lauantai 21. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow (1995)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: December 1995
DEVELOPER(S): Eurocom Entertainment Software
PUBLISHER(S): Sunsoft (GB), Sega (GEN), Disney Interactive (PC), Nintendo (SNES)

I'm not quite sure how this game came to be, but I'm guessing that since the original SNES version of Disney's Magical Quest 3 never saw daylight outside Japan, someone figured that there were not many games out there that starred Donald Duck - actually none on any other platform than a home computer or a Sega system. Whatever the case might've been, British game developer Eurocom created a detective story for the Genesis in 1995, entitled Donald in Maui Mallard. The game was then almost immediately ported to the SNES, but once it shipped to the U.S., its name was changed into Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow. Furthermore, every reference to Donald Duck except for the main character's appearance and trademark voice was removed, and the character was only referred to as Maui Mallard, a bumbling detective on a mission to retrieve a stolen idol. Donald wouldn't sell, hmm? Well, again, whatever the case might be, Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is a quite innovative game and one of the better ones by a third-party developer to be released during the final days of the 16-bit, but not exactly a true gem.

Give Donald his due!

Detective Maui Mallard is on vacation on a nameless tropical island, when the idol of the island's guardian spirit Shabuhm Shabuhm goes missing. The islanders hire Maui on the case in fear that if the idol is not recovered, the whole island will explode. During the investigation, Maui comes across dangers he cannot face without extensive ninja training and the assumption of a ninja alter ego he dubs Cold Shadow.

Poor Donald. He finally gets his very own, well promoted game released on other platforms than just the Sega Master System or Sega Genesis, and what happens? He is shunned away from breaking into multi-platform video game business by North American localization. It is truly a shame. Donald was never much of a video game character in himself, I admit that, but how many crappy games have been released under the names of some other Disney characters without any shame or sense of belonging at all? ...On second thought, maybe it's a good thing they spared Donald from most of the shame. (Note: there are so relatively few games with Donald as the sole main protagonist that I listed them in the Trivia section just for the fun of it; this is the first and last one to be reviewed for now.) Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow might turn some Donald fans down, 'cause all that remains of Donald in this game is his world-famous rant he explodes into every time he gets hurt by an enemy, and some of his visual features.

The graphics are very good from a purely technical standpoint, but if the SNES conversion didn't have those rounded pixels to remind us we're playing a SNES game, I could swear I'm playing a Genesis game. It's some sort of a trademark I can't really pin down, I'm not sure what gives off that vibe. Maybe you'll see it, too - or maybe it's just me. The level design looks really confusing, but it's really quite straightforward. In this game, you are not going "forward" as usual, you're rather trying to circle your way from the outer limits to the inner core of a cubic room, or find a way to get above or beneath the room. It's quite interesting, and it gets more interesting on the go. The animation is technically fantastic, but it alone produces some gameplay problems I'll get to a bit later. The music's quite good, but since the levels are quite lengthy and have many stages each, some of the louder tracks are bound to get on your nerves.

Beetle overkill.
All right, so you're this MAUI MALLARD guy, who bears a striking resemblance to Donald Duck. Your mission is to conquer a total of eight levels, with three to five stages in each. This far on the road of the Disney marathon, I simply have to compliment the game for being exceptionally long. Beating an average stage takes about 15 minutes, assuming you're going for some extras, and it definitely takes some time from you to learn to control Maui properly, as well as figure out the secrets of the level design, and finally, master some advanced techniques you eventually must use to make it in this game. Unlike in many Disney games, or platformers in general, sudden deaths are not very common - there are only a few bottomless pits in the whole game for you to fall into, and plenty of health to go around in standard enemy confrontations. Getting stuck in the game, though, is very easy. The game never forces you to an unwinnable situation, but sometimes you must be able to think outside of the box and keep an extra keen eye on your surroundings to be able to make progress.

In his normal state, Maui Mallard is a stereotypical, egotistical detective in a Hawaiian t-shirt, whose ego is obvious by his stance and moves alone. His only weapon is a pistol that shoots flaming bugs, for some odd reason. The ammunition restocks by itself over time, this was probably one of the first games that used this fine feature. Maui can also perform actions which the "other character" can't, such as bungee jump. This is a good time to mention the controls in general. Like I said, the animation of the lead character alone makes controlling him hard. His movement is very quirky and hard to get a grip of, he really doesn't seem too responsive when it comes to simple actions like turning around, and jumping. Oh, he responds all right, but at a pace that takes a little too much of getting used to. Maui's gun doesn't work on all enemies, at all, and he can't move to higher ground without some sort of help, such as lifts, ropes, or even the wind from the pipes of an organ. That's where Cold Shadow steps in.

Upon reaching the second level in this game, the Ninja Training Grounds, Don... excuse me, "Maui", is taught the ways of the ninja and he has to pass this extensive test of all of the abilities that go with being a blind, silent duck assassin. First, playing as Cold Shadow seems so much better than playing as Maui, his movement is somewhat more controllable, but then it turns out that since Cold Shadow only has melee attacks in his repertoire, you need to get disturbingly close to enemies to land one whack from his staff, and the collision detection is really off - it's incredibly hard to do safe combat, especially against bosses that require you to play as Cold Shadow. This level was probably made to smoke out the meek, 'cause it gets very difficult, not just through the ways of ninja combat, but also making progress in general becomes a little tougher. You can switch between Maui and Shadow almost any time, by the way, as long as you have those ninja tokens left.

Cumin' atcha, ninja style.
The "other character" of Cold Shadow brings a few advanced techniques to the fray. First, Shadow has this special attack, triggered with the shoulder buttons. There's usually some penalty for using special techniques in games, here you'll lose ninja tokens, which are very common, so you shouldn't worry too much. He can also latch on to certain types of ornaments with his bamboo staff and use the durable, rubber-like stick as a kind of a makeshift rope. Finally, and this takes time to learn once the going gets tougher, he can climb narrow gaps by stretching out the staff, so it clings to both sides of the gap. It's one of the most genious features I've seen in a platformer in a long time, so genious that it took me forever to figure out that he can actually do that! Climbing those gaps starts off real easy, but later, you need to climb a lot faster because of corrupting sides and some random, unrelated hazards.

At first, Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow seems like an easy game in which you cannot die, and your only true mission in life is to gather enough treasures to make it past the level, since survival's certain. You're in for a big disappointment. I think the developers knew damn well that although the game has _good_ controls, they're very difficult to learn and I think it was a good move to put at least one easy, lengthy level in to allow players to truly cop a feel before they get into the really hard stuff, which begins about halfway through the second level. All that collecting those treasures does is that you'll be granted passage to a bonus level, upon collecting the given percentage of all the treasures in the preceding level.

I haven't finished the game yet, but I'll get to it, 'cause Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is an entertaining, innovative platformer I would gladly see to the end. There are a few things that bother me about it, including the learning curve of the controls, the default weakness of Cold Shadow in combat, and the fact that even if the level design is very unique in its own way, the stages in the levels are basically just reorganized copies of each other. One final thing: "Maui Mallard"? Get real.

SOUND : 7.2


a.k.a. Cold Shadow, Donald in Maui Mallard (EU), Disney's Donald in Maui Mallard (JAP)

GameRankings: 90.00% (GEN), 75.00% (PC), 80.90% (SNES)

The character of Maui Mallard has not been mentioned in any Disney production since, despite a written message in the end credits that prompts players to stay tuned for his next adventure.

As of May 21st, 2011, Donald Duck has starred in a total of six video games in addition to Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow (appearances as a secondary character and non-playable character do not count). These games are Donald Duck's Playground (home computers, 1984), Donald's Alphabet Chase (home computers, 1988), Quackshot Starring Donald Duck (Sega Genesis, 1991), The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck (Sega Master System and Game Gear, 1991), Deep Duck Trouble Starring Donald Duck (Sega Master System and Game Gear, 1993) and Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers (multi-platform, 2000).

1 kommentti:

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