Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mickey Mousecapade

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Hudson Soft
Released: 1988
Genre: Platformer

The Story
Mickey and Minnie hear a cry for help from a mysterious source! Ever ready to lend a hand to someone in need, they set off on an adventure to save whoever it is from whatever the heck is going on!

The Game
Though not exactly a remarkable game in and of itself, the background of the game is actually a bit interesting. It was originally titled Micky Mouse: Adventures in Wonderland when it was released in Japan by Hudson Soft. Capcom then brought it over to the English speaking world, changing the name to Mickey Mousecapade (not Mickey MousecapadeS as so many people, including myself, have called it), altering almost every sprite in the game, and changing the story a bit. The full scope of these changes will be described in the appropriate sections below, but suffice it to say . . . they didn't make too much sense.

In any case, MM is also remarkable in that it started an era of Capcom making Disney-themed games. If nothing else, I think we can all thank MM for paving the way for Duck Tales.

The Characters
The main two characters of the game are Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Disney's prominent mascot and his girlfriend. They're sort of emulating their mostly-silent versions here, as Mickey says a total of two different words throughout the entire game, and as far as I can remember Minnie doesn't say anything at all.

These two intrepid mousies are off on an adventure to save . . . ALICE! ALICE ALICE ALICE! Y'know, from Wonderland? There, I spoiled the surprise. But I had to, you see. Firstly, because in the Japanese version, it's not a surprise. Right from the start it's known that you're going to be battling your way through Wonderland (I mean, heck, it's in the title) to save poor little girl Alice who has been caught and imprisoned and whatnot. Secondly, it needs to be mentioned to help along with the talking about the changes that were made to the game thing. And thirdly, I remember just how bitterly disappointed I was that I was saving Alice. It was made out to be this big huge mystery as to who I was trying to save . . . and it was just li'l ol' Alice.

I mean, I guess she deserves to be saved just like anybody else, but Capcom actually set things up to be like some sort of cool mystery, like there was going to be an awesome twist at the end. Like you beat the game and it turns out you were actually saving Mickey and Minnie and you weren't the real Mickey and Minnie but robots from the future made to look like them sent back to the past to save them from their certain death! But no, it's just Alice.

So if you haven't played the game before and you might have been intrigued by the cool mystery, I have just saved you the bother. No need to thank me. Just doin' my job.

Anyway, next we have the bosses. This is where the major changes to the game come in. As mentioned enough to make one gag already, the original version of MM was set in Wonderland. You wouldn't really be able to tell it from the stages unless you thought about it way too hard, but at least the bosses were Wonderland material through and through. The Cheshire Cat, the Dodo, the Caterpillar, and finally her big bad majesty, the Queen of Hearts. Well, there's also Captain Hook of Peter Pan fame. Apparently Neverland takes up some Wonderland real estate. In the Americanized version, however? These become a witch, a crocodile, a snake, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Oh, and the good Cap'n is replaced by Pegleg Pete in his pirate garb.

You may notice that only two of these replacement bosses really have any direct connection with Disney. Of course, there have been some attempts by people to place the others somewhere in the Disneyverse as well. The most logical and probable of these is the crocodile, thought to be the clock-swallowing croc who's always after Captain Hook's other hand. The reason this seems sound is the fact that said tick-tock croc is actually on the game's American box art. Of course, this brings up the question of why they bothered putting in the croc if they took out Hook? Less probable is that the snake is Kaa from The Jungle Book. I mean, it's possible, but it barely looks anything like him. And the most bewildering of all is the witch. There have been a couple of witches in Disney cartoons, but this one doesn't look anything like any of them past the whole stereotypical witch look.

Then there are the smaller, regular baddies that roam the various levels. And though most of them had absolutely nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland or even Disney in general, many of them were changed as well. Stuff like switching out gophers for cats and one kind of bird for another kind of bird and even simple color swaps like turning pink flowers red. At least if the flowers had been white in the original and they'd been changed to red for the overseas release, that could have been a very clever inside joke on Capcom's part.

I've taken a look around to see if I could find the reasons for these changes, but the overwhelming evidence seems to indicate that nobody knows why Capcom did this. People have theories of course, but then people always have theories. In the end, it just doesn't seem to make any sense. The only reason to have hidden the Wonderland characters was to keep Alice's presence a secret, which in itself didn't make sense.

The Writing
The original story is very straightforward. Alice is kidnapped by the Queen of Hearts. Micky and Minnie try to save her. As mentioned before, Capcom tried to mix this up a little . . . and in this at least they were halfway successful in making an intriguing story. They hid the identity of the person in trouble, adding some mystery to the proceedings. The box art and the ads showed footprints leading them on, and I remember feeling a sense of following those footprints in the game itself. Which was kind of exciting, sort of like I was an adventuring sleuth on the trail.

But, as also mentioned before, the mystery guest is just Alice. So . . . yay? Seems like a waste of a good marketing campaign. And basically that was all they succeeded at in the writing arena: making a good marketing campaign. The game itself is typical of most older platformers in that if you can find any actual narrative structure, then more than likely it was merely accidental, not something the creators had intended.

Even if one took into account that the game was supposed to be proceeding through Wonderland as per the original storyline, the levels simply have little to nothing to do with Wonderland. You could make cases for the house being the mirror house from Through the Looking Glass or the ocean level being the ocean of Alice's tears, or the forest being . . . um. Well, there were a couple of different forests in the movie, I guess. But see, that's the thing, the levels are at best only vaguely connected to anything Disney in general much less Wonderland specifically. They're just sort of generic settings for Mickey and Minnie to jump around in.

Capcom gets an E for Effort regarding the adverts, but they and Hudson both get an F for pretty much everything else.

The Gameplay
Much of the game is set up to be a pretty standard platformer. There are enemies running around trying to attack you. There are items to pick up. There are, ultimately, platforms.

Players take control Mickey as he jumps his way around these platforms, shooting at enemies with stars (energy balls in the original) and generally just being a typical platformer hero. Players also take control of Minnie. Though by "take control" in this instance I mean "hope she kind of does what you want/need her to do at any particular moment".

Those of you who remember my review of Stimpy's Invention (and why shouldn't you, it was just a couple of weeks ago!) will surely remember that I was rather disparaging of the double-character control setup. Mickey Mousecapade is not disabusing me of that disparagement. Minnie does bring a little to the plate after you've procured her star attack, enabling you to utilize her in an inventive way during boss fights (protip: she's invincible against enemy attack and can climb ladders while you stay on a lower level), but otherwise she's a drain. A lead weight. A nuisance.

If she dies, Mickey dies. And when you're jumping over deadly pits like in the ocean level, she can and will fall into said deadly pits if you're not careful to keep her right there with you. If Mickey is at an exit but Minnie isn't, neither of them can leave the room. This lead to at least a few instances (especially during the final stage in the castle) where I'd clear out an entire room and it would still take me an extra half a minute or so trying to get her up all the platforms to the exit.

And then there's the thing where you find secret items and reveal them with your star shooter only to find out that it's a monster that kidnaps Minnie and you have to get her back by finding a secret key and then playing a guessing mini-game to get her back. So that's fun.


But even if the double character nonsense got taken out, there's still a lot of little annoyances in the game from a single character perspective. I do have to say that it's interesting in a way, at least. Playing a lot of these older games makes me realize just how much we now take for granted in platformer games, even the fancy 3D ones of the modern age. Stuff that simply doesn't exist in this game. Stuff like being able to jump from ladders and being able to jump straight up in the air but then move around to some other position like a floating leaf that tumbles at its own discretion. Here you can only drop from ladders like a stone, usually right into enemy fire, and if you just straight up in the air then you're not going to be doing anything other falling straight back down.

This isn't really bad, per se. It's annoying, but only because I've been pampered by modern gameplay. Otherwise it's merely an interesting thing to note about the evolution of the platformer genre in general.

The Challenge
Y'know, I remember that when I was a kid, I thought Mickey Mousecapade was tough as hell. Ridiculously hard in the grand tradition of many Nintendo games of the age. I was surprised, then, upon picking it up for first time in at least two decades and busting out the first three levels with only a few minor irritations. They were, sadly, irritations of the type where things aren't really challenging in a fair and balanced way but in a "oh FUCK YOU, GAME" way. Still, easily surmountable.

Then I got to the pirate ship stage where the game suddenly became a cheap-shot whorebitch. Fuck you, MM, for setting up four rooms in which hits cannot possibly be reasonably avoided and progress is done more through luck and determination than through skill and gradually learning the curve. Fuck you so very much.

At the very least it had the decency to actually limit it to just those four rooms. The castle level after is back to a more sprawling architecture and is still rather difficult to navigate, but at least it isn't the complete middle finger to the players that the pirate ship manages to distill and compress so well.

I'll give the game a middle of the road assessment on challenge, but only as an average of the two extremes.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I can't really state with any authority of the final boss. I managed to get an invincibility fairy right toward the end of the game and touched Maleficent just before it wore off. I didn't really expect it to work but thought, "Eh, what the hell." It did work, meaning I beat her in a possibly record breaking two seconds. Go me!

The Sights
Honestly, I was fully prepared to just about completely bypass this section with a simple "meh", but upon reflection I find I can't. Much of this reflection has a great deal to do with checking out the various sprite differences between the Hudson and Capcom versions of the game. The thing is, compared to the vast majority of early NES games, MM has it going on. The stages are pretty vibrant, the sprites are actually pretty well constructed in both versions, and it almost looks like it was made at a later stage in the system's life than it actually was. The forest stage is probably the best of the settings, which is kind of surprising given it's pretty much the same thing over and over again only in different seasons.

The Sounds
Not stellar, but still pretty catchy. Seemed like a nice preview of the much better music that would later be heard in Duck Tales.

The Bottom Line
Eh, I have a tough time categorizing this one, really. If you've got nothing else to do some lazy afternoon, bust this game out and give it a whirl. It can be a fun little romp when it's not causing minor blood pressure spikes. But more than it's worth as a game, it should probably be played through at least once for the appreciation of the place in video game history it occupies. Much of what Capcom became through the late 80's and early-to-mid 90's was because they handled publishing this game.

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