Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King

It’s fascinating to play these games as an adult and also with the benefit of a rewind button. If I can take you back to the early 90s when these games were released, the way games had longevity was through difficult. When arcade games were difficult, it was a financial transaction. You pump in quarters to keep playing. But when home console games were difficult, it’s so that parents wouldn’t feel ripped off while game developers inflicted sadistic gameplay on kids. If you were a tenacious child, then coming home after school every day to see if you could get past the “Cave of Wonders” or “I Can’t Wait to Be King” was how games worked. You would get destroyed again and again with only a limited numbers of lives and continues and checkpoints. The underlying message for kids (if these games have a message): be perfect or die.

Playing them as an adult, it speaks volumes that even with a rewind button to speed things along, these games are still punishingly difficult. Some if it is because of poor design like weak object detection (like getting hit when you weren’t touched by an enemy) or platforming that doesn’t reach the gold standard set by the Mario games. But ultimately, with Aladdin and The Lion King, you have two pretty typical games of the era: they were tie-ins, they were brutally difficult, and, credit where it’s due, they’re beautifully animated for their era. Carrying that Disney license ensured that the games didn’t look bad even if their gameplay felt designed to upset and anger children.

That’s the weirdest thing about the way these games play. As an adult, I would never want my kid to play a game like this. It’s fine for me with the nostalgia and the rewind button and all that. But there’s really nothing rewarding happening here. Sure, the Mario games have their level of difficulty, but what’s always made the Mario games stand apart is that they feel, on some level, fair. Even as a kid, you know that if you missed the jump or got struck by an enemy, it was kind of on you. And especially once you reach Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the games offer ways to be more forgiving without completely nerfing the experience.

Aladdin and especially The Lion King really hate the player. They almost feel like a cruel joke played on every child who loved the movies and then gets introduced to some of the most punishing levels the designers were able to concoct. And again, I get the business decision: Parents are the ones paying for these games and a game that can be beaten in a weekend makes for unhappy parents. But look at the puzzling element added to The Lion King and tell me that’s a game for a child. I’m a grown-ass man and I was repeatedly checking YouTube to figure out how to advance (I had less of a problem with that on Aladdin, although the boss fights still gave me trouble).

The Disney Classic Games collection is a funny little nostalgia box that really leans hard into “nostalgia” because any realistic recollection of these games has to acknowledge their unforgiving difficulty. With the rewind button frequently in use (although it can cause the game to glitch something awful by basically losing control of your character), the games are manageable, but they’d probably only be considered “fun” by masochists.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 videogames

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