lauantai 14. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - The Little Mermaid (1991)

GENRE(S): Action

In 1989, The Little Mermaid revived the long-dead series of Disney's animated feature films that hadn't really bloomed in terms of critical success in almost 20 years. It also resurrected the "Disney Princess" theme that hadn't been in use since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Computer games had been made to promote the releases of The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective, but The Little Mermaid was chronologically the first Disney movie to have its own console game - a couple of them, actually. The first one was made by Capcom for the Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System, at the critical and commercial peak of Capcom and Disney's companionship. As I see it, the game isn't remembered that well, and it's no wonder. The Little Mermaid's not a bad game, but it's not the best Disney "platformer" out there, either. It stumbles on its very own theme, for starters.

Unda tha see!

Ariel and Eric are to be wed. Ariel discovers that after she left the sea, the sea witch Ursula cast a spell on all the fish to do her bidding, and if she is not stopped, she will most likely take Triton's throne and assume control of the whole sea. Ignoring Eric's pleas for her to stay on the land, Ariel returns to the sea to put Ursula back in her place.

So where do we begin? Ah, the movie! The Little Mermaid's a good movie. It's really dragging at some points, and I really don't like the music in Disney's animated features. There are some exceptions, such as The Lion King - well, who can honestly say they hate the music in that flick? - and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is underrated in every possible way, from the visuals to the story to the soundtrack, which I think is the best collection of songs out of all Disney movies. Anyway, The Little Mermaid's a bit too much on the musical and dramatic side, but it's a good movie... and with her clamshell bra and wavy red hair, Ariel is the hottest Disney character ever, bar none. Oh, come on, everyone has an opinion on the subject, everyone's just not bold enough to admit it!

Don't worry, I won't eat ya. But my boyfriend
I think I saw an ad for this game on a some sort of an import promo back in... '92...? The Little Mermaid was never released in Europe, and some random ads that came along with games and some magazines were the only references we were ever going to see about too many games. Capcom was doing extremely well, they were my favourite developers back then. They hardly ever made a totally bad game, and I'm not just talking about Disney games. In the last couple of years, they had made a ridiculous amount of some of my favourite games at the time, including DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale - Rescue Rangers, but also games such as Bionic Commando, Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Mega Man 2 and 3, and most recently at that time, Street Fighter II for the SNES. The Little Mermaid stuck on my list of games to play before I die for many years, everyone else forgot it. Can't blame them, and I also must say they haven't missed out on that much.

The graphics are really good and detailed as in any Disney game, here's where the underwater setting first rears its ugly head, though - the backgrounds are relatively bland. The music consists of licensed MIDI tunes such as "Under the Sea", which is one of the most annoyingly catchy songs in the Disney library of music, and pieces by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi and Yasuaki Fujita, who have both worked on different games in the Mega Man series, so you can expect some pretty good original music.

The Little Mermaid is promoted as a platformer, which is a bit off since it hasn't got much platforms to jump on. You are a chick who's half a fish, for crying out loud - what do you expect? Also, it isn't really based on the movie, which is no wonder since the movie hasn't got much material to pass on to a video game. So, it's a very loose-plotted game about swimming. We've seen underwater levels in many platformers, this whole game is about navigating underwater, and it just doesn't work for me - it feels like Capcom at least tried to make a traditional platformer out of it any way they could (they even added an ice level, which makes no difference in a game like this whatsoever!), and the sea is a totally wrong setting for that in my opinion.

An underwater volcano. Curious.
Ariel has two different attacks which accommodate each other. She can swing her tail to shoot air bubbles at enemies, and capture them in these bubbles, which she can then pick up and throw at other enemies. The bubbles have very pathetic strength and range in the beginning, that's why you will often want to go out of your way a little bit and collect these power-up orbs from treasure chests spread all across the ocean floor, to increase both attributes. You can strangely open these chests only by throwing a clamshell or pushing a heavy object at them, and they're often very scarce to come by. The most perfect form of bullshit in this game is that once you lose just one life, your strength and range go back to the defaults and you must get those orbs again if you don't want the game to become an infinite struggle. The weaker the bubble attack is, it's also less precise. The bubbles go straight through enemies and you need to be at an exact distance from the enemies to have the slightest chance to hit. All this while, you're most likely trying to cop some sort of feel of the general controls. They really aren't that good, and it's simply the whole scheme of an underwater platformer that causes the control to suck.

Even while it is difficult to maintain control, the game isn't that hard. You will make it to the Underwater Volcano (even stranger than the ice level) in no time and suffering close to no _real_ difficulties at all; it's the fourth, and second to last level, which came to me as somewhat of a shock; I really didn't expect the game to be quite that short. The boss fights are almost as easy as in the first Chip 'n Dale game, if you can somehow master all aspects of both of Ariel's offensive methods at a very early phase. It's a short, relatively easy game with controls and general feel that are lackluster on the standard scale. That's The Little Mermaid in a nutshell.

We're far from the worst Capcom/Disney collaboration here, but perhaps it's the cult value from an European standpoint that made me expect a little bit more out of The Little Mermaid; not a top-ranking game, but a highly entertaining one at the very least on par with Chip 'n Dale. I didn't quite foresee how much the whole underwater setting would hurt the playability of the game. Fans and fantasizers of Ariel should check the game out; it's good for a casual playthrough or two.

SOUND : 8.2


a.k.a. Disney's The Little Mermaid

GameRankings: 67.00% (GB)

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