Mickey Mania was a neat little game – fluid animation, confident visual presentation, clever little set-pieces – until someone put a goddamn mine cart level in the second stage. I fucking hate mine cart levels, almost as much as I hate escort missions (maybe more, I can’t decide). They’re a crime against platforming, and they should be blacked from the game developer’s palette. Usually you won’t see one until the latter third of the game, when the level designers have run out of ideas (see Taz Mania, Donkey Kong Country); not so with Mickey Mania. They’re* even clever enough to disguise the mine cart level as a ride through the Mad Doctor’s lab on a Frankensteinian operating table – but a lacquered turd is still a turd.
They’re* still throwing out interesting puzzles well after that, albeit executing them in the most annoying way possible. Mostly by sending wave after wave of respawned enemies at you while you’re trying to solve them. The enemies are more trouble than they’re worth. Take the skeletons for instance: some take one bean-shot to kill, some take three despite no apparent visual difference, all explode in a flurry of bouncing bones that continue to maim you from beyond the grave. You’re better off just jumping over them so you only have one or two pieces of enemy to contend with (they throw their skulls).
[* 'They' of course refers to game designers Travellers Tales and Sony Imagesoft, which, most interestingly, included the likes of David Jaffe, the very vocal director of the God of War games. Later tonight he will post a video blog from his garage rebutting the many valid points of this article.]
It’s at this point I remember this was probably supposed to be a kid’s game. Why is it that every single Disney game is far too difficult for its target audience? Ducktales, Land of Illusion, Aladdin, The Lion King – I could go on forever – each one, though pretty enough to check all those graphics/presentation/sound/music boxes for gaming mag reviews, is the gameplay equivalent of torture. Child torture. And last time I checked, that’s against the law, people.
You wanna talk about torture? Torture is having LOAD TIMES on a cartridge game. It’s just wrong on so many levels.
Let’s go back to mine cart levels, why I hate them with a seething, white hot rage, and why this one in particular has raised my ire. We’ve just become acquainted with with the titular character, his controls, how he handles, only to have that control unceremoniously snatched from us, helplessly hurtling (and hopping) towards all manner of deadly fates. Passing the level then becomes an exercise in rote memorisation, and of course, abject frustration. It’s nowhere near as soul-crushing as that most infamous of mine cart levels – the hoverbike-ride through the Wind Tunnels of Battletoads – but after save/load stating my way through the level, I found that the only way I could make the final jump was to purposely run into the final obstacle. Who in their right mind’s going to think of something like that? A child? A ‘hardcore gamer’? I know, I’ll just run into that thing that was killing me during the first three-quarters of the level! On purpose!
Oh, and another thing: what’s with Mickey’s bean-shot? What’s to prevent him from throwing magic beans anywhere other than directly left or right in a straight line? I’ve seen platformers and side-scrolling shoot-em-ups get it on before, but Mickey Mania is an experience akin to playing Space Invaders sideways with an abacus. That’s about the closest I can come to illustrating what a royal pain in the arse it is for a gravity-laden Mickey to shoot rogue bats on the y-axis. He *can* jump on *some* enemies *some*times, but like all non-Sonic, non-Mario platformers, it fails to distinguish just where, when, and how that will succeed.
It’s a pretty enough cartoon to be sure, but controls maketh the videogame, and – I’m sorry to say – Mickey don’t got it.
Now somebody give me a medal for not mentioning Epic Mickey a single time during the course of this write-up.