The Disney Animation Studios has had three creative Golden Ages. The first one lasted from the founding of the studio to Walt Disney’s death—from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to The Jungle Book. We’re currently in the midst of the third Golden Age, which began with The Princess and the Frog, and continued with Tangled and Frozen.
The second Golden Age, which lasted from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan, is the stuff our childhoods are made of. What an incredible run of animated films. Not even Pixar (yeah, I said it) can step to such a solid track record of excellence. And of all the incredible Disney films released during this period, Aladdin was one of the greatest. The Lion King had heart and Beauty and the Beast had music, but Aladdin had laughs.
What made Aladdin great was its comedic side characters—ago, Abu, and of course, the scene-stealing Genie, played by Robin Williams. There’s never been a character so tailor made to Williams’ strengths as an actor—improvised, over-the-top zaniness, all the time.
So, when it came time to make a video game adaptation of Aladdin, the developers had a tall order to fill. It wouldn’t be enough to have Aladdin stomp bad guys—the game had to capture the film’s humor to be successful.
As it turned out, the developers succeeded—twice. Aladdin had two releases, one on the Sega Genesis and one on the Super Nintendo—two completely different, classic games. Today on Throwback Thursday, we’ll be looking at the SNES version. It wasn’t as visually memorable as the Sega version (and it didn’t have a badass scimitar), but it had some of the best controls ever seen in a game, before or since.
When I played Aladdin, the controls were the first thing I noticed. They were hair-trigger responsive, and the realistic jump mechanics gave me a sense of weight and substance. Aladdin didn’t feel fragile—he felt like a scrappy, tough street kid.
Whenever you bounced on an enemy’s head, you did a cool flip that propelled you to a higher place. Whenever you jumped close to a ledge, you would grab on and dramatically dangle from it. The image of a hero, hanging from a cliff over a fiery pit, is an iconic one—Aladdin helped to popularize the burgeoning Adventure genre, which began with Prince of Persia and continues today in games such as Uncharted and Tomb Raider.
The level design was inventive and varied—stages progressed both horizontally and vertically. You fought in all the major locations from the film—the Agrabah marketplace, the Cave of Wonders, and the Sultan’s palace—and the learning curve was fair and gradual.
Three levels stand out, even to this day. The first was the Escape From The Cave of Wonders. You started in a fast scrolling area, jumping from rock to rock as thrilling music and fire surrounded you. And then, you made your final escape, via flying carpet. There were falling boulders and a massive lava wave biting at your heels. The two of them cornered you in pincer-like fashion, giving you the tiniest bit of room to negotiate. One hit, and you were cooked.
Another outstanding level was the Genie’s Lamp. The Genie invited Aladdin into his lamp, where there was nothing but bright clouds, blue skies, and of course, the Genie himself, who had his face plastered on every available surface. Whenever you stepped on a Genie surface, his visage looked up in mock concern. Whenever you died, every Genie visage cried. The game never got more whimsical or detail-oriented than this.
And third, there was the “A Whole New World” bonus level, where you soared above Agrabah, Jasmine in tow, on your flying carpet.
It was a perfect intermission, sandwiched between a difficult Pyramid level and the Sultan’s castle, where you finally faced Jafar. His final form was a massive snake—a dramatic climax that paralleled the film’s climax.
Lastly (and this is minor), let’s take a moment to praise Aladdin’s password system. Too many old games botched this simple, minor mechanic—they forced you to enter endless strings of random letters and numbers, which you scribbled down and inevitably lost. Aladdin used a picture-based password system—you put the Disney characters in the proper order. Juvenile, but effective and memorable. I still remember the password to the Genie’s Lamp: Genie, Jafar, Aladdin, Abu. See how easy this was?
Disney knows that its old games were awesome—developers have already begun remastering them. Ducktales was released last year, as was Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.
Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Magical Quest should be up next—the developers would ride a massive wave of nostalgia all the way to the bank. There can never be enough early 90’s Disney, and today, we remember Aladdin for the SNES as a spirited, superior adaptation—a genuine diamond in the rough.