The first ‘Magical Quest’ game was
met with critical acclaim. Its easier sequel added an audience pleasing two
player mode but failed to impress reviewers. Is there a reason why the lesser
known third entry in this platforming series was a Japanese exclusive?
Developed by Capcom
Published by Capcom
Released in 1995
You don’t get everything perfect on
your first go. The best things are the result of refinement; enhancing what’s
good and changing what’s bad. This is why yearly updates to established
franchises aren’t entirely bad. Developers can take their product, spend a year
improving it and then offer it up to an existing customer base as an optimised
and enhanced version. The player meanwhile gets a new iteration of a favourite
title, which in theory will be better than it was before. There is an argument
that opportunistic publishers are simply trying to convince gamers to re-buy a
game they already have. In this modern age of online updates and DLC it’s
certainly harder to rationalise. However, decades ago if you wanted your sports
game to have updated team names, if you wanted your fighting game to have new
fighters and if you wanted your platform game to have additional levels, you
had to buy it again.
There were two companies that were
notorious for repeatedly attempting to sell full price re-workings of their
most popular titles. Electronic Arts would pump out a new version of every one
of their sports titles each year. The franchises under the EA sports umbrella
were known for two things: minuscule changes between each of the game vrersions
and the infamous “Its in the game” announcement heard every time you’d play.
Similar Capcom had a penchant for frequently releasing updated versions of
their most popular games. For example, there were four ‘Street Fighter 2’ games
on the SNES in the space of eighteen months and it wasn’t just fighting games.
The Mickey Mouse ‘Magical Quest’ platforming series was frequently criticised
for simply recycling ideas, but it would be better to describe the sequels as
refinements of a great initial game.
The first ‘Magical Quest’ created the
mound and set the standard that all later sequels would be judged against. It
was hardly an original formula though. ‘Mickey’s Magical Quest’ features 6
worlds each consisting of several multidirectional scrolling stages. A Player
predominantly moves from the left of the screen to a goal on the right, with
obstacles to jump over and platforms to leap between. Level variety comes in
the form of physics based puzzles; seesaws, collapsing bridges, swinging vines
or obstructions that require a specific clothing to be worn. Three outfits can
be found throughout the game, and wearing each gives Mickey a different set of
skills. The climax of each world features an elaborate screen filling boss and
defeating them rewards the player with a brief story interlude before moving
onto the next stage. While critics unanimously praised the graphics and music,
the general consensus was that ‘Magical Quest’ was too easy and too
The sequel; ‘The Great Circus Mystery’
didn’t address this criticism, in fact it was even less challenging. This was
largely due to the inclusion of a simultaneous two player mode, as Minnie
joined Mickey on his adventure - the first time the female mouse had been
playable in a video game. “Add a friend to the mix, and it delivers a whole new
level of fun” GameSpy said when reviewing the GBA port. Sadly, the two mice
played identically and Minnie was essentially just Mickey’s sprite with a
However, despite the sequel being
easier it is certainly the better game. The suit mechanic in the first game was
improved with a whole new wardrobe available to the player. The magician, rock
climber and firemen suits of the first ‘Magical Quest’ game are out and instead
Disney’s most famous mouse can be dressed in sweeper, safari or cowboy clothes.
For this third game, the previous six outfits in the series are gone and once
again our protagonists have new threads. They are now able to dress up as
knights, wood cutters and conjurers. It’s the implementation of these outfits
though that elevates the third game to “best in the series status”.
In ‘TheGreat Circus Mystery’ there was no difference between Mickey and his companion
Minnie, however in ‘Magical Quest 3’ Donald’s inclusion affects gameplay.
Unlike Minnie, Donald looks distinct enough that he can’t be confused with
Mickey but there aren’t just aesthetic differences between the two playable
protagonists. Unsuited there only minor variations in jump height and speed,
but when some outfits are worn Donald and Mickey behave very differently.
Mickey’s knight armour is Medieval-esque, with a glistening helmet, lance and
shield. Donald however isn’t worthy of such finery; evidently it’s because he
has an excessively large “tail”. Instead the neurotic duck is forced to wear a
barrel and carry a hammer. Naturally, as they are so different each costume has
their own benefits. Donald's weapon can be used to break certain obstructions
yet it can only be aimed forward. Meanwhile Mickey's lance can be aimed
vertically. When submerged the weight of Mickey's armour will sink him, however
Donald's allows him to float. To cater for solo play, you will be able to
complete stages as either character but when playing with two, the benefits of
the differing outfits can be shared. For example, Mickey can take a ride on
Donald's back across the water.
Admittedly the other costumes are
less creative. The woodcutter costume allows both characters to climb vertical
trees and descend zip lines, while also offering the ability to shift heavy
objects. As a conjurer, the Showman costume lets Mickey unleash doves at
opponents, changing them into various usable objects. Donald’s equivalent
outfit sees him dress as a genie, producing puffs of smoke from a magic lamp;
ultimately though it does the same thing as Showman Mickey’s doves.
Regardless of their attire Mickey and
Donald can toss each other around the levels, accessing areas that were
previously out of reach. They can also grab and spin blocks and opponents when
In each stage, there are a number of
hidden doors which will give you access to a pick a card style Bonus Game or
shops. In these you can spend the coins acquired in levels on costume upgrades,
lives and extending your health meter.
Capcom have successfully included all
the visual identifiers that’s make this cast of characters so tireless and
instantly familiar to even the slightest Disney fan. Everything in the game
remains faithful to the characters we've all come to know and love with a layer
of visual polish befitting the Disney legacy. “Graphics are lush and colourful
and the sprites are almost as well animated as a classic Disney cartoon”
claimed video game critic Andrew Bub. Characters move gracefully with smooth
animation, and the games’ central characters are made to look even better
thanks to the colourful and varied worlds they inhabit. Admittedly, Woods,
pirate ships and under water stages are hardly revolutionary settings. But
while they may be familiar to platform game aficionados in other games they
rarely look this vibrant or detailed.
As is often the case with these
games, graphical splendour does come at the cost of clarity. The second world
for example features trees that Mickey must jump between. With the exception of
being brighter, the climbable branches look identical to those in the
background frequently leading to confusion. The game also is victim to
slow-down, but only at very specific times. Peppering the levels are larger
pull-string item boxes that once activated, create a cascade of coins or
hearts. They also appeared in earlier games, but the difference then was that
they didn’t cause the game to grind to a near stop. The slowdown is bizarrely
regular almost to the point where it feels like a deliberate game play choice.
Bosses too are prone to lower frame rates. The bigger they are, the harder the
games frame rate falls.
By 1995, after a dozen ‘Mega Man’
games, Capcom had become pretty adept at creating intimidating end of level big
boss fights. Sadly there was a dip in creativity for the second game, so it’s
nice to see that these battles are once again more imaginative in this third
‘Magical Quest’ game. Typically they’re best tackled by wearing which ever suit
was commonly used in the preceding stage. One boss for example can be quickly
dispatched by turning projectiles into heavy weights using the Showman outfit.
Another perpetually scrolling boss-fight is only approachable if you’re wearing
the wood cutter outfit, as the challenge you must take on involves leaping from tree to tree.
During a dual with a pirate captain the knight outfit should be
favoured, as the level continual rotates to reflect the orientation of the ship.
Here the ability to quickly attack in multiple directions is invaluable. While
the boss battles do present a challenge should you die during them you won’t
have to start from the beginning again like you would in a ‘Mega Man’ game for
example. Instead you’ll return to life as a balloon which means Mickey or
Donald can resume the battle anywhere on the screen, with bosses not recouping
any energy during your downtime. Ultimately this means that even the end game
boss can be defeated fairly easily provided you have enough lives banked.
Needless to say with two players, the boss battles (and the game in general)
become far easier. A second player can drop into the game at any point and
‘Magical Quest 3’s difficulty doesn’t scale to reflect the number of people
playing. With both Mickey and Donald on screen the game is twice as easy, which
is perhaps to its detriment as it was never that hard even when played alone.
Unlike ‘World of Illusion’ where the
stages differ depending on how many players are enjoying the game, the levels
of ‘Magical Quest 3’ are identical in single and two player mode. The series’
lack of challenge has been noted by reviewers since the first ‘Magical Quest’
game, and it’s often pointed out that this makes the games accessible to
children. It’s worth noting that ‘Magical Quest 3’ does have three difficulty
settings available in the options screen. However harder modes only limited the
amount of energy a charter has per life and with plenty of continues even the
games hardest mode doesn’t present much of a challenge.
Retrospectively the GameSpy website was
fans of the game. “Disney's ‘Magical Quest 3’ is a great platform game for Disney
fans of all ages”. It was an opinion shared by 1up, who said that “compared to
other kiddie-oriented crap [this] is downright fantastic.” They feel ‘Magical
Quest 3’ “is a lush, cartoon-flavored flashback to a different era”, that when
compared to other Super Nintendo games, is “a great second-string title when
players [have worn] out their copies of ‘Yoshi's Island’ and ‘Chrono Trigger’.”
Conversely, Nintendo World Report claimed that “It’s easy to see why this game
never made it over to the states in the first place [...] it's hampered by bad
level design and boring gameplay”.
While it doesn’t top ‘World ofIllusion’ as the greatest 16bit Mickey Mouse game, I certainly found it to be
the best of the ‘Magical Quest’ series. The reason it never got released
outside of Japan was more to do with timing than quality. It was released in
Japan on December 8, 1995 and probably wouldn’t have reached the West until mid
1996. By this time the PlayStation has found its foothold; heralding an era of
polygon graphics and 3D gameplay. A sprite based 2D platform game was
considered out-dated and a new wave of edgier teenager focused games only made
a family friendly Disney game less appealing or relevant.
Of course the primitive 3D graphics
of earlier PS1 games aged far worse than the beautiful sprites seen in ‘Magical
Quest 3’. So it’s fantastic that the game was revived on the GBA where it did
get to enjoy the world wide release that a game of this quality deserves.
Where did I get this game? As has been the case, with other Disney games in the past, when I'm going to Disneyland excitement takes over logic. I buy a game to play on the journey, and as I know own the majority of 16bit Disney titles the ones that remain carry a premium price tag. That being said, I managed to import the Super Famicom version of this game for around £30 which is less than the going rate. It was without a manual, however I did buy an unboxed English version of the GBA game which came with instructions. It may not relate exactly to the SFC edition, but at least I can read it!