gladiators' and 'Cool Spot' the game requires the player to
collect a set amount of items in order to clear a stage. As Mowgli the man cub
you explore ten diverse levels, and the player has a set amount of time to
complete each level. Depending on difficulty, the number of gems the player
must collect to progress is either eight (easy), ten (medium), or twelve
(hard), of a total of fifteen gems spread throughout the level. Finding the
specified amount of gems means you can finish a stage, but finding them all
opens a bonus level; useful for building up lives. Levels are large, but
they're also square rather than linear. Unlike games like 'Sonic The Hedgehog’, in which you’re constantly moving right,
success in 'The Jungle Book' depends on you scouring all parts of a stage, both
horizontally and vertically. However this amount of freedom does cause
frustrations. More than a couple of times, branching paths mean you'll miss
some areas which forces the player to have to backtrack. It breaks the flow of
the game and makes extended play feel slightly repetitive. It was a fault
noticed by Electronic Gaming Monthly. "It's tough at times to know quite
where you are going and I often get lost in the huge levels" the magazine
With re-spawning enemies returning back through as stage is
also hazardous and Mowgli will have to avoid a huge array of foes on his
journey through the game. Naturally He's not defenceless and can throw bananas
to kill the animals, including bizarrely monkeys. This design choice feels a
lot like throwing apples in 'Aladdin', however without an Arabian sword this is
Mowgli's primary attack. Of course, you
always have the classic option of hopping on an enemy head but this is a little
unreliable with surprisingly imprecise collision detection and many enemies
withstanding a single foot to the face. “It’s all standard and somewhat shallow
platform fare" criticised Mean Machines magazine. “Although nice to
control, it is much too much like 'Cool Spot' to offer any real excitement or incentive
to splash out more dosh if you already have the other".
The game is based on the 1968 Disney animated film which was
in turn based on Rudyard Kipling's book. Both the film and the game follow the
adventure of Mowgli, an abandoned child raised by wolves.
His peaceful existence has been threatened by
the return of the man-eating tiger Shere Khan. Facing certain death, Mowgli
must overcome his reluctance to leave his wolf family and return to the
"man village." But he is not alone on his quest, since he is Aided by
Bagheera the panther, and later by the carefree bear Balloo. By the story's end
however Mowgli abandons his friends. He has learnt independence, he has found
where he belongs and he's unable to resist the allure of an upsettingly sexualised
young girl. Despite being a huge Disney fan I've never liked 'Jungle Book' all
that much, in fact I've called it my least favourite Disney film. I dislike how
the audience's focus is drawn to the songs themselves, rather than the story.
While it may be nostalgically labelled "Walt Disney's coolest classic
[...] a swinging song filled celebration" the film feels very disjointed
in terms of narrative. While it may have a comparable number of songs to other
Disney films, 'The Jungle Book' fails to integrate these musical interludes
within the development of the story. While certainly entertaining in their own
right, the songs appear to be independent attractions, sequences that are not
connected to one and other. As such, 'The Jungle Book' movie feels more like a
variety show comprising of separate numbers.
However such an episodic structure
is actually not unusual in video games, where a player is used to being
presented a story section before moving onto a level inspired by it. This is
exactly the structure of the 'jungle Book' game where a short amount of story
(told through still images and text) is followed by a level or a boss fight. In
fact because the film's plot is so simple it carries over to the game quite
faithfully, with the bosses almost predetermined by the oppositions Mowgli
encounters throughout the film. Thankfully these boss battles are a little more
varied than those seen in 'Aladdin'. Gone are small foes that sit in the middle
of the screen and attack in obvious patterns. Instead the 'Jungle Book' has
boss fights that are varied and inventive, breaking up the monotony of the
Considering the complicated development process it becomes
slightly tricky to determine which parts of the 'Jungle Book' was made by
Perry's team and what was done after he left. However the music has all the
Hallmarks of Tommy Tallarico something Eurocom composer Neil Baldwin confirms.
"I didn't get to do the audio for the Genesis/Megadrive version because it
had already been done". Tallarico was Perry's favoured 16bit composer and
he has an extensive CV having worked on 250 games with more than 25 industry
awards. "Back then most games were so small you had ten levels, a menu
screen and end credits, so you needed 12 songs, all in MIDI, and they couldn’t
be very long because they took up a lot of cartridge space. So from a music
writing standpoint it’s about 30 minutes of MIDI music. The hardest part back
then was actually getting it to sound like something." As 'The Jungle
Book' was based on a Disney movie known for its music, Tallarico had a pretty
solid starting point for the game's soundtrack. "I would take the music
Disney gave me, have it converted to Midi and put them onto the SNES and
Genesis and get them to sound like what you heard in the game" he once
said. "Then we wrote additional original music in the same vein." The
soundtrack features tunes from the Disney film including the popular "Bare
Necessities", "I Wanna Be like You", and "Colonel Hathi's
March". However Tallarico has given each a ragtime calypso style remix.
While it means the music is familiar it also sounds distinct and found much favour
with reviewers at the time. Game Players magazine called the music
"catchy". "'Jungle Book' has great music" agreed EGM
magazine "The sounds fit this cart perfectly." I'm inclined to
disagree though. Although the tracks from the film naturally fit, Tallarico's
original compositions are somewhat eclectic and are similar to 'GlobalGladiators' at times. When listened to in isolation without prior knowledge no
one would associate them with the 'Jungle Book' movie.
'Aladdin' on the Mega Drive was frequently described as
having the best animation seen in a video game up until that point. This was
often attributed to the fact that Disney animators were involved in the games
production. As producer David Bishop recalls, it had proved to be a blessing
for the games production team. "Well we worked very heavily with the
[Disney] animators down in Florida that actually worked on the film. And it was
actually the first time that anyone had done that". However for obvious
reasons the original animators could not be called on for 'The Jungle Book'
game. "Aladdin was still a live project, so we had access to the people
that had worked on it" Bishop remembers. "Unfortunately when we
worked on 'The Jungle Book', everyone who had worked on it was in their
nineties or dead. So with 'Jungle Book' it was more access to the brand, though
we may well have had access to the archives." The characters don't look
like they have been directly lifted from the movie in the way 'Aladdin's did.
Though they're recognisable they don't have Disney's charm. That being said the
animation is fluid and Mowgli's idle dance animation is wonderful. GamePro
magazine claimed the "animation will draw you in” something Mean Machine
magazine agreed with claiming the game was "beautiful to look at".
However the same magazine also said the 'Jungle Book' was "empty"
implying that while it may be comparable to other Disney licensed games it
lacks the heart, their warmth.
David Bishop Strongly believes a good game can only be great
if it is born out of Love. "If you
play a game, you can tell whether or not people were passionate about it
depending on the amount of TLC they’ve given the game. If that makes any sense.
And that’s no different for a branded game; you can tell when someone has taken
the trouble to get under the skin of the brand." This is perhaps why
'Aladdin' is a great game but 'The Jungle Book' is simply a good one. It's the
result of being passed between too many studios without anyone taking real
ownership of the project. Of course to criticise 'The Jungle Book' for being
inferior to one of the Mega Drive greatest games is brutally unfair. Judged on
its own merits it's a fun, if familiar game. But it's hard to imagine anyone
would opt to play this game unless they had fallen in love with David Perry's
superior games and wanted a little bit more of the same.
It’s interesting to play 'The Jungle Book' knowing its
development history. At times it feels like a developer making an inferior
imitation, an 'Aladdin' rip off which ironically is really what happened here.
While it was, originally, a David Perry game, it was one finished without him
involved. But was he even needed for Virgin to make successful games? Former
Vice President of product development Dr. Clarke-Willson certainly felt Perry
wasn't as pivotal to 'Aladdin's success as many claimed.”Dave Perry has done a
terrific job over the years of promoting himself" Clarke-Wilson once said.
“Contrary to what Dave likes to say, he didn’t make 'Aladdin' [alone] in four
months. About fifty people made it over a period of about seven months, and a
lot of R&D on how traditional animation could go into a console game had
been done the year before that." While this may be true, 'The Jungle Book'
shows that without Perry and his team you're ultimately left with an enjoyable
but not fantastic game.
Where did I get this game from?
Like the majority of my Mega Drive games I got this in a
bulk buy deal found on a Facebook local selling page. However it has sat on my
shelf I played for years, concealed by the glow of 'Aladdin' which used to sit
next to it.