In honor of the new Kingdom Hearts game recently released on PSP, and the upcoming Epic Mickey adventure on Wii, I thought I’d write a blog about my favorite Disney themed video games! So put on your mouse ears and let’s begin!
But first, I’d like to dedicate this blog to a former Disney animator that I had the pleasure of being friends with. His name was William, or Bill “Tex” Henson (not Tex Avery). Tex Henson worked for Disney in the 40’s and did animation for all sorts of shorts. His biggest claim to fame at Disney was that he helped create Chip N Dale, my favorite Disney characters. After that, he went to Famous Studios, hoping to do Popeye cartoons. But since he was typecast as a ‘cute’ animator at Disney, they made him work on Casper the Friendly Ghost instead. He once told me that his favorite job was after that, when he did animation for the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. He also did animation for a lot of commercials as well, including the early Trix Rabbit ones. Unfortunately, he died in 2002 at 78 when a car hit him.
So how did I know this guy? Well, when I was a kid, I thought at one point I would like to be a cartoonist when I grew up. Yes, folks, believe it or not, I can draw a little bit. When I discovered I could write WAY better than I could draw, I decided not to be a cartoonist anymore. But I didn’t know that back in 5th grade. About that time, Tex Henson was teaching a summer class at a community college. I was way too young to take the class, but Tex Henson let me in anyway. We really didn’t do any drawings in the lectures; he mostly just sat there and told us about his life back in the day! I kept in touch with him for a while after the course was over. We would exchange postcards and letters and even see each other at various animation conventions (he and I even went to the very first Project A-Kon anime convention).
When I started high school and college, I didn’t really keep in touch with him that well anymore. I kind of wish I had, though, which is why I make an extra effort to stay in touch with my friends now! Even though I didn’t become a cartoonist, Tex Henson had an impact on my life (not as big as God or my parents and family and friends of course). Before he started a lecture, he’d always say, “Animators are storytellers first, and animators second.” In a way, I feel like I followed a little bit in his teachings since I write a lot now, like a storyteller.
Now, before I start the rest of this blog, I just wanted to say that I’m not a HUGE diehard Disney fan or anything. The company does a lot of stuff I don’t like or agree with. Heck, even Tex Henson himself said that Walt Disney was hard to work with! But I’m in a positive mood today, so I just wanted to focus on the good stuff that I like about Disney.
Mickey’s Space Adventure
One of my first Disney games also had a big impact on my life choices and goals. My first gaming console was actually a PC, an Apple ][+ to be exact. Mickey’s Space Adventure was a PC text adventure for the Apple, but it had some elements of point and click adventures as well. You still typed in text, as computer mice hadn’t been invented yet. But there were graphics and if I remember correctly, word lists that would let you know what you could type in. The game was geared toward younger kids, of course, and since I was in kindergarten, I was at the perfect age for it. In the game, Mickey finds a UFO and helps a space alien collect his special crystals that have been scattered around the solar system. So it was a bit educational, too.
Anyway, Mickey’s Space Adventure was one of the very first games I was able to finish all by myself, with no help from anyone else. I remember the huge sense of accomplishment I got from that to this very day. I think it was that accomplishment that gave me a strong interest in reviewing children’s and family themed video games like I do now at GamingWithChildren.com. I’m a strong believer that kids deserve good games, too, and those games shouldn’t be ignored.
You don’t see too many Disney games in arcades. The arcade TRON game, based on the movie, was a collection of different styles of gameplay. Some shooter levels, a light cycle ‘Snafu’ or ‘Snake’ challenge, and more. I think my favorite was the tank game, because the maze reminded me of Pac-Man. TRON also had a very nifty cabinet, with lots of glowy lights and such, even on the joystick! I’m sure the cabinet attracted many an arcade patron. I never really got into the other, more recent TRON games, but I loved the movie as a kid. So I can’t wait for the new one that comes out this Christmas!
Capcom & Disney
Back in the NES days, one of the big announcements I remember was when Capcom got the license to make Disney games. Well, it seemed like a big deal back then, anyway. But their first game using that license, Mickey Mouscapade, wasn’t even made by Capcom. It was actually developed by Hudson, and you could tell it was a Hudson game, too (the invincibility power up was the Honey fairy from the Adventure Island games, for instance). The game was a 2-D platform action affair where you controlled Mickey with Minnie in tow as they shot stars at baddies. Some were based on other Disney properties, like the brooms from Fantasia, the gator from Peter Pan, and Snow White’s Wicked Queen. It was actually challenging in places, too. Mickey Mousecapade was a decent game, but was way overshadowed and trounced by Capcom’s own later Disney efforts.
Capcom’s first Disney game they made themselves was one of the best NES games I have ever played! It was based on the DuckTales cartoon, which was in turn loosely based on Carl Bark’s Disney comic stories. DuckTales was a very significant cartoon, as I think it helped bring rampant commercialism out of cartoons in the 80’s. Back then, most cartoons were just 30 minute commercials for the toys they were based on (Transformers, GI Joe, Strawberry Shortcake, etc.). By the end of the 80’s, even I was tired of it. So I wasn’t too thrilled at first about DuckTales. I wasn’t planning on watching it, but that Sunday before it premiered, they were going to show a ‘movie’ to promote the upcoming cartoon (it was just a block of five ‘to be continued’ episodes). As luck would have it, I had a really bad fever that Sunday and was stuck in bed, so my mom wheeled the TV into my room so I’d have something to do. So I watched the DuckTales special and LOVED it, which turned me into a regular fan.
Sometime later, Capcom made a NES game based on the cartoon. You played as Scrooge McDuck in a 2-D platformer and collected rare treasures. Uncle Scrooge’s cane became the main gameplay gimmick, as you used it as a pogo stick and to defeat enemies, as well as a golf club for smacking rocks out of the way. In the sequel, you could also use the cane to pull object and hang on it from hooks. DuckTales had some of the best graphics, play control, and music in NES games. I bet as you’re reading this, if you played DuckTales back in the day, the Moon Stage music is running through your head right now! At any rate, DuckTales would probably be on my top ten favorite NES games list.
Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers
Following the success of the DuckTales cartoon, Disney’s next afternoon animation was Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers. My favorite Disney characters teamed up with a new cast to solve crimes and help out animals. I’m not sure if Tex Henson liked the new show or not, but I did have him sign the box to my NES game! For all intents and purposes, DuckTales was a better cartoon. But for some reason, I still enjoyed Rescue Rangers more. It’s cute and good cartoon comfort food. If you have kids who have never seen DuckTales or Rescue Rangers before, I recommend getting the DVDs for them to watch. I bet they’ll be glued to the TV set! And Monterrey Jack rocks!
The game wasn’t quite as good as the NES DuckTales, but it was close. It was a more standard platformer, with not as much exploration elements, and the graphics weren’t quite as good either. But it was a super fun two player co-op game. One played as Chip and the other Dale (I was always Dale). It was great fun throwing crates at enemies…and each other!
Other Capcom Disney NES Gems
DuckTales and Rescue Rangers I actually owned, but I rented a lot of other Capcom Disney games that were certainly memorable. Adventures in the Magic Kingdom had platformer challenges and other mini-games based on attractions at the Disney parks, like Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. I especially liked how you walked around the park like it was a town in an RPG. You could even talk to people and answer Disney trivia!
Capcom continued making games based on Disney Afternoon shows, but they weren’t near as good as DuckTales and Rescue Rangers. TaleSpin was turned into a silly shooter with a weird flipping control mechanic. And Darkwing Duck was just a more constrictive Mega Man. I also played a tiny bit of the Little Mermaid game, and it seemed decent, too.
Not Disney: Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Near the end of the NES life cycle, Capcom made another NES game based on a cartoon, but it wasn’t from Disney. You’d almost be forgiven for making that assumption, though, because it did have the quality of a lot of their Disney titles. Back then, there was an animated feature based on the classic newspaper comic strip Little Nemo. Capcom made a NES game out of it, and it was that game that encouraged me to learn more about the early 1900’s comic. Little Nemo ended up being one of my favorite newspaper comics of all time! Anyone who says Walt Disney is the father of animation is wrong, because Little Nemo creator Winsor McKay and others were doing cartoons long before Disney himself was in diapers! Winsor McKay was WAY ahead of his time, I think. I hope you can take a look at some of his work sometime; it’s very beautiful and artistic.
Anyway, the NES Little Nemo game was mostly based on the new movie, but had some references to the comic, too. Lush graphics, memorable tunes, and unique game play mechanics were all over this game. If Nemo fed candy to certain enemies, he could use their powers. A frog would help him jump high, and a bee would let him fly around, for instance. It was kind of like the suits from Mario 3. Even though it was kind of weird because it looked like you crawled inside their bodies. But that was part of the game’s quirky charm. It was also pretty challenging, especially for a kids’ game. But I managed to beat it back then anyway! Little Nemo: The Dream Master would also definitely be on my top ten best NES games list.
Magical Quest Starring Mickey
Capcom’s quality NES games carried over into the NES era as well. Most notable was Magical Quest Starring Mickey and its sequels, which let you play as Minnie and Donald as well. The third game, which had Donald, was never brought to the US SNES. But when Capcom ported these games to the GBA, the third game finally made it over here. They’re standard 2-D platformers, but feature quality play control, graphics, tunes, and gameplay that Capcom is known for. Mickey and pals can wear certain outfits that give them special abilities, like magician’s clothes that let them shoot magic blasts, or a firefighter suit for spraying water.
By the time the SNES came out, the Disney Afternoon cartoons were getting worse and worse. Goof Troop and Bonkers were total crap, for instance. But Capcom even made good games out of these franchises as well! Goof Troop on the SNES was especially notable, as it played like a two player co-op Zelda game, and was great fun. Capcom didn’t make too many Disney games past the SNES era I don’t think. I remember a Disney Tetris game on the N64, but I never played it. I did see an arcade version of that Disney Tetris game at an arcade in college, once. Wouldn’t it be cool if Capcom was still making Disney games?
Disney Extreme Skate
Later, on the GameCube, I got to review this skateboard game with Disney characters and skate areas based on popular Disney movie worlds, like Toy Story and Lion King. Disney Extreme Skate was also one of the first games I reviewed for the old GamerDad Web site! I’m not a big fan of skateboard games, but after playing this one, I can understand why people like them. Disney Extreme Skate was also made by the same folks who did the original Tony Hawk titles, so you know it was good. I especially enjoyed grinding on the wires in the arcade at Pizza Planet, or sliding down bones in the Lion King’s elephant graveyard. I wish they would make a new Disney Extreme Skate for today’s consoles. There were some other Disney sport games on the GameCube that I never played, but I kind of wish I did.
When Kingdom Hearts was first announced, a game that combined Disney characters and worlds with Square ones almost seems like an April Fools’ joke! But it was a novel idea at the time and ended up being a fun game series, despite its many problems and scary fans. It’s really just a 3-D hack and slash game set in Disney locations. I think the KH team originally worked on Brave Fencer Musashi, a fun and lighthearted PSOne game that I’ve been in the mood to play again for some reason.
Again, the best part of KH games are the Disney worlds you can tromp around in. My favorite ones are in the sequel: the black and white, vintage cartoon Steamboat Willie world, and the TRON world. But my number one favorite world is in both main games: the Winnie the Pooh world! You could only play mini-games here, but hey, I like mini-games! And I also think the Pooh characters are adorable. If I ever had a kid, I would want to decorate his or her nursery in Pooh stuff. I love how in the KH Pooh world, you can’t fight anything at all. Hey, Disney is pretty protective of their number one preschool and baby license, I bet! And seeing KH main character Sora speak softly and gently to Pooh and friends is one of my most memorable gaming scenes. And Sora strangely fits in the Pooh world well, almost like he’s an older, Japanese cousin of Christopher Robin or something!
Kingdom Hearts games aren’t perfect, though, and have all sorts of problems of their own. Bad camera angles, floaty controls, repetitive gameplay, and sparse environments, for instance. I also couldn’t care less for most of the Square cast, except for maybe Setzer from FF6 and Vivi from FF9 in the sequel, as they’re from some of my favorite Final Fantasy games. Honestly I’d rather them take out all the Square and anime stuff and let me just play as Mickey. And the overall storyline is total crap, and Organization XIII was one of the worst things they ever put in the KH games. But honestly I don’t really care about the storyline. I just want to tromp around Disney worlds and smack Heartless around with giant house keys.
I recently got Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep for PSP and I have to say it’s definitely the best handheld KH game. It’s kind of a prequel to the series, and you can play as three Keyblade wielders: a dumb kid who looks like Roxas, an older boring guy, and a purdy young lady with neat blue hair. I bet you can guess who I picked first. Gameplay-wise, KH on PSP is tops. I love how you can arrange magic and skills in a ‘deck’ and combine them to make more powerful skills and abilities you can level up and customize. You can really tailor your character to your liking in this way.
Of course, Birth By Sleep has a lot of the problems other KH games have. I’m also disappointed there’s no Winnie the Pooh world. Although one of the mini-games is a board game like Kingdom Hearts Monopoly, and one of the boards IS based on Pooh, so I guess that’ll have to do. There is a nifty multiplayer option where you and another KH PSP player can battle, race, and play the board game together. And at least the Disney Town world has mini-games like the Pooh worlds did. Hopefully in the next KH game, they can have worlds based on Pooh, DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, Toy Story, and Fantasia!
This Wii game comes out at the end of November. A lot of people have high expectations for it. But after playing it at PAX, it looks like just another 3-D platformer to me. BUT, that’s not a bad thing. 3-D platformers aren’t as rampant as they once were, so I think it’ll be nice to play a colorful 3-D romp again. Epic Mickey also has a lot of neat gameplay ideas and I can’t wait to see what forgotten Disney classics get unearthed. And seeing Mickey as a scrappy hero isn’t too unusual, if you’ve seen the old cartoons and comics. So I’m still going to look forward to it. How about you?
Disney Games I Missed:
Now, there are a TON of Disney games I didn’t play. Most I have no interest in, like the ones based on properties like Hannah Montana and such. But there are a few Disney games that I never got around to playing, bur really wanted to. So here’s a few of those:
Mickey Mania was a 16-bit, non-Capcom 2-D platformer starring Mickey as he ran through worlds based on his classic cartoons. I only played the first level based on Steamboat Willie, but it was neat how the game went from black and white to color.
Since I had a SNES instead of a Sega Genesis, there were a lot of Disney games I missed out on with that console. I especially would’ve loved to play Castle of Illusion and QuackShot, because they looked really good. I hear there was also a Fantasia game on the Genesis. Is that true?
There was also Mickey game on the GameCube that I can’t remember the name of. It looked like a point and click adventure and I think Capcom made it! I always wanted to play it, but I never found it at a low enough price point.
Finally, a couple of racing games. Mickey’s Speedway USA on the N64 was made by Rare, and they did a pretty good job with Diddy Kong Racing, so I wanted to try it but never got around to it. On the Dreamcast, I seem to remember a racing game set in the Magic Kingdom that I never got to play, which is surprising since I think it starred Chip N Dale, so you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to play it! But you can’t play all the games out there, I guess!
Well that’s all the favorite Disney games I can think of. Now it’s your turn to share your opinions! Answer these questions in the comments section, please!
Who are your favorite Disney characters?
(Mine are Chip N Dale, Scrooge McDuck, and the Pooh cast)
What are your favorite Disney animated movies?
(Mine are Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, and the Pixar stuff, especially Up and Finding Nemo. I also have a soft spot for The Lion King, as that was brother Jeff’s first movie to see in theaters.)
If you’ve been to a Disney park, what were your favorite rides?
(I like Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. I used to like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but they replaced it with a Winnie the Pooh one, so I wasn’t too mad about that since it’s a cute ride, too.)
What are your favorite Kingdom Hearts worlds?
(Mine are Winnie the Pooh, Steamboat Willie, and the TRON worlds)
If you could be in any video game world, Disney or not, what would you be in?
(I would like to tromp around the 3-D museums in the PSOne Namco Museum games)
And finally, what are YOUR favorite Disney video games?
(If you’ve forgotten mine, go back up and read this blog again, you dolt!)
M-I-C, See ya real soon! K-E-Y, Why? Because you and I probably won’t have anything better to do! Later! –Cary