Epic Mickey – Wii

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A gremlin serves as Mickey’s Navi. Gremlins spend the bulk of the game repairing busted machinery, which either indicates the Wasteland is so damaged that they can only repair things, or that Disney has no idea of what a gremlin does.

Mickey Mouse stands as one of the most recognizable icons of all time. Lately, the little black-faced rodent has been eclipsed by Mario, proving that Americans hate anything more complex than a plate of spaghetti and a stupid accent. Even so, Mickey has still won votes in every presidential elections since 1928. In 2008, he beat Santa Claus, Joe the Plumber, and Jesus, and with 11 votes nationwide, he clearly has twice as many supporters as Jill Stein. Perhaps that’s simply America’s attempt at saying they want a leader who’s animated, unlike so many half-dead politicians (and, you know…Donald Trump), but if Mickey has so much charisma that America would follow an animal who literally can’t feed himself or get out of bed without a team of at least 20 people (You know…like Donald Trump), then it’s a wonder that Disney holds the rights to such a famous piece of intellectual property and does nothing more with it than pass out cheap felt-and-plastic hats to kids who coat them with a gallon of saliva and drop them behind the couch as soon as they get home. Other than the short that ran before Frozen, I can’t remember a single Mickey movie or cartoon since The Prince and the Pauper in 1990, and his animated TV appearances reduce him to the role of an MC. However, Disney still allows him to come out of his retirement home every now and then to run around, wreaking havoc in the occasional video game, of all things. And nine times out of ten, as is the case with Mickey Mousecapade, Mickey Mania, Kingdom Hearts, and now Epic Mickey, the theme of that game is remembering all the classic characters Disney has used up and left by the wayside like a futon in front of a frat house.

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A home for forgotten characters, unless Disney really wants to use one that people remember.

Kingdom Hearts, turned the lovable trickster scamp into a Norse God, a mighty warrior-king, vanquishing enemies with a legendary sword, clad in his armor of…bright red hot pants. (Because nothing says, “Where dreams come true,” like a story about hearts and souls being torn from a person’s spirit.) Epic Mickey follows that disturbingly dark tone, sending the titular hero into The Wasteland, a gloomy, twisted model of Disney’s theme park built by Yen Sid (Yes…the sorcerer’s name is officially Yen Sid. Because nothing says “Magic Kingdom” like following the naming conventions of the Satanic Church.) to house all of the characters lost or forgotten over the years,

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Poor Goldfinger…he just wanted to be friends with her.

So short version, Mickey spills a jar of paint thinner on the model, which unleashes the Shadow Blot monster. We’re supposed to view this symbolically as Mickey eclipsing all the other characters and literally as the sin he must atone for. However, I can only imagine Yen Sid was planning some Old Testament style rampage, keeping that thing right next to the Wasteland. Mickey gets sucked into the model and absorbs some of the Blot’s aspects, which apparently means he gets a magical paintbrush that shoots out both paint and thinner and lets him hose down the environment like a porn star. Disney apparently decided that Mickey was wasting his potential to be a dick to people, and thought he could use a moral choice at the very least. You have the option to solve most puzzles by either obliterating part of the landscape with thinner or by repairing it with paint. Same option for enemies. You can convert them by slathering them in paint, at which point they swarm the unconverted and beat them with copies of The Watchtower until Mickey can’t get a clear shot even if the Wii Mote didn’t interpret cross hairs over the enemy as the desire to make Mickey ejaculate paint all over his shoes. Or you could straight-up murder them and get the health items and paint/thinner refills they drop. The only difficult thing about that decision is whether or not you want to see Mickey Mouse acting like Dexter. But that’s not to say the game is simplistic. You get to make a whole bunch of moral choices, like whether or not to find the scattered limbs of your animatronic friends and put them back together. Or the moral choice to help or deny the human pirate in his quest to woo the cow of his dreams. Congratulations on the bestiality quest, Disney. (Although it isn’t the first time you’ve swung that way…)

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The Beast’s orgasm face.

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Now you don’t have to walk under such a bland scenery element.

Still, the bulk of your time will be spent spraying your various goos all over the landscape, trying to find the occasional interactive spot. Other than that, any potentially clever gameplay that let’s the player express themselves artistically is pretty much just a way to spend the bulk of the 10-hour game wasting time changing colors from bright to dark. And even though the paintbrush does amount to nothing more than a glorified paintball gun, the enemies seem like a formality more than anything else, as they appear only occasionally and fight back with all the vigor of a severely depressed lemming. The game play isn’t as inspired as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t suck…at least not until the final stretch, when it shifts from “exploring the wasteland and taking on quests” to “avoiding holes like you’re jumping over a gonorrhea clinic.” My old nemesis. Designers who completely missed the point of Mario. These people think, “I like coffee! I’ll boil it down until it’s pure, black sludge, and then it will be awesome!” These are the people who read Harry Potter and then write their own 1000-page novel on quidditch.

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Mickey pulling what I call “Judge Doom’s Dip” on a monster that just wanted to be his friend.

It’s not a terrible game, even if it doesn’t know where to end. If it does a saving grace, it’s that it’s actually pretty interesting to view Disney through a darker lens (although maybe not literally. Walking out onto dark sections of floor is more dangerous than Russian roulette.). And while a modicum of interpretation can usually reveal some dark, unintended message behind kids’ stories, Disney actually thought this out, decided “We want to show the misery our beloved mascot inflicted on all these characters by eclipsing them with his fame,” and then proceeded to buy the rights to Oswald the Rabbit, Walt’s very first character, for the express purpose of having him rule over the Wasteland, harboring a resentment toward the mouse. Because nothing says, “The Happiest Place on Earth” like a 90-year grudge held by a cartoon rabbit.

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Mickey Mania – SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD

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Mickey Mania is described in the DSMV as the compulsive need to encourage Disney to make crap by handing them your money. Or in George Lucas’ case, Star Wars.

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…This is so disturbing, even Mickey’s life meter is trying to hitch a ride out of town.

My job here isn’t an easy one. As I don’t expect you all rush to ebay (as much as one can “rush” to a website) to find copies of these games, and that you’re not seriously mulling over whether or not to play these and need an expert’s opinion to tip you over the edge one way or the other, the only  possible reason you’d read this blog is that I make the posts mildly entertaining. Even considering I’ve dropped the challenge where I don’t use any form of the verb “to be” (go back and check entries from my first two years of posting), I have to find just the right games to make fun of. If a game is too good, it may be hard to find flaws in it, but if it’s too bad, I have to worry about properly expressing the comedic aspects, which aren’t as easy as just showing where a game misses the point worse than Burger King’s attempt at green ketchup (not to mention my concern with too many manatee jokes). But then I find those Goldilocks games, the “just right” combination  of playable and pointless that makes them stringently bland…and I have to find a way to make them at least interesting enough to talk about.  Enter Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse, a perfect blend of half-assed and carefully-developed, released to commemorate a birthday that no one cared about by revisiting short films that no one had seen.

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…I don’t think Disney has ever done anything as disturbing as this.

People love celebrating milestones, but when they do, they usually choose nice round numbers: 10 years, 25 years, 50, 75 and 100 all make the cut. But for whatever reason, Disney thought Mickey’s 65th birthday was a big deal. I wonder if most beloved cartoon characters fade into obscurity around their 63rd or 64th year (Poor Jeoffrey, the Peccary). When Disney came up with the idea of commemorating their contribution to the order of rodentia with a video game, they only had six months to hit their deadline. Fortunately, they decided to take a little more time to make the game playable, but not enough to actually give it anything unique or innovative. They thought the game would be carried by having actual Disney animators! work on the design, missing the point of a game in that special way that my mother misses the point when she asks why I still play Super Nintendo games when technology has improved so far over the last twenty years, then goes to the closet to pull out Scrabble and Monopoly.

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Mickey Kong

So Mickey’s 66th birthday present plays as an okay platformer, if not a consistent one. In general, Mickey jumps through levels avoiding enemies, most of which he can defeat by jumping on their heads. He also collects marbles, which he can throw at enemies. Beyond that, each stage seems to have been put together by designers taken from different parts of the Small World, selected in the manner of 18th century slave ships, where they are chained to their work with no common language to talk to the designer next to them. Three of the levels have bosses–although apparently in non-North American releases, more stages have these. Most stages allow use of marbles, but Mickey loses them every so often (much like the designers). Almost all the stages scroll from the side, but one rotates around a tower while another features Mickey charging straight at the player like an angry moose (as he is, in turn, chased by an angry moose). Mickey apparently is looking for various avatars of himself in some weird, meta-identity crisis, but a few of these avatars make no appearance within the stages themselves.

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Why does this look obscene?

Probably the worst oversight of the design, though, is that they based each of the six stages (seven for non-SNES releases) on classic Mickey cartoons except for one on classic Mickey cartoons that pre-date 1950. Only The Prince and the Pauper stage was based off a cartoon in players’ living memories; the rest are even older than my father. This wouldn’t be such an issue today, but they weren’t commonly played cartoons, and Disney had the audacity to release this game almost a decade before the invention of youtube, so none of these levels had any meaning for me.

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Rather than walking on the ground, you can walk on a barrel.

But they were designed beautifully. The game is nice to look at and puts in key details that–unbeknownst to players–come straight out the games. The Steamboat Willie stage even includes a gradual shift from monochrome to color (A curious choice, to say the least, since only the final stage is based off a cartoon animated in color. Perhaps they just wanted to show up The Wizard of Oz. Take that, filmmakers from 60 years ago!). The game is pleasant to look at and not too difficult, so you can get through most of it in a single sitting, even if it has all the replay value of a chicken sandwich. And the inconsistencies actually make it interesting, as you’re not stuck simply jumping on heads for two hours like a cute, child-friendly sadistic serial killer.

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Congratulations on giving us money for this game you finished in an hour! Now give us more money!

Duck Tales: Remastered – PS3

Because they couldn't make Mighty Ducks jokes in the 1980s.

Because they couldn’t make Mighty Ducks jokes in the 1980s.

I finally got around to playing the Duck Tales: Remastered edition that I first heard about last year. Before I start, I should explain that I approach games like these very carefully, like opening a can of root beer you found on the floor of your car; you can open it if you want, and you may even enjoy it, but you have a better than average chance of something exploding in your face resulting in a mess that leaves you with a sense of utter disappointment. Duck Tales has two problems in this department. For starters, Disney made it to cash in on the popularity of their cartoon–yes, people still watched the show when this game came out–and game adaptations of movies or tv (much like movie or tv adaptations of games) tend to maximize their entertainment potential when buried deep within the earth (I mean that seriously…look up the Atari ET Game Burial). Fortunately, we dodged that bullet back in 1990, when the game surpassed expectations.

Still, the PS3 edition still does something that makes me cringe whenever I hear about it. If you remember the year or two following the release of the PS1, one of the big game publishing trends liked to re-release old Atari or arcade port compilations, usually with only one or two games you feel like playing until you actually buy the game and play them, tossing the disc aside like a torn Kleenex rag. In a way, they did resemble the use of Kleenex, though, since you only pull them out momentarily to interrupt what you really want to do with your time. Yes, I know it sounds weird to devote my time to praising the value of old games, but re-releasing them on high-end consoles just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine having the power to render images of 3-dimensional polygons on a 32-bit, CD-based system, and trying to sell the technology with Pac Man. It wastes the capabilities of the console, and let’s face it; you could take a massive dose of Ritalin and get bored with Pac Man after five minutes.

One small step for a duck; one giant leap for a duck with a pogo-stick cane.

One small step for a duck; one giant leap for a duck with a pogo-stick cane.

But those collections merely port the games, doing nothing to touch them up visually or to add worthwhile aspects to game play. How does an NES re-make stand up on a console 4 generations after its debut? Not bad, it turns out. The game starts off a little confusing, opening with the original 8-bit midi rendition of the Duck Tales theme used for the NES release. I feel that sends a mixed message–do they want a nostalgic game, in which case why change anything, or will we see how the PS3 can revitalize an old favorite, in which case, why not update the midi? A trivial point, I know, but not half as trivial as my next complaint; why do we always have to push the start button to load opening menus? Doesn’t that just add useless coding to the game?

I’ll stop. I swear. Anyway, the game actually works well. They’ve flushed out the story from the NES edition by, well, adding a story. Someone busts the Beagle Boys out of prison, and of course they flock to the one spot in town where they can reliably find a pile of three cubic acres of cash. Scrooge fights his way into his own money bin, fending off the Beagle Boys who have appropriated his Rube Goldberg Brand security system, but finds Big Time Beagle more interested in Scrooge’s new painting than the vault. After delivering a brutal thrashing–as we could only expect would come from a sixty-year old 1%-er who wears a waistcoat, spats, and top hat sporting a cane–he discovers a treasure map inside the picture, leading him to five of his characteristic adventures across the globe. And the moon. Cut scenes added to the individual levels, however, suggest something sneaky afoot.

In case you hadn't yet figured out that jumping on the monster's head wouldn't work.

In case you hadn’t yet figured out that jumping on the monster’s head wouldn’t work.

I really can’t say too much against this game–which actually makes it a bad choice to write about on a humor blog. The story they built up around the pre-existing framework actually does what every movie or tv game should strive to do; re-create the feeling of the TV show in an environment immersive to the player. I sincerely have to commend the writers, who captured characterization perfectly, creating conflicts and scenarios that blend in seamlessly from those you’d see in the television series. Most episodes had some character basis for Scrooge’s shenanigans; he’d feel old, so he’d hunt for the fountain of youth, or Webby would rue her life as a little girl, so she’d drink from a magic spring that would make her the size of Queen Kong. This game doesn’t have that; they focus entirely on the adventure. Also, they missed the perfect chance for a Duck-pun in naming the boss of the game “Count Dracula Duck” instead of “Count Drake-ula” or “Count Duckula” (but that one may have had legal ramifications). Otherwise, I can’t complain.

The game features voice acting by as many of the original actors that Disney could get a pulse from. The ironically named Alan Young–also famous for playing Wilbur on Mr. Ed, and appearing in “The Time Machine”–nails the high spirit and energy of Scrooge McDuck. Magica deSpell once again channels Natasha Fatale, voiced by the immortal June Foray–97 years old, we can only hope she takes good care of herself so that she has another 97 years left to voice such beloved characters. Frank “Fred From Scooby Doo” Welker provides the voice of the Beagle Boys, and Russi Taylor and Terence McGovern also reprise their roles. Unfortunately, some actors couldn’t make it on account of well…remember that pulse thing I told you about? I only put about 50% joke into that. Brian George, though, fills in a very close match for Flintheart Glomgold, and Chris Edgerly passes for Gyro Gearloose. They didn’t seem to put in a lot of effort for a replacement Fenton Crackshell. Instead of Hamilton Camp, they must have gone with “Some guy they found in the break room.”

Game play loosely resembles the original, but each level has a new layout, and rather than the dash-straight-for-the-end strategy from the NES version, they each have their own objectives that encourage exploration through the entire stage. The bosses come back with a vengeance, adding new attack patterns, making them much more challenging than your average koopa troopa. Also, the game includes a tutorial level–for those of you too inept to figure out a game that uses the D-pad and two buttons–and a new final stage. They get rid of all backtracking through the Transylvania level, which didn’t make a duck load of sense in the first place, so the game feels like an improvement. The game’s ended expands greatly from the brief newspaper article of the NES version showing you your score. Instead, the story concludes, the game flashes shots of its concept art, and you get to sit back and enjoy a list of credits so detailed that you learn the names of everyone from the executive producer to the the part-time janitorial staff for the European P.R. department.

Scrooge's office building, the money bin. I hear the employees fill the suggestion box with requests for stairs.

Scrooge’s office building, the money bin. I hear the employees fill the suggestion box with requests for stairs.

The gems represented one of the biggest frustrations from the NES version; no matter how much you picked up, you didn’t actually get any richer. You couldn’t trade Scrooge’s fortune for the cost of an SNeS. In the PS3 version, however…you still can’t. But the money goes toward unlockable concept art in an in-game gallery. And when you’ve unlocked all the pictures, the money goes toward filling the money bin, which you can dive into and swim through between levels, an activity that will keep you amused for at least the amount of time it takes you to climb back out of Scrooge’s stash. You might even swim a few laps back and forth before your mind drifts off to thoughts of Pac Man.

If you thought the water pressure in your swimming pool would crush your ears, try diving to the bottom of this sucker.

If you thought the water pressure in your swimming pool would crush your ears, try diving to the bottom of this sucker.

I didn’t cover the game until now because of the price. I liked the NES version and wanted to play the Remastered edition, but I didn’t know whether the $20 for the disc (or the $16 for those of you who don’t feel compelled to buy a hard copy). I still don’t know if the few hours of play time justified the cost, but I feel like it offers enough reason to replay the game (build up your cash pile) that I don’t mind the cost, and I figure when the NES version came out, I probably paid at least $50.

Kingdom Hearts II – PS2

Mickey Mouse: Bad Ass Warrior King

Mickey Mouse: Bad Ass Warrior King

The keen reader may notice by now that I did not begin my entry today with a twenty-page instructional guide on the cleaning, gutting, and harvesting of sperm whales. Odd as that may seem, I have a very solid justification for that decision; nobody wants to read boring irrelevant shit just to get to the interesting part of the article. Likewise, my primary criticism of Kingdom Hearts II stems from that same philosophy. Normally in a game that involved a substantial amount of story, I’d begin by describing a brief summary of the most relevant points of the plot. However, this game doesn’t really have any. The overarching plot once again focuses on Sora. Once again, the primary conflict involves the race of Heartless swarming through the ragtag amalgamation of worlds that any other game would have the decency to call a galaxy. Square-Disney introduces a mechanic in which a strong-willed person who becomes a Heartless actually separates into a Heartless and a “Nobody,” which as you can surmise from the name, also has no heart. The strongest of the Nobodies have formed an organization to protest that they have no right to exist, and Sora must stop them (yeah, I’ll get to that later). So slide your disc into your PS2, select the “New Game” option, and then prepare yourself for the non-stop thrill ride of watching some other kid spend his last week of summer vacation in the most average, mundane way possible…for three solid hours!

Hot tuna frittata?

Hot tuna frittata?

While I feel Kingdom Hearts II generally improves upon its predecessor, even in the area of storyline, the game needed plenty of editing. While the character Roxas needs an introduction, that introduction does not need to occupy the first three hours (two if you know the secret) of the game, and they definitely could have set either a faster pace or a less mundane story arc for us to follow. No one wants to whack a ball for a crowd endlessly in order to earn pennies toward a train ticket so Roxas can ride to the beach with his friends (which the game never bothers to tell you that you don’t actually need to do: your friends will make up the difference). See, unfortunately, once you pass that part, the game paces itself quite nicely, and since the first game appealed more to Final Fantasy fans more Disney, they instituted a darker, more adult storyline. However, in order to get that far, you almost need to have a fetish for the Lion King in order to summon up the patience to slog through this pointless hazing in order to get to the actual game.

And you'll stay there until you finish them all, young man!

And you’ll stay there until you finish them all, young man!

The game itself plays quite nicely. They sped up the irritating gummi ship sections and got rid of the gummi ship builder from the first game that worked with the learning curve and intuitiveness of ancient Sumerian cuneiform. The different worlds feel larger and more fun to go through, and you visit most of them twice for shorter episodes. This game pretty much only suffers from the writing skills of a burgeoning romance novelist who recently suffered a series of strokes rendering the language portion of their brain as useful as a lump of mashed potatoes. I loved the moment when Mickey showed up like Yoda and went all epic-warrior-king on the heartless, but while the darker story makes it better than the original, their tolerance for “dark” ends with well-tanned guys with beards. Don’t believe me; try to find a copy of “Song of the South” on DVD.

Already a short game to begin with, they could have shaved probably 40 minutes off the total play time if they hadn’t insisted on every single character chiming in at least once with a chorus that names the protagonists. “Sora. Donald. Goofy.” Because the player might forget, and the game can’t keep our interest in any better way than by constantly reminding us of this, seemingly to the exclusion of actually giving names to the members of Organization XIII. I understand that the Tron world has to sound computer-y, but I feel someone at some point during the editing process should have caught the potential double entendre in Tron repeatedly talking about his many “user friends.” And ending each episode with “we did it,” “way to go,” or just a raucous chorus of laughter from a gathering of characters reminded me of the cliches that resonate through the creative writing class assignments of the most inept writers our language has to offer.

They didn’t get rid of the Winnie the Pooh world, but they made it more tolerable by comparison to the Little Mermaid level. Rather than swimming through the sea fighting Heartless, they turned it into a music/rhythm game. Still, that could work, right? Alan Menken’s genius score for the film certainly…what, now? They introduce original songs? Songs that first-semester musical composition students use for toilet paper. Songs that challenge me to find as many interesting ways as possible to say “bad writer” in one entry. You get to do “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea,” but they’ve cut and hacked them like a drunken lumberjack so they don’t sound good anymore. They even marvelously missed the point of rhythm games, as the triggers don’t line up with any discernible beat in the music.

The game gives Sora new duds for each world. This may not sell the game for them.

The game gives Sora new duds for each world. This may not sell the game for them.

The first game ran with the idea that Sora couldn’t “meddle” with the natural course of events in any world, and merely had to get in, lock the keyhole, and get out. Kingdom Hearts II on the other hand has an ankle-deep puddle from trying to flush that notion down the drain as fast as possible. Sora deposes Scar, bargains with Hades for the fates of the dead, single-handedly rescues China from the Mongol hoards, and deletes both Commander Sark and the Master Control Program. Near the end, Maleficent appears, willing to fight off a swarm of heartless and allow Sora to go on to defeat the final boss (presumably for her), and when Sora protests, Mickey says, “They’re doing what their hearts command. We can’t interfere.” Unless, of course, they do something antagonistic, in which case they can interfere liberally. The final boss has his own heart’s command (never mind that he allegedly has no heart) and Mickey and Sora fully intend to interfere with him. And that raises another issue: The Organization of nobodies, according to the exposition, has no right to exist. They have no hearts and no recognition as people, and only want the same shot at life that everyone else has. In order to accomplish this, they need to destroy the Heartless. But the game tells us to fight them, so we must stop their, uh…evil?

In case pressing X to attack strains your efforts, you also have the option of pressing triangle

In case pressing X to attack strains your efforts, you also have the option of pressing triangle

Munny has as much value in this game as in the last: absolutely none whatsoever. The synthesis requires so many rare items that trying to level up your synthesis moogle garners the same wasted-time feeling as the game’s prologue. In a miserably failed attempt to make the menus easier to navigate, they’ve added “reaction commands,” triggered at special moments with the triangle button. While they look impressive in battle, they pretty much amount to just a fancy name for quick-time events, or in the events that occur outside of battle, slow-time. (I can’t tell you the hours of enjoyment I get from, instead of talking to an NPC, “approaching” or “persuading” them with the not-necessarily-timely use of a single button press.)

Magic has less relevancy than before, and I got to the end of the game before I realized I had never bothered to see what “magnet” magic did. Summon spells have a little more application than before, but still require navigation of convoluted menus in real-time, so Sora’s best option usually involves mashing the attack button and maybe hoping for a reaction command. They’ve added a “drive” feature, which allows Sora to briefly change form into…well, mostly himself, but usually much better at bashing enemies with his key club…I mean, “blade.” However, this relies on using Donald and Goofy’s power to make the transformation, and the game likes to remove them from your party on any pretense, making one of the most useful and interesting additions to the game completely inaccessible half the time.

It doesn't take much effort to see through Disney's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of a non-animated feature.

It doesn’t take much effort to see through Disney’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of a non-animated feature.

But keep in mind that I focus on the negative because it makes more interesting reviews. I actually do like this game, and quite a bit. It seems geared more toward the Final Fantasy crowd, as I mentioned, which means you can find easter eggs, like naming all the regular nobodies after Final Fantasy III/V/Tactics job classes (although the fact that they can make the nobody dancer grab me, flip me around, bash my head, and toss me halfway across the battlefield, but the FF Dancer class usually trips over their own feet so often for the most mediocre effects that I won’t use it even as a challenge kind of pisses me off) I like the darker tone and the faster pace, watching Riku go through the mother of all awkward adolescent body changes, and having Jack Sparrow as a playable character. The story, while not well-written–the Disney movie worlds all have some lame lesson about hearts and no connection with the plot of the Organization–feels complete enough that I don’t really feel they need to make a Kingdom Hearts III (especially as they won’t release it for anything except the PS4). And let’s not forget that no RPG would feel right without a gigantic final boss monster and a fight on a field with no visible ground.

Mickey Mousecapade – NES

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Each Mickey Mousecapade cartridge contains a hidden Mickey soldered onto the circuit board, so kids, remember that after you spend the money to obtain this increasingly rare artifact from game history, you should immediately crack it open with your dad’s hammer (not without adult supervision) so you can behold the awesome glory of a circle intersecting two slightly smaller circles. Interesting bit of trivia, yes, but I don’t know if it amazes me more that Disney, Capcom, and/or Hudsonsoft thought they should put it there, or that someone actually found it. For the record, if you couldn’t detect the sarcasm in my first sentence and actually took that suggestion to heart…then go on eBay right now, buy a copy of “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” and send it to me via USPS Priority Mail. After that, I can send you my wish list…I’ve wanted a powerful telescope for a while…But if you didn’t fling the cartridge to the ground and stomp on it like a tarantula you suddenly discovered climbing up your arm, try putting it in your NES and playing it.

RetroArch-0611-011547After playing through the Kingdom Hearts games and thinking, “What a bizarre, but novel idea,” it occurred to me that Disney had released video games containing nonsensical assortments of intellectual property since at least the 1980s. Unlike the Square-Enix designed plot of Kingdom Hearts in which Maleficent abducts Alice, then later uses a host of Disney villains, including Pete as a recurring mini boss, to foil the plans of the team of Disney heroes, Mickey Mousecapade features a team of Disney heroes, fighting their way through a gauntlet of Disney villains, including the recurring mini boss Pete, to defeat Maleficent in order to rescue the captive Alice. (What a novel idea!) I gather they intended for the games characters to surprise English-speaking players as the instruction manual only says Mickey needs to rescue “a friend,” and the English release replaces many Alice in Wonderland themed bosses and enemies with an appetizer sampler of characters.

Porcine Kamikaze belong to the same genus as the lemming.

Porcine Kamikaze belong to the same genus as the lemming.

The game has little consistency between its five stages, which may actually work in its favor, varying the game play just enough so that players don’t realize the absurdity of the premise, the cliched platforming, and that they can finish the game entirely within the length of time it takes to watch one episode of Family Guy. The first and the last stage involve an almost Resident Evil style exploration, where Mickey and Minnie search through buildings looking for weapons and keys, then backtrack through the labyrinth to unlock doors to help them progress to the boss. The fourth level takes this screen-by-screen exploration and reduces it to a single path through four screens. The second stage involves side-scrolling platform jumping without the option to travel left to previously visited screens. The third stage does this as well, but de-emphasizes platforming in favor of searching for hidden exits that will either move you forward to the next area or back to a previous one.

"Stop slacking off and come follow me into this dangerous wilderness!"

“Stop slacking off and come follow me into this dangerous wilderness!”

Each stage begins with a pointless but not unpleasant animation involving Mickey approaching a sign that designates the direction–always “right”–to and name of the next stage. He’ll read the sign, then call for Minnie, who I suppose drifted off in sleep, began building a nest or sought out cover from passing hawks. She’ll then come running, the two will pass off right and the stage will begin. The player controls Mickey, mostly. Minnie tags along, like a girl following around the Little Rascals, acting like one of the guys but not quite responding to player controls correctly. Unlike Mickey, she can complete the game without ever obtaining her weapon (a shooting star), thus rendering her only purpose to weigh down Mickey, forcing him to overshoot ledges so she doesn’t fall to her death behind him and wait for her to catch up before going into the next room. While mostly irrelevant to game play, she can, in fact, get a weapon, and even though it fires only once for every two stars that Mickey shoots, she doesn’t take damage from enemies, which makes her useful as Mickey can manipulate her into standing on the front lines in certain areas like the women at the Cliven Bundy ranch. (My apologies to anyone who reads this after October 2014 and has no idea what that means)

The Pirates who don't do anything; they just stay at home and direct all passers-by and law enforcement agencies to their exact location

The Pirates who don’t do anything; they just stay at home and direct all passers-by and law enforcement agencies to their exact location

From there, each stage has its own quirks and annoyances that make you wonder things like, “If the goal of the Fun House requires unlocking the door to get out, why did Mickey enter in the first place,” or “Why do seasons in the woods change depending on which tree you walk into rather than the passage of time,” or even “What type of pirate would keep their ship in one place, then put up signs telling people how to find them? Each level has hidden treasures revealed by a steady bombardment of radiation from your stars, but only in the Fun House and Castle levels do you risk releasing some sort of psychotic owl who kidnaps Minnie and imprisons her in a statue. The woods, as mentioned requires you to memorize a path to find your way from season to season, otherwise you can get lost pretty easily.

...no guards. No wall. No chains. Why the hell did I have to save you?

…no guards. No wall. No chains. Why the hell did I have to save you?

Still, it’s a small game world after all, so the variation keeps it interesting. The game puts up enough of a fight to keep you from whipping through it like a teacup ride, and…okay. No more stupid Disney jokes. The only real complaint I have left doesn’t even affect game play; when you finally beat Maleficent into a surprisingly short and squat bloody pulp, you finally come face to face with Alice…as she dozes gently…propped up against a tree. Outside. With absolutely no chains, guards, or other objects to suggest imprisonment. She could have walked away at any time, but instead felt like calling Mickey, the big boss mascot, away from his busy schedule of theme park appearances and cartoon cameos in order to come get her.

But really, I can’t find much more to say on the subject. A lot of these simple NES games don’t have much substance to them, so they either have something worth playing for fifteen minutes to an hour or they don’t. This one, I’d say, does. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll get back to Kingdom Hearts II.

Kingdom Hearts – PS2

You hated him as an adult; now loath him as a child! At least this game also implies that he dies.

You hated him as an adult; now loath him as a child! At least this game also implies that he dies.

When you walk away
You don’t hear me say
Please, oh baby, don’t go!
Simple and clean is the way that you’re making me feel tonight.
It’s hard to let it go.

Sounds sexy. This music opens up the Disney-Square-Enix joint production, Kingdom Hearts, and when the dark tones start playing, you know that only a sleek, sexy story could follow. If these lyrics mean anything, you’ll never encounter any teeny-bopper heroes, cutsey cartoon characters, or teen idol singers signed under the Disney label. But seriously; have you ever listened to the lyrics to “Simple and Clean”? No one could have written them but the Langston Hughes of blathering nonsense.

Anyway, the story behind the game goes that after Square lost about fifty million dollars on “The Spirits Within,” a movie whose failure any Final Fantasy player could have predicted on account of it resembling a Final Fantasy game as much as the World Wrestling Federation resembles the book of Deuteronomy, they risked going under and had to sell the rights to many of their most famous characters, such as Cloud, Squall, chocobos and moogles, to the only organization that could afford them: Disney.  Suddenly owning all these video game characters, Disney puzzled over what to do with them, and finally decided, “Let’s make a video game?” Then they had to find someone with the expertise to make an epic game using Final Fantasy–and Disney–characters, leading them straight back to Square.

Played by a Billy Zane pissed off that they cut him from Back to the Future III.

Played by a Billy Zane pissed off that they cut him from Back to the Future III.

This story never really happened. But still, the concept of a game where the main character travels through a universe full of worlds populated with a bizarre potpourri of animation contains a brilliance and innovation only matched by its convoluted, mind-numbing confusion. The story opens with Sora and his two friends, Riku and Kairi. They live on an island that gets devoured by cutesy black monsters called heartless. They somehow tumble through outer space to land on separate worlds. Sora discovers his destiny to wield the “Keyblade,” a stunning swing-and-miss attempt by Disney to reduce the image of violence in games while still letting the protagonist use a sword, and Disney’s own Donald and Goofy task him with traveling from world to world, using the keyblade (more of a key-club, really.) to lock each one away from the heartless who want to devour those worlds too. And on the way, Sora looks for Riku and Kairi.

Anyone who has ever visited one of their theme parks (Tokyo Disneyland, 2008!) will immediately realize that Disney has always liked to think of their characters as coexisting in the same universe, so while the story feels a bit like a flimsy excuse to parade cameos in front of our noses the way my grocery store tries to entice me into buying their day-old pastries by stacking them up on tables by the front entrance, Disney does that. They buy into all their talk of “magic,” and they don’t view Peter Pan or Maleficent as any less fresh than Elsa or Simba or the princess from that kinda racist movie set on the bayou. Rather than look at it that way, I considered this game like one of those “re-envisioning such-and-such as an anime” videos you find on youtube. (Look up the one for Miyazaki films)

Most of the gameplay occurs in a hack-and-slash RPG style in which Sora mercilessly gives the heartless (and occasional Disney villain) concussions, contusions, and other forms of blunt trauma with his “blade.” Sora can learn skills, techniques and magic like in a Final Fantasy game, but the fast-paced active combat style doesn’t fit well with the menu system, which demands simultaneous use of the left analog stick and d-pad, and disables any useful right-handed action while scrolling through. I guess since I get through battles all right, I can chalk this up as adding challenge, but I don’t really admire heroes with narcolepsy, who slip into brief comas in the middle of battle. As a result, while Sora can perform neat attacks and spells, I almost only ever use the basic attack and the three spells you can add to a quick-cast menu.

Genie fighting monsters in a psychadelic whale bowel. Because it makes sense.

Genie fighting monsters in a psychadelic whale bowel. Because it makes sense.

While traveling between worlds, the game becomes an over-the-shoulder perspective space shooter. This accomplishes very little except padding out the game for time and adding useless junk to find in each world.  These segments mostly consist of holding the X button for a steady stream of lasers and wiggling the analog stick ever so slightly to prevent impaling your ship on objects that will do as little damage as possible, then let you pass right through them. After finishing the first three worlds, you get a warp drive that lets you bypass this part, making it even less relevant to the game. You have the option of making custom ships by collecting blueprints, finding gummi blocks, and putting together or customizing existing models. However, the default ship provides as much challenge as deer hunting via carpet bombing with napalm, and at that point upgrading to an atom bomb really won’t cause any noticeable difference. Plus, I’ve conducted Korean-language ATM transactions more easily than using the gummi ship building interface, an extra-convoluted program that rival Adobe products for being non-intuitive.  While the player can mostly ignore these gummi-Galaga sections, it does intrude on the main quest by making gummi blocks the most common prize in hard-to-reach treasure chests. So when you finally have the proper skills and abilities, backtrack to old worlds, and get the platform-leaping aspects (honestly, why does anyone still make platformers?) right, the game rewards all your time and effort with an item as relevant as a Playboy magazine at a strip club.

Do I get the adult, powerful, many-antlered Bambi? Nope. I summon a baby deer to aid me in battle.

Do I get the adult, powerful, many-antlered Bambi? Nope. I summon a baby deer to aid me in battle.

I don’t want to mislead you into avoiding this game. It does have good qualities to outweigh the bad. You get to fly in Neverland and you turn into a mermaid…er, mer–Sora and swim through Atlantica. You can summon Mushu, the Genie and…for some reason, Bambi (and not the adult, mega-antlered, fearsome Bambi. The young, little Bambi).  I did enjoy the half-dozen Disney heroes as playable characters, especially the Beast, and major Disney villains like Jafar, Ursula, Maleficent and Hades carry a certain amount of weight.  Since playing a Disney character binds you to them for life, most original actors reprise their roles; however, one absence stands out, and without Robin Willaims’ manic ad-libbing, I feel a little awkward every time the Genie tries to crack a joke, even Sora tries not to make eye contact until the moment passes. Then act three arrives and Square says, “Fuck this Disney shit,” the plot turns dark, and the rest of the game riffs on themes of darkness, despair, and nihilism.

Pooh (n), winny the: Small yellow bear with honey fetish. See also pooh (v)

Pooh (n), winny the: Small yellow bear with honey fetish. See also pooh (v)

Oh, and don’t forget the absolute necessity for any action-adventure RPG where a heroic warrior fights his way through demons to conquor encroaching oblivion; Winnie the Pooh. No really, didn’t Aragorn have to defend Minas Tirith’s carrot gardens from bouncing orcs? I think Luke Skywalker’s biggest test on Dagobah required him to free Yoda’s head from a honey jar.  Okay, so the Hundred Acre Woods level doesn’t fit, and I can’t quite envision Pooh as belonging in an epic fantasy story. Sora doesn’t fight any heartless; instead he just plays the lamest mini-games since blitzball.

Played by Lance Bass. Because when I think "Sephiroth," I think soft pop music for pre-teen girls.

Played by Lance Bass. Because when I think “Sephiroth,” I think soft pop music for pre-teen girls.

On a final note, Kingdom hearts has some amazing optional bosses. I believe during my review of Final Fantasy VII, I described Sephiroth using the phrase “anemic guinea pig.” Well, this game finally does him some justice. To all those people on forums claiming Sephiroth’s difficulty compares to the final boss, well, no. Final boss fights need to display flashy effects and epic, cinematic moments. The final boss tells a story, but has to let the player through relatively easily. No one needs to fight Sephiroth. So by removing any and all requirements (seriously, you get nothing for beating him except bragging rights), Square finally made him hard as all fuck to beat. Oh, and they cast ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass to voice him. So I guess the anemic guinea pig still fits.

Duck Tales – NES …(woo-ooh!)

Scrooge Moon Treasure

If I reach the ripe old age of 110, find myself immobile in a nursing home bed, unable to speak and peeing through a tube, and I’ve left a living will detailing that only one TV show play constantly in my room to let me reminisce about my youth in those last precious moments of existence, that one show would have to be…

…well, Rescue Rangers, to be honest. But if they could alternate between two programs, every other episode would be Duck Tales (then, I think, given the third option, I really enjoyed “Get Smart” around fourth grade or so).  Rescue Rangers and Duck Tales truly represented a time when Disney put forth an extreme effort into their afternoon programming.

Stop complaining, Scrooge. I come from Northern Michigan. This is a light dusting for us.

Stop complaining, Scrooge. I come from Northern Michigan. This is a light dusting for us.

Now I can see all you wagging your heads in front of your screens thinking, Jake, Jake, Jake…everyone remembers their childhood as more wonderful and praiseworthy than everyone else’s.  But like Phoenix Wright, I make no claims without evidence (lest my conduct reflect badly on my client).  Prior to the 2012 Presidential Election, everything I understood about economics–and retained after graduating high school–I learned from Duck Tales.  Scrooge McDuck taught his nephews some fairly complex lessons about investment and saving.  He showed, through example, why keeping three cubic acres of cash sitting in a monolithic building marked with a dollar sign might demand ridiculously excessive security and a lot of sleepless nights.  Look up an episode called “The Land of Tra La La,” and you’ll see a hypothetical scenario illustrating the effects of inflation.  Even today, when politicians suggest to me that I only need to find more difficult work if I want to increase my income, (goodbye teaching college, hello digging ditches!) I hear Uncle Scrooge’s mantra, “Work smarter, not harder,” and I remember his admission that he succeeded as a result of determination, thought, risk, and luck (remember his lucky number one dime, so coveted by Magica DeSpell?), making me wonder why we elect people easily outwitted by a cartoon duck.

Doesn't everyone watch Duck Tales on their wall while drinking martinis in a fedora?

Doesn’t everyone watch Duck Tales on their wall while drinking martinis in a fedora?

Anyway, if your kilts are cursed enough that you missed out on being under ten years old from 1987 to 1990, go out and find the show.  Find some kids to show it to, or just watch it by yourself.  If your birth year does fall in the eighties, maybe you won’t necessarily remember the TV show, but you probably remember the NES game.  Capcom, it appears, has remastered the game and released an expanded version for Steam, PS3, Xbox 360, and the WiiU! Quackeroonies!

Except I promised I’d play through my giant stack of games before I bought any more, so I’ll write about the 8-bit version instead.

While that probably sounded a bit disappointing, the original Duck Tales game blessed a few bagpipes of its own when first released in 1989.  Congress hadn’t yet passed the law requiring the quality of games adapted from movies or TV to be equal to or less than that produced by unpaid interns who stay up until four in the morning because they can’t go home until they finished their other work.  A lot of the game’s features not only stayed true to the tone and design of the cartoon, it also put the player in adventure situations like Scrooge might actually encounter. (You may laugh at the fact that I bring that up, but have you ever tried playing the NES Back to the Future adaptation?)

Yep...even the duck is a better golfer than me.

Yep…even the duck is a better golfer than me.

Scrooge McDuck, in a startling development of character that would make even the most hardcore fans shrug with astonishing indifference, wants to increase his fortune.  Rather than merge with other corporations, invest in stocks and savings, or buying up other businesses, firing all the employees, then liquidating all their assets right into his Money Bin, he feels that world travel would best suit his needs, as apparently we could find diamonds sprinkled everywhere from here to the moon if we just look hard enough.  In true Mega Man fashion, the player selects non-linearly from five stages, each which contain a treasure guarded by a boss and numerous diamonds found hiding in the stage or dropped by enemies.  Scrooge uses his cane–which doubles as a pogo stick and triples as a golf club–as his only defense.

This set up, I think, makes the game more about exploration than plowing through to the end.  Stages branch off, and each path contains diamonds, health upgrades, hidden treasures, key items, or extra lives.  Many items remain invisible until Scrooge crosses certain points in the area to reveal them.  So not only can we choose the order of levels, but we also can decide how long we want to spend in any one place.  And while the treasure value only serves as a score, which no one cared about after it ceased to mean “free game” or recognition by other upstanding arcade patrons, putting a dollar sign in front of it somehow makes it feel like a more worthy goal.

Hey guys....what'cha doing in there?

Hey guys….what’cha doing in there?

Other characters from the series appear to help you by offering advice, breaking through walls, or throwing baked goods at Scrooge, who gobbles them down like a diabetic with low blood-sugar.  Although the game keeps text to a minimum, they did try to retain certain speak mannerisms for most of the characters (although I don’t know if I can forgive Bubba’s lapse in not referring to the main character as ”Scooge”).

Despite being a platformer, I actually have a good time when playing this game. Something about bouncing around on a pogo-stick cane just mesmerizes me, and I can remember zoning out in third grade, imagining Scrooge hopping around the lines on the classroom walls.  My third grade teacher didn’t care for me much.  Of course, when I started subconsciously picking up economic theory in kindergarten, I set myself down a path where most of my teachers would accuse me of having an attitude problem. (Until I got to grad school. They liked me. I guess it evens out).

Moral of the story? Video games make you smarter. (No, really) So go play Duck Tales.