Friday, July 28, 2017

Summer Game Camp, Part 4

It's summer, which means that "indoor kids" like me stay away from the hot sun and do things like play video games! Old video games. Disney video games. This summer at Passport to Dreams, I'm playing the Disney / Capcom classic games and writing about them. All of them.

Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 - December 1993

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

If you recall last month, I thought highly of Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers - enough to give it the No. 1 spot on the game rankings list. So it was with some interest that I approached its sequel - both Chip 'N Dale 2 and the next game in this article, Duck Tales 2 were released very, very late in the life span of the NES and are super rare. Very few have ever played these games, allowing me to approach them with no apologies. Chip 'N Dale 2 starts off promisingly enough - a neat animated introduction picks out the silhouettes of our heroes against a brick wall, before loading the menu screen. Once off to the first level, everything seems okay - at first. The games look practically identical, and the first level strongly recalls Level D in the original game. There's longer dialogue scenes and more elaborate boss battles. It took me a few stages to start to realize something was up.

Don't let the similarities throw you - while they make look similar, each Rescue Rangers game is as different under the hood as can be. Rescue Rangers 2 is slightly larger, with more detailed sprites for Chip and Dale - not a bad thing, to be sure. The game is also slower - in the original, the chipmunks could really pick up and lob those crates, and zip and jump easily across the screen - really creating a sense that they were tiny. Rescue Rangers 2 is zoomed in, and instead of interacting with things like telephone poles and bar stools, everything they come across is a much more reasonable scale, such as pots and pans. Because they're a little bigger than in the first game, that illusion of expansiveness has been sacrificed.

But what really spoils Chip 'N Dale 2 is the combination of a less expansive world, slower gameplay, and amazingly sparse enemy placement. In the original game, enemies would appear in clusters of 2 or 3 and charge directly at you - you needed to move fast and really learn to pick up and chuck those crates because you were constantly under attack. The original Chip 'N Dale is a highly distinctive mix of twitchy, fast reflex based game play and memorization - so much of the fun of that game was learning each enemy's distinct attack pattern and where they would appear and learning how to approach and defeat them strategically.

In contrast, you can go entire screens in Chip 'N Dale 2 and only see one slowly moving enemy. In the first game, you had to defeat nearly every threat you came across and always has to have a box at the ready to throw, or you were going to die quickly. It's much easier in Chip 'N Dale 2 to just run past every enemy until you reach the boss.

Speaking of the bosses, there's really only two in the game that will give most players any trouble - the first boss, and the last one. The first boss is fought by jumping between plates beneath a cascade of water - its easy to get washed off the bottom of the screen and die. It's tricky, but the rest of the game is full of far less intriguing enemies. Usually you just have to stand far away and wait for one of the boss' projectiles to land on the ground, then you pick it up and chuck it at them. There's at least four of these battles in this short game, although one of them is an enraged ostrich riding a spoke gear, which is kind of cool. The final boss looks impressive, and repeats a memorable gag from Mega Man 2, where you're thrown in a room where the lights blow out and a huge enemy lowers from the ceiling. This guy drops time bombs, and you have to time it so that the bomb hits him at the exact moment it detonates.

Remember all of those environmental hazards in the first game? They're just plain gone. Remember having the juggle the light switches, or turn off the water taps to proceed? Gone entirely. Every level in Rescue Rangers 2 consists of some slightly themed platforms and every level has the same layout - go right, go up a little bit, then go right or left. Gone entirely is the visual and conceptual unity of the first game, where you climb up and end up on top of telephone poles, or keep climbing up a ventilation shaft or tree. Also gone are the unique enemies in each level - who can forget the tough chicken guys who punch boxes in their way, or the aliens who turn into you as you approach?

Between the redundant level designs and tiresome boss battles, I began to have really nasty flashbacks to Darkwing Duck - this game has that same sense of absolute exhaustion. Certain parts of the game seem to have just been abandoned in design - in certain areas the game would not let me scroll to the next screen until I threw the box I was holding, and in another spot I could not proceed until I cleared the entire screen of all of the boxes. For a major release Capcom game, that's totally unacceptable.

Chip 'N Dale 2 threatens to become interesting twice. At one point, Fat Cat traps you inside a refrigerator and you are given three minutes until you freeze to death. Being the good game player that I am, I rushed the level - easily bypassing the handful of ice skating enemies, assuming the level would be long enough that I'd run out of time if I didn't keep the pace up. I ended up finishing it in less than a minute - and it's then that I realized that Chip 'N Dale 2 didn't care at all.

Immediately after that, Fat Cat opens "The Urn of the Pharaoh", which he promises is full of ghosts and will allow him to conquer the world (apparently both Fat Cat and Adolph Hitler have weird ideas about what ghosts will actually do for you). What follows is a totally absurd and out of place haunted house level, as if the one in TaleSpin wasn't enough. It's probably the best thing in the game, and likely based on the Haunted Mansion at Tokyo Disneyland - portraits are revealed to be full of skulls when the lights are extinguished, and some floating dog ghosts dive bomb you throughout the level. After you beat the boss here, a mummy ghost who retreats back into his urn, the entire subplot is dropped entirely.

Perhaps I'm just being way too tough on this one, but this represents and even bigger quality drop than the one between Magical Quest and The Great Circus Mystery. The original Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers remains fun, tough, and delightful to this day, and after completing this dispiriting slog of a sequel, I had to go back to play it to wash the bad taste out of my mouth. Avoid this one and play the superior original instead.

DuckTales 2 - June 1993

Duck Tales 2 was actually released a few months before Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers 2, but after playing through both I decided to flip their order here to illustrate a point. Chip 'N Dale 2 takes almost everything about the original game and reproduces it in vastly inferior form. Duck Tales 2 takes a solid classic original NES game and tweaks and improves almost everything about it. It's a difference between a swan dive into a pile of gold and Launchpad crashing into a mountain.

Back in Part One 1 suggested that DuckTales was never finished quite to its developer's liking, and if more proof were needed, here's DuckTales 2 - which appears to be, for all intents and purposes, the game that DuckTales was intended to be.

What's different? To begin with, there's a pre-game map screen that sets up the backstory - it's the same kind of situation, where Scrooge must pogo around various locations attempting to uncover hidden treasures. The original DuckTales had two secret treasures, which acted as something of a bonus. Here, each level contains multiple rooms which disguise giant treasure boxes which must be found and unlocked - some of them in incredibly obtuse locations. These treasure boxes contain six pieces of a torn up map - buy the seventh one from the game shop and you can play a secret level for "The Lost Treasure of McDuck". If you can do this, you can head out to Flintheart Glomgold's sunken ship and fight him to unlock the best ending of the game.

And yes, you heard that right - this game has a shop, where you can buy lives, continues, and more. The most important item you can buy in the shop is a Safe, which allows you to keep the money you collect as you play each level. That's right, unlike in the original game, when you die here, you lose your money - this adds a lot of strategy to the game, and gives you an incentive to return to conquered levels to farm for money. This explains why the original game allowed you to return to levels as well as leave the levels with Launchpad - a feature which never made any sense in DuckTales.

You no longer have to jump and press down to pogo - this itself already puts the game ahead of its predecessor, simply hold the jump button and bounce away. Scrooge can do more in this game - taken directly from Darkwing Duck are various rings bolted to the walls of levels, and Scrooge can hang off them with his cane - as the game progresses, you must become increasingly confident with this skill, as retains areas can only be passed using the rings. Instead of simply knocking blocks across the floor, in DuckTales 2 you must clamp your cane onto blocks and drag them across the floor - this sounds like a nonevent, but there's a good number of puzzles that use this.

Gyro Gearloose appears in the first few levels, providing Scrooge with cane "adapters" - a term stolen directly from Mega Man 4, because Capcom - which allow players to swing and pogo to break certain kinds of blocks. The game allows you to play levels in any order, but if you go to, say, the Pyramid right off the bat, you won't be able to collect the treasures because your "cane adapter" is too weak. Besides the hanging rings, Capcom found a way to cleverly include a variant of the famous "vanishing blocks" from Mega Man - none quite so tough as the puzzles in those games, thankfully. but super cool.

On top of that, the levels in DuckTales 2 are just plain better. There's plenty of enemies, but none of them are placed cheaply as in Darkwing Duck or DuckTales. There's fewer secret areas, but the ones that are here are hidden more insidiously - at one point you have to pass through an invisible wall, jump across a huge chasm on flying enemies, then drop down a hole that looks exactly like it will kill you - you land on top of the hidden treasure chest. It's scary, and fun, and rewards the most confident and adventuresome.

Besides secret rooms, there's puzzles - you must drop rocks into certain holes to drain water from the lower half of a level, decode an ancient riddle inside a pyramid, and tug a mirror hidden away at the top of a pyramid so the sun bounces off it and destroys the floor. That pyramid level is a doozy - I bounced around in there for almost an hour trying to find all of the treasures. You enter the pyramid by crossing shifting sands taken directly from Mega Man 4's Pharaoh Man, then head down a narrow corridor with a huge treasure chest at the end - before you can get there, you fall through a false floor! It's awesome, and scary, and if you spend enough time snooping around, you can find your way back to that treasure chest.

The bosses here aren't too different from those in DuckTales, but for some reason the ones in DuckTales 2 strike me as significantly more interesting - there's a sorcerer who is basically a superior replay of the Magica de Spell fight in the first game, and a golem made of rocks who you must break apart before attacking his heart with your cane. The Flintheart battle in this one comes off as exceptionally goofy due to a twist I won't spoil - it's stolen, again, direct from the Mega Man playbook, but darn is it fun.

There I go comparing this one to Mega Man again - but it's warranted. From the open exploration style, to the idea of going back into a level you already beat and exploring a new area, to the rain in the Bermuda triangle shipwreck that comes straight out of Toad Man's level - unlike Darkwing Duck, this is a Mega Man game that still makes time to have some ideas of its own. The gameplay is even better than the first one, and the game really makes you think, and strategize. I had to play the game through three times until I figured out how to get the secret level and the best ending!

This game is the Mega Man 2 of Disney/Capcom games, and probably the best of their 8 bit games, period. It does everything the first one did better, smarter, and bigger. Unlike Mega Man 2, it never really had a chance of being recognized, released as it did a year and a half after the Super Nintendo. It was released as part of the new Disney Afternoon Collection on Playstation 4 and XBOX, which mean it's more wide available right now than it ever has been.

DuckTales 2 really does typify the kind of thing I, as a reviewer, hope to stumble across when embarking on a series like this. Play it however you can.

Game Rankings So Far
01) DuckTales 2
02) Chip ' Dale Rescue Rangers
03) The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse
04) DuckTales
05) Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey & Donald
06) TaleSpin
07) The Great Circus Mystery
08) Darkwing Duck
09) The Little Mermaid
10) Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers 2
11) Mickey Mousecapade

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Game Camp, Part 3

It's summer, which means that "indoor kids" like me stay away from the hot sun and do things like play video games! Old video games. Disney video games. This summer at Passport to Dreams, I'm playing the Disney / Capcom classic games and writing about them. All of them.

We've been playing and talking about games on the 8-bit NES, but now the story needs to take a detour as we jump over to Nintendo's rival... Sega. In mid-1990, the Sega Genesis had been on the market for a year and had a reputation for impressive graphics and a vast library of shooting games, but really summer of 1990 belonged to Nintendo in a way that few summer ever would again.

It was the summer of Super Mario Brothers 3, which sold more units that season than any game in history ever had. Super Mario Brothers 3 is the apotheosis of the NES, but it was also the end of Nintendo's solitary market domination. Sega finally got wise and had hired an American, Al Nilsen, to helm their North American marketing department. Since Sega had no name recognition in the US market, Nilsen bought the likenesses of those who did: Tommy Lasorda, Pat Riley, and Michael Jackson. Then in 1990, Sega landed somebody every American knew: Mickey Mouse.

The most Sega image I could find.

Released in the United States as Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion in November 1990, the resulting game is a kid-friendly standout on a system that was still looking for its mainstream hit. As everyone knows, that would prove to be Sonic the Hedgehog just a few months later, but I'd argue that Castle of Illusion is a better game. Illusion is a fun, fairly predictable bounce-and-stomp. The levels are fairly uninteresting - it's wave after wave of the same enemies, over and over - but they do start to improve at about the halfway point. More importantly, it's light years ahead of Mickey Mousecapade on the NES.

The Disney / Sega games could be their own series of blog posts, and they're unfairly obscure today. Europe's preference for Donald Duck resulted in two games for Sega's 8-bit console, the Master System, released in that market: The Lucky Dime Caper and Deep Duck Trouble - these games are even better and cuter than Castle of Illusion. Next, North America got its own unique Donald game, QuackShot, and finally Mickey and Donald were brought together in World of Illusion, a graphical powerhouse for the Genesis that few games would match. It's a fairly impressive run for Sega, and the quality drop in Disney games once Disney abandoned Sega and Capcom would be noticeable.

Which brings us to our subject for today, a series of games that will span nearly the whole history of the Super Nintendo. I don't know if Nintendo or Disney requested a Mickey game of their own to compete against the successful Castle of Illusion, or if Capcom came up with this one all on their own, but this week we're taking a huge bite out of 16 bit Super Nintendo trilogy: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse.

The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse - October 1992

Sometimes you reach for perfect by disregarding convention, swinging for the fences, and beating your own path. But sometimes you get to perfect by simply doing the same thing others have done better, sharper, nicer. The Magical Quest isn't some genre bending masterpiece - it's a really good platform game. Awash in a sea of the same, it rises above the rest like an island.

By the early 90s, the entire game industry was deep, deep into platform games. They've never really gone away, to be sure, but the initial rush of Super Mario Brothers imitators gradually began to produce such a vast glut of similar product that the mutations set in early. There were games that went in an even twitchier direction, like Mega Man, and ones that relied on memorization and strategy, like Ghouls N Ghosts. Sonic the Hedgehog provided multiple paths through levels, rewarding players who replayed levels until they could clear them in seconds. Faced with an opportunity to create a Mickey Mouse game for the new Super Nintendo, Capcom did not reinvent the wheel; they just made it spin smoother.

Magical Quest begins on a domestic scene of Mickey, Donald and Goofy playing catch with Pluto. Pluto runs off, and Mickey chases him until he abruptly falls off a cliff. This short setup establishes an air of fantasy that intrudes into the benign afternoon in the park, as Mickey suddenly falls, bounces off a branch, and lands on a cloud - high in the sky. There's a house sitting on the cloud inhabited by an old man, and Mickey is told of an evil Emperor Pete who rules over this kingdom...

Here's a great example of a video game that's aimed squarely at the Japanese audience, and the Americans are simply invited to show up too. The game requires no special knowledge of Mickey Mouse as a character or cultural institution - Mickey just is in this game, and it creates a powerful atmosphere of Disney-ness without actually ever directly referencing anything Disney. Titles like Mickey Mousecapade and Castle of Illusion brought in references to Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, but Magical Quest deals exclusively with Mickey, Goofy, Pete, Pluto and Donald and creates a totally new adventure for them.

As players progress through the game, they pick up various costumes that give Mickey new skills. There's a magic outfit that can fire projectiles, a firefighter's uniform, and a mountain climber's outfit. By starting Mickey out dressed in nothing but his skivvies and allowing him to accumulate abilities along the way, Magical Quest creates a powerful sense of a dream unfolding, logical and linear on its own terms but strangely skewed.

There's a direct sequence of action to the first four levels, as the difficulty gradually increases. Starting on a cloud, Mickey rides rolling tomatoes along a huge vine down to earth. Traveling alongside a lake, he crosses a dark forest, enters an elevator, and rides it into a blazing inferno underground. Exiting the underground cavern, he begins to scale a mountain, working his way towards Emperor Pete's castle....

In the early 90s, Capcom produced some of the handsomest video games around. There's a lot of detail in Magical Quest - pay close attention to just how often the backgrounds change as you travel from one area of each stage to the next, creating a real sense of progression and atmosphere. The forest grows denser and darker as you head towards the area's boss, a giant spider - the background trees transitioning from awash in golden light to grasping claws with evil Pete faces. The soundtrack seems to be scored by a medieval chamber music quartet, instantly creating a mood of high fantasy.

In terms of gameplay, Capcom seems to have reached into their back catalogue of hits. The weapon-switching brings back memories of Mega Man, although Magical Quest demands far less of players than even the easiest Mega Man game. Certain enemies and situations and the entire high fantasy conceit seems to be descended from the Ghouls N' Ghosts series, and the first boss of Magical Quest - a winged bat creature - is essentially a reference to the famous infamous enemy in Ghouls 'N Ghosts, the Red Arremer. The mini level between the forest and fire cavern - a fairly tricky elevator ride down - recalls a similar ride in Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Even the appearance of Emperor Pete in the final room seems to suggest Astoroth, a recurring boss in that series. Elsewhere from the Capcom canon, the Mountain Climber Mickey outfit functions basically identically to the climbing and swinging mechanic in Bionic Commando.

The game puts up a reasonable challenge to new players, but it's not nearly as demanding as, say, DuckTales on the NES. The oeneric atmosphere, high quality presentation, and sharp gameplay makes this one of my most-often played titles in the SNES library. I beat it in about 30 minutes while preparing this review, and died maybe twice. It's so much fun that it doesn't really matter that only on "Hard" mode does it put up much of a fight.

Generally, the levels in this game are amazingly well planned. The first level allows you to get used to controlling Mickey and throwing blocks before throwing up the first real challenge: the race to the ground atop the giant tomato. The game deposits you by a lake, dodging starfish and beavers, establishing that Mickey can neither breathe nor swim well underwater. In Level 2, the Magic Turban places an air bubble around his head when underwater. Any other game would then send you across the great barrier reef or something, but not Magical Quest - you swim through the inside of a tree filled with sap! Touches like this add a lot of character to the game.

Level 3 introduces a firefighter outfit, cleverly released from a "break glass in case of fire" emergency panel. The Five Cavern is very well done, coming up with what feels like every possible use for the water weapon - from pushing blocks to forcing you to extinguish burning platforms before you can cross them. The final boss of the area is pretty tough, demanding total confidence in both water spraying and fast platforming. The same can be said of the Level 4 boss, easily the toughest in the game - the fight against the giant eagle really requires you to be very good with the Mountain Climber hook.

Then it's off to the ice world, and here's where the wheels come off. The level cues you to use your fire hose, and it allows you to spray water that freezes into platforms - but then never uses this in any meaningful way. The boss of this level can be beaten with either magic or water, but he freezes to death no matter how you beat him - a waste of a cool concept. Then it's off to Pete's Castle, where you'd expect to have to use all four abilities to succeed, much like the Wily Fortresses in Mega Man. Again, there is no such requirement, and in fact if you know where to go you don't even have to deal with about half of the level.  The drop in quality after Level 4 is huge, and hard not to notice.

But there is a conceptual completeness to this game that is tough to top. It's one of those games like Castlevania where every little piece seems to have its place and is deployed at exactly the right time. The magic, water, and hook weapons feel right - inevitable - and easy to control. The atmosphere is top-notch. The whole thing feels like an especially interesting Disney featurette, and coming out in 1992, that's not a bad thing. Seemingly only in video games is Mickey allowed anymore to be a hero.

This one is worth seeking out, and don't be surprised if you find yourself playing it again and again. I began playing it in 1992 and I've more or less never stopped. It's a key action title for the Super Nintendo.

The Great Circus Mystery - November 1994

The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse seems to have been successful - it's a well liked and not too uncommon game, and in Japan it was even featured on an episode of GameCenter CX, where host Arino Shinya plays it to commemorate the opening of Wreck-It Ralph. Naturally, a sequel was produced - this being Capcom, after all. But what's baffling is the way this sequel was released in the United States - instead of being embraced and promoted as "The Magical Quest 2", its title in Japan, it was given the baffling name "The Great Circus Mystery".

This is a two player simultaneous game. In it, Mickey and Minnie head to the edge of town on a bus to see the Circus - but when they arrive, the circus is in shambles and the performers have vanished! They meet two of the three Lonesome Ghosts, who invite them to their haunted house on the far side of a nearby jungle - but when they arrive, the house has been overrun by the minions of Baron Pete. In the end, Mickey and Minnie travel through a cavern, an ice world (of course), and Baron Pete's castle to put an end to his evil plans.

Okay, so, just from that summary alone, we can begin to see problems. "Rescuing Pluto" isn't an amazing story for The Magical Quest, but it works fine and adds to the dreamlike atmosphere - which is fine because - spoilers - it turns out that Magical Quest actually is a dream! The story in Great Circus Mystery is weirdly unfocused, which is fine because the game is still fun, but for a game called The Great Circus Mystery, the mystery of what's going on at the circus turns out to be pretty unimportant.

Then there's the abilities selections in this game, which honestly are kind of terrible - Mickey and Minnie get a vacuum cleaner, a jungle explorer outfit, and a cowboy outfit with pop gun and hobby horse. The vacuum cleaner can convert enemies into coins so you can buy upgrades in shops, which is nice if you really need the upgrades to progress. The jungle explorer outfit works exactly like the mountain climber outfit, and the cowboy outfit allows you to fire pellets. Unfortunately, your hobby horse never stops bouncing underneath you while you're in cowboy form, and the bullets don't seem to be able to hit enemies at close range, so the most useful form in this game is also the most annoying to use.

Compared to Magical Quest, Circus Mystery starts off in the drab confines of a tattered circus - it's not spooky enough to actually be cool, but not colorful enough to create any atmosphere of adventure and fantasy. At least the "Haunted Circus", as its called in the game, has two cool boss enemies - a fire juggling weasel and a lion that tries to run you down in his circus wagon and whose mane you vacuum off to reveal that he's actually a disguised wolf. The Jungle level that follows is the single dullest and most uninspired level in the series - you fight an evil turtle and gorilla while trying not to fall asleep.

The game improves considerably at the Lonesome Ghosts' Haunted House. There's a repeat of a gag used in the Haunted Mansion level of Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, where a specter of Pete replaces your reflection as you pass a series of mirrors. Later, you fight Pete in the best boss of the game - Baron Pete leans out of his framed portrait to attack you! A series of rooms where you must hang onto a lantern on the wall as the room spins around you is a direct reference to Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts. There's even more Ghouls 'N Ghosts references in this game than in the original Magical Quest - a dinosaur boss and cloud boss hail directly from that series, and Baron Pete's outfit again strongly recalls Astroroth's double faces. All three games were extensively designed by programmers who were veterans of that series, so all of this is highly intentional.

Unlike Magical Quest, the last 60% of this game is better than the first third, even if the level progression feels stilted and sporadic. Pete is a two-phase boss this time, and transforms himself into a huge Elliot-style dragon. The boss of World 5, a cloud of cold air, is a legitimate challenge, as you must nearly constantly vacuum him up while avoiding being touched and frozen. The challenge of this game definitely matches and exceeds that of Magical Quest. The two-player option is nice, if not really important, and the opportunity to play as Minnie is great for those of us who prefer to play as female characters when possible.

But there's just no getting past the fact that this is an inferior replay of a game that still feels fresh. And the marketing here merits a stoning - it's amazing how off-base they were, calling this game The Great Circus Mystery. I know for sure there are kids who avoided this one based on the name, never knowing it really was the sequel to Magical Quest. To their credit, Disney and Capcom recognized the error and released this under its proper name on the Game Boy Advance.

Even the box art was a total botch. The original Magical Quest art is still terrific - Mickey, in his yellow and red Magic outfit, pops off the deep blue of the haunted forest, and Emperor Pete holding Pluto captive immediately establishes the story and fantastic world of the game. The Great Circus Mystery uses pastel colors, Mickey scowling, and the circus setting that really isn't central to the game. I don't mean to keep harping on this, but it's amazing how much they botched what could have been a sure thing.

The Great Circus Mystery isn't a terrible game, but it's a huge drop coming off Magical Quest. It was released on both the SNES and Genesis - perhaps the dual release is what prevented it from being identified as the sequel to a series that began on a Nintendo system? The SNES version is the one to get here - the Genesis has a unique section of Level 3 to replace the rotating rooms that the Genesis couldn't do, but overall the graphics are compromised. Anybody who missed out on this in the 90s due to its lousy marketing didn't miss much, but fans of the original Magical Quest should seek it out.

The Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey & Donald - December 1995

And one reason I harped so much about the lousy marketing of Magical Quest 2 / Great Circus Mystery is that it likely prevented the West from getting this game, the superior Magical Quest 3. This time Huey, Dewey and Louie are pulled into an enchanted book they find in Donald's attic and Mickey and Donald go in to rescue them. The European flair of the original is back, as they travel through "Storyland" en route to King Pete's castle. They're dropped off in a medieval village overrun with ambulatory crows, ears of corn, and a turkey wearing a helmet. After defeating a pig flying around in a giant pepper - a boss who uses the SNES' scaling and rotation effects and is the most 'Super Nintendo' thing I've ever seen - they proceed through a thicket of vines filled with drifting spores and a menacing desert before boarding one of Pete's flying fortress ships.

The costumes here are great, and actually different for Mickey and Donald. After defeating the rampaging turkey, a blacksmith gives Mickey a suit of armor equipped with a boxing glove, which he cause use to bounce off walls. The blacksmith's wife tries to do the same for Donald - but Donald's butt is too huge to fit in the armor, and he ends up wearing a barrel with a pot on his head. This turns out to be an advantage, as the town is crisscrossed with Venetian canals, and Mickey plummets like a rock in the water, whereas Donald can float along easily in his barrel. In the spore forest, they get Woodcutter's outfits and can climb the tall vines using long leather belts, swinging from side to side to destroy enemies. In the desert, the pick up magic show gear from a traveling mystic - Mickey is dressed in a snappy red suit and can shoot cards from his hat, while Donald is dressed as Aladdin and rubs his magic lamp to summon a giant genie hand which flicks enemies away.

Better still, this game is tough, and atmospheric. Pete's battle ship contains two really frustrating bosses, and the series has its one and only water level when the ship crashes into the ocean and our heroes swim to shore. Instead of the typical glacier ice level, here Mickey and Donald climb up a snowy mountain filled with evil, dead trees. If you keep walking, snow collects on your shoes, making it easier to jump up to higher platforms! Pete's castle is terrific, filled with elaborate stonework and convincingly dark, richly decorated rooms.

After all of your trouble, you're rewarded with a really great fight against Pete. He looks better, more smoother and dimensional than any boss in the series, and when you've weakened him, he puts on his own suit of armor, complete with a huge version of the same giant red curtain Mickey and Donald use when they switch forms! After three games of seeing the same gag, it's pretty satisfying to see a boss turn the tables like that.

After he's defeated, it's revealed that Pete wants to be a hero, but has always been forced to play the villain in the story! Mickey and Donald forgive him, and King Pete repents his evil ways and becomes a good king. It's a sweet ending to the series, and a nice personality touch for a character who almost never gets them.

The Super Nintendo version of this game was only ever released in Japan. The game was finally released, alongside Magical Quest 1 and 2, on the Game Boy Advance and has a new English translation - although the zoomed in new of the GBA reduces the game's visual splendor. There's also an English fan translation that predates the official release by a few years. It's a bit rougher than the official translation, but still perfectly enjoyable.

There is considerable debate among retro game fans about the merits of Sega's Disney games vs. Capcom's Disney games. Sega's Castle of Illusion is a solid title - World of Illusion is beautiful but perhaps a bit too obviously almost too much for the poor Genesis to handle (claims of blast processing aside, remember that the Genesis is an older piece of hardware).

The gameplay of Magical Quest is a bit loosey-goosey, but in terms of presentation and imagination, the series is leagues ahead.  Magical Quest epitomizes, for me, why the Super Nintendo may just be the best video game machine ever released - gorgeous visuals and music and a very high level of polish just on the brink of when the video game industry was hit with polygonal 3D gaming and almost everything was reset to zero. This trilogy doesn't have the legendary reputation of Capcom's 8-bit Disney games, but taken as a whole, the Magical Quest series is the capstone of the entire Disney / Capcom venture, and that's saying a lot.

Next Week: two surprising 8-bit sequels shake up expectations

Game Rankings So Far