GameSpite Journal 12: Disney’s Aladdin

Licensed games carry a number of stigmas, but sometimes a title rises above all that to truly excel. For a good number of years, Disney-licensed games stood firmly in this camp, due in large part to Capcom’s dedication to putting in effort and refined gameplay. As time wore on, however, titles like Tail Spin and Goof Troop began to tarnish this reputation. With the release of Disney’s Aladdin, Virgin wrestled the crown away from Capcom. While the latter’s version did return to form with a solid, nuanced platformer, the Genesis version truly captured the look and feel of the motion picture on which it was based and evolved Virgin’s platforming engine to boot.

Dave Perry continued to tweak his Global Gladiators engine during the development of Cool Spot, and though the platforming grew tighter and the stages more varied, he knew it still needed something. You couldn’t toss a license-appropriate but non-violent projectile in the early ’90s without hitting 10 or so decent platforming engines. So Virgin’s brain trust met to find the x-factor Perry needed. They found it in Disney’s upcoming animated film, Aladdin; not so much the license as the film itself. The new game would go beyond just populating its stages with popular characters—said characters would perfectly resemble their movie counterparts.

Virgin worked with Sega and Disney to develop the Digicel process, allowing actual animation cels to be converted into sprites for use in-game. Sprite animation already worked like an extremely limited version of the traditional hand-drawn method, so with a little out of the box thinking, Aladdin’s developers merged the two—where the earlier Global Gladiators chose to ignore its source material almost entirely, Aladdin immersed the player like never before. Whether re-enacting Aladdin’s exciting flight through Agrabah’s streets, or grabbing items from the questionable street vendor, this Genesis gem transported users to a faraway place where the caravan camels roam.

At a brass-tack level, Aladdin was merely an average licensed title exhibiting the paint-by-numbers quality so endemic of the genre. Aladdin attacked with a SCIMITAR or by throwing APPLES, triggering LAMP checkpoints that would display a GENIE when activated. However, the Disney film happened to look quite striking, with bold colors and a kinetic visual style. By mirroring this in-game, Perry and crew tapped into the heart of the license. This tactic proved successful, and at last Virgin had a hit on its hands. Digicel became an integral part of Dave Perry’s engine, and he continued to ape it for Disney licenses (Jungle Book, Lion King) as well as original properties (Earthworm Jim) for the duration of the 16-bit generation.

Article by Tomm Hulett

GameSpite Journal 12: Disney’s Aladdin

16 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Disney’s Aladdin

  1. Those are pics from the SNES version, by the way.

    Anyway, I always liked both games, for completely different reasons. I think I preferred the SNES version slightly more, as I’ve always loved Prince of Persia-styled mechanics, but the Genesis version was buttery smooth, and great fun as well.

  2. I figured someone would have beaten me to the “screenshots are from the SNES version” comment.

    That being said, I agree with Sarge. While both games are fun, I enjoyed Capcom’s take on the SNES a little more.

  3. The Game Gear version of Aladdin btw is such an underappreciated gem, it looks 16bit even, with amazing colors, details, animation and paralax scrolling. That being said, Dave Perry imho was one of the best game designers of that era, the post PSX world was not kind to him, but Wild 9 was a brilliant if misunderstood game. As for EWJ, that game is in so need of a proper revival. Since I am meandering here, anyone remember Skullmonkeys? Another fun an irreverant game based on Doug TenAppel’s quirky designs. Last but not least I love the fact that the Genesis and SNES versions of Aladdin were so different, that’s what I sorely miss about that era, each system had a unique flavor.

  4. *Insert generic comment about screenshots being SNES Aladdin and not Genesis Aladdin*

    Anyway, while much of the Genesis library is still a mystery to me due to not owning one of my own back in the day, I did get to spend quality time with the Genesis Aladdin. My general opinion of the game is that it looks really nice, but the levels can be too big and mazelike and full of moments where you can lose a lot of progress with a mistimed jump and levels just feel like they end at random.

    In many ways, it’s a game that’s much more fun to watch than actually play.

  5. I don’t really like platformers where the level is a large square and you loop through it up and down, like in most european platformers or early levels of Earthworm Jim. I prefere tighter levels with more structure. Just because you can make a level 10 screens high doesn’t mean you should, in my opinion. The Genesis Aladdin looked great, but I always felt like it was too floaty and the levels meandering. Maybe all the tight Capcom games just spoiled me.

    This feel reminds me of the difference between Ninja Turtles arcade vs Final Fight. In Ninja Turtles it feels like you are waving paper weapons at the enemies while their health goes down, but in Final Fight when you connect the impact can almost be felt.

  6. Always preferred Lion King to this game, and that has nothing to do with the fact that I could say the same for the movies.

  7. I appreciate the graphical achievement of the Genesis game, but the SNES version is the better platformer. And as Earthworm Jim showed, the Digicel process looks great on the SNES, which has a much better color palette than the Genesis.

    However, it’s still amazing the kind of graphics they were able to get out of the Genesis.

  8. I think it’s very cool and somewhat unique that we have two similar but distinct platformers based on the same license, both of which are great. Also, Goof Troop is quite a good game, does it have a reputation of being bad or something? Tail Spin (all versions) definitely was a stinker though.

  9. I had one (sorta) friend who had a Sega Genesis while I was growing up, and he had three games: Sonic 2, Mortal Kombat, and Aladdin. I think I have more memories of Aladdin than either other game…

  10. @jparish: Hey, you got one of ’em right in the book. That counts for something!

    As for Goof Troop, it was pretty good. TaleSpin, though, wasn’t. The best of those versions was the NES game, which isn’t saying a whole lot.

  11. “Chicago Frank”, I absolutely agree with you: The 8-Bit Sega-“Aladdin” is amazing. And not only on a technical/ artistical level but also in how close the gameplay is to the actual plot of the movie. I especially love how the designers resisted the temptation to give the titular hero a sword – except for the very last boss fight.

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