It really is incredible just how much Aladdin dominated 1992. The movie is one Disney’s greatest achievements and the subsequent video games were all fantastic. The Genesis version of Aladdin garnered the most attention because of its pedigree. Virgin was an up and coming studio with plenty of talent. With help from the Disney animators and Sega the game was actually completed in an insanely short period. The result was one of the most technically impressive games of that generation. While the gameplay does not completely match its animation the game is still pretty good if a bit frustrating.
That the game turned out so well is almost a miracle given its development cycle. After switching developers mid cycle Sega were left with little time to get the game out at the same time as the home video release. A 3-way deal was struck, with Virgin handling programming, Disney the animation, and Sega the bug testing and marketing. With that in mind it’s amazing that it all came together in less than six months. Not only that, a technique called Digicel was pioneered to transfer the hand drawn artwork directly into the game. This process enabled the amazing animation seen in the game and would be featured in further titles such as the Lion King and the Jungle Book. That Aladdin turned out better than titles with two times its development cycle says a lot about its creators. Oh, and there’s a damn good game in there as well.
You can’t talk about this version of Aladdin without mentioning the animation. We are four generations removed and yet the game is still magical in motion. Every single sprite moves with a level of grace we still don’t see quite as often today. Aladdin has a reaction for every situation and I found myself purposely trying to see what his reaction would be at every turn. The presentation doesn’t stop with its animation. Despite the system’s color limits the game almost seems as though it were ripped straight from the animation cels. There is lavish amount of detail in every environment; I’m running out of ways to praise the visuals. Even though it was released in 1993 Aladdin remains one of the system’s best looking games.
Aladdin is equal parts platformer and action game. Aladdin is equipped with a sword as well as apples for long range attacks. It’s a departure from the movie but does make the game more interesting. The sword has medium range but can also parry attacks. With the right timing you can also reflect projectiles. There are many items to collect; jewels act as currency to buy chances at the bonus game or apples. Extra lives are pretty easy to come by surprisingly, and for a reason I’ll get to.
The game mirrors the plot of the film pretty closely, only dovetailing to expand certain events into full levels. The journey begins in the streets of Aggrabah before spending some time in the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin doesn’t quite make it in time before it collapses but never fear. The Genie takes you through a trippy excursion in his lamp before leaving you in the palace for the final battle. At eleven levels this is a pretty long by platformer standards. It’s an enjoyable ride that captures the high points of the flick but not without some bumps along the way.
This is a slower, more methodical platformer. Not necessarily because it was designed that way but because of its level design. It isn’t always clear what parts of the background are interactive, leading to cheap deaths and backtracking. The collision detection isn’t the greatest either. These are flaws carried over from prior Virgin games, of which Aladdin used the same modified engine. It also isn’t always clear where to go, with far too many blind leaps of faith. These flaws necessitate the slower pace. When everything is working fine the game is absolutely thrilling. But when bad design creeps in it can be frustrating.
Aladdin difficulty is hard to gauge for a few reasons which is surprising considering its target audience. The previously mentioned problems result in cheap hits and death. However health power-ups and bonus round icons are practically everywhere. Extra lives and continues are in ready supply, I imagine as a means to offset the game’s more difficult moments. One decision that I actually applaud is the lack of bosses; the game doesn’t need it to be challenging. There are spikes here and there but most will finish it in an afternoon despite is length.
Aladdin was given first class treatment despite its short development cycle. And yet it still managed to outclass the majority of its platformer contemporaries. It’s not quite the classic I remember but is still a fantastic game overall. Its also one of the best licensed games of all time too in my opinion.