By 1990, the NES already had a few years on it and there was a demand for games with a little variety. There were a surprising few games that really worked to feature multiple styles of gameplay and give players something a little different, however even most of these weren’t very good (at best). The problem was that at the time programming a video game on a console was a lot different than it is today and it was difficult to find a programming staff that was good at many different styles of games. Rather, they were often “specialized” in a sense. This is why certain companies were most well-known for very specific genres, often sharing a very similar framework for their games. This is largely because it wasn’t always easy to take an established engine and change the way it plays entirely. Even Nintendo, who did release a wide variety of titles on the NES, had numerous production houses with different specialties to build different games. I bring all of this up because one game from a major developer did attempt to create a diverse game complete with multiple gameplay experiences in a single package, and that game was Disney’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom release in 1990 by (Who else?) Capcom.
The story of the game doesn’t really matter, but simply it’s time for the big parade… But wait! Goofy lost the key to the Castle Gate, and they need to get that key from the castle, but to get into the castle you need six more keys that Goofy lost as well! So, you have to travel to six locations across Disneyland in order to get the parade started! This is where 8-bit Mickey Mouse breaks the fourth wall and makes you do the dirty work. So, it begins…
You start by entering the Magic Kingdom and here you will have to go to 6 locations on a world map depicting the park. Each stage has a specific goal and you must complete all six to open the castle to get the Golden Key. The Pirates of the Caribbean is a platforming stage where you must fight through angry pirates and creepy skeletons in order to find the lost villagers and make an escape. In Space Mountain, you fly a first-person spaceship through the stars pressing the buttons as you are prompting making for what is essentially and over-long quicktime event. Next up, The Haunted Mansion finds you in yet another platforming stage with the goal being to get to the top floor and fend off the raging ghoul. Autopia is a pretty generic racing level that plays very similar to Spy Hunter, only without the guns). Lastly, Big Thunder Mountain is an aggravating maze where you ride a minecart down the mountain and must switch paths, find the correct route and slow down to avoid closing gates and rolling boulders; it is by far the worst of the six levels. After gathering all six keys, you then just walk up to the entrance to the castle and you’re done. The game just sort of ends there after showing a single, barely-animated screen of Mickey standing amidst a very small marching band. Along the way you can gather stars to use in the pause menu to purchase power ups, but with the exception of refilling your life bar, there isn’t much use for this feature.
This game has a number of problems that keep it from being a solid experience. First off, the platforming stages are okay in their design but the hero controls very poorly. The jumps do not really seem to always reach the heights they feel like they should and every movement feels like there is something pulling you back making the general flow of the game just feel like one of those clunky PC platformers that were released in that period trying to bring the Mario-mania market to the world of home computer gaming.
Also, in all of its attempts to look like a good game, this is really just an ugly NES title. From the over-bright, pastel world map to the repetitive, fuzzy sprites that make up the levels and the stiff animations… It all just looks and feels like a rush job. It is important to point out as well that this game was produced by Tokuro Fujiwara, who helmed some of Capcom’s best games of the 80’s and 90’s, most notably most of the Mega Man and Mega Man X titles released on the NES and Super Nintendo. He even worked on a few of Capcom’s good Disney licenses, so this doesn’t come from a lack of talent. No, this was laziness. Everything in this game reeks of something being taken from a different, better game, which would make it little more than a reskinned clone. The soundtrack is bad too, which is shocking because the sound team was head by the composer for Street Fighter II! It’s like listening to Bohemian Rhapsody then suddenly your music app just randomly starts playing Milli Vanilli.
Now, vitriol aside, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom isn’t all bad. It is playable, you can actually beat it (which is more than I can say for Total Recall and just about any game featured in Action 52) and it’s mercifully-short, meaning a casual playthrough for someone who knows the game could last between 15 and 20 minutes. All-in-all, this is a perfectly-serviceable product. Though, I do not fully understand who this was made for. It’s too bland for hardcore gamers and a little too challenging for younger ones, though most of the difficulty comes from the shoddy gameplay. It just appears as though something was hanging over Capcom’s head that forced them to push out a completely random NES title. This isn’t based on a movie so it wasn’t timely. I am not sure if we’ll ever know the full story behind why this game was even made in the first place. It is a mediocre, soggy wad of nothing.
For collectors, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom lives on the shelves as it does inside the console: a perfectly average piece of grey plastic that fills an empty space. It is one of the more common NES titles and one that is more-often-than-not disregarded and discarded as a “scrap”. It’s the game you find on eBay with a buyout price of $0.50 and a shipping cost higher than what the game is actually worth. Not to say completionists will not want a copy on their shelves, though. However, casual NES fans can just pass on this one. If you aren’t buying to collect, there is nothing you will get out of playing Magic Kingdom that you can’t get from a host of better NES games around the same price point.