Of the entire NES library, this is the game I most want to see revisited with modern sensibilities. Sorry, Karnov, but Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom might be the best concept for a video game that has just been sitting trapped in an eclectic game from 1990.
Disney Land and Disney World are, in modern times, practically legendary. Through a fluke of evolution, modern children are born with an almost homing pigeon-like desire to one day make a pilgrimage to the Magical Kingdom and spawn more ridiculous photos with “real life” gigantic rodents than should be allowed. Find your nearest child and take a good, long look into their eyes. While you’re scaring the youngster, consider that somewhere in that meaty little kid brain, there are nearly a million synapses, at any given moment, generating a desire to eat waffles with Donald Duck. And a youth’s longing for Disney can never be sated! Eating, farting, and basking in the loving glow of the House of Mouse is all a child needs to survive. Note that I didn’t list breathing…
And it’s funny how the happiest/magicalest places on Earth aren’t exactly… kid friendly. No, I’m not saying Disneyland started offering sharp, pointy things on the promenade or Epcot’s giant golf ball is now a sex farm; what I’m talking about is how Disney attractions are very… regulated affairs. For all the talk of it being a child’s paradise, kids aren’t exactly allowed to be kids at a Disney park. Children want to run around, be free, and maybe break everything that has ever been considered valuable. Disney is all about sitting quietly and watching the play. Here’s a haunted mansion, here’s a pirate attack, here’s a runaway train… now sit there and enjoy it. Make no mistake, I’m not saying Disney is boring, simply that it is not the first thing I would expect as a child’s dream attraction.
Incidentally, if pressed, I’m thinking of a city-sized combination ball-pit/tunnels o’ fun/bouncy castle for the ultimate in juvenile fun. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that such an attraction would, possibly within minutes, lead to more broken, bloodied children than Jurassic Park (also exactly what I’d expect to be the decisive kiddy attraction). This is, in a way, one of the chief reasons video games are so appealing to children: you can do whatever you want, without fear of reprisal or injury. Super Mario basically lives in a bouncy castle kingdom, and those pipe mazes have more in common with a McDonald’s Playplace than any real sewers. And while many “old school” video games are more regimented, challenge level affairs (what fun is a game without winning?) more modern “open world” games offer the exact kind of free-wheeling freedom children are denied every time they’re grounded for something as insignificant as lighting the living room on fire.
Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is one of those rigid NES games. The concept is that you are… a cowboy? Cow child? Come to think of it, why didn’t they stick a Mickey hat on this kid’s sprite? I guess the ol’ ten gallon signifies adventure? Bah. Okay, in the interest of making this tangent eventually end, let’s call this guy… hm… brown hair… big yellow shoes… Sora? Yes, you’re Sora, friend of Mickey (not a euphemism), and Goofy has “accidently” dropped the golden key to the Enchanted Castle, so it’s up to you to explore the Magic Kingdom and reclaim the six silver keys (and reassemble Kingdom Key B?) from particular attractions. As far as plot excuses go, it’s not that bad, and it allows the game to have stakes (help Mickey!) without going too dark for a Disney licensed product (the Pirates of the Caribbean are not eating the tourists).
It may be restricted, but the gameplay is pretty diverse for a NES game. The Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion stages are both 2-D platforming affairs, and this is a Capcom game, so those areas are fairly thoughtfully designed. They’re no competition for DuckTales, but they’re better than anything ever seen on Adventure Island. Also, despite both levels using the same basic gameplay, Haunted Mansion is more “carefully time your jumps across moving platforms” while Pirates is “avoid all these enemies”, though there is a bit of overlap. Autopia (the go-karts) is an overhead car chase stage in the style of Spy Hunter, and Big Thunder Mountain is a minecart stage (ugh) where controlling your cart’s speed and guessing at the right path are the only challenges. Finally, there’s Space Mountain, where the best damn ride in the park has been reduced to a completely random Simon Says event. Alright, yes, Space Mountain kind of sucks, but the rest of the package is pretty alright, and, with unlimited continues and the ability to trade collectible stars for health refills, pretty doable for a NES game.
While the game isn’t all that exciting, it does boast a pretty amazing concept: what if you could actually participate in the Disney attractions? Watching a pirate is pretty alright, but how about actually fighting pirates, and pilfering their booty? Touring the Haunted Mansion is a lot more interesting when ghosts hop out of mirrors, and escaping a collapsing mountain is a skosh more fun when there’s actual danger from those tumbling debris. And who doesn’t want to explore space, even if it’s limited Space Mountain space? Mickey, I really want to grab that silver key on Asteroid F, but can I just enjoy having my own freaking space ship for like five minutes?
Now if I’m being realistic, pretty much everything in this game has been revisited in some game or another in the last few decades. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean both had complete games (mostly based on their movies), and any number of games have taken those archetypical ideas and ran to interesting places where heroes may or may not be able to hold their breath for ten minutes. We explored well beyond Space Mountain with the Federation of Space Loonies. As fun as Big Thunder Mountain can be, we are not lacking for tense minecart stages after Donkey Kong Country Returns. And as far as racing time, not only have we had a racing game or two in the last few years, the whole “ride” was adapted into a minigame within Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, complete with the race against a dastardly Pete.
But worrying about the levels or attractions is immaterial to what could be “the real thing”. What I want is what this game could be in the modern era: Grand Theft Auto: Magic Kingdom. Okay, no, I’m not suggesting you should be able to carjack your way around Disney World, I just want to see a game where you have control of the park, and I mean complete control. Ride It’s a Small World or jump off the rails and see how many cultures you can toss into each other. Soar over the entire park with Dumbo. Scale the Tower of Terror. Hunt the Jungle Cruise. Hall of Presidents boss rush. Take Mr. Toad on a truly wild ride. The possibilities are endless, and we have the technology to do it! Both Disney Parks are already designed like video game levels anyway!
Ask most kids where they want to go on vacation, and the answer is going to involve Disney. And that’s doable. But the secret wish? What that same kid wants but will never have? Complete control over Disney. No lines. No waiting. No rules. Just unbridled, unfettered fun.
It might not be possible in reality, but what else are video games for?
FGC #109 Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. And, like the majority of the Capcom/Disney library, I wouldn’t be expecting a rerelease anytime soon.
- Number of players: One lil’ kid in his lil’ cowboy hat.
- Favorite Attraction (in game): Haunted Mansion is some good ol’ Capcom style NES platforming. Pirates would come close, but it seems a little too anxious to deplete your piddling health within its first five seconds, leaving the poor hero inching along in fear of that final hit. It’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re deathly afraid of skeletons.
- Favorite Attraction (real life): Space Mountain. How did this game make the most fun part of the park into the most dismal? Oh, right, Simon Says has never been fun.
- Disney Memories: I actually went to Disney World annually with my family for most of my childhood, thanks to a combination of disposable income (being an only child is awesome!) and far too many relatives living in Orlando and surrounding areas. Honestly, and I even said this at the time, I always enjoyed going to Universal Studios Florida more than Disney World. The rides were… more adult? Ah, who am I kidding? I was just that much of a freak for Back to the Future.
- Capcomian: This is the third Disney/Capcom game, so this was before the likes of Talespin and Darkwing Duck. DuckTales was the first, though, and it’s kind of amazing that Capcom never hit that dizzying high ever again. Then again, there aren’t any statues trying to rob me in this game, so maybe we broke even.
- Did you know? I neglected to mention that one of the silver keys is available through a trivia game played throughout the park. The questions asked are wildly insane in their varying difficulty. Who are the chipmunk leaders of the Rescue Rangers? Think I can handle that one. But “What was the first Academy Award winning cartoon?” (Flowers and Trees), “What year did the Mickey Mouse Comic begin?” (1930), or “What is the name of Hook’s ship in ‘Peter Pan’?” (None) are all questions that I’m not sure anyone would ever know the answer, particularly pre-internet. At least “What is the name of the Evil Fairy in Sleeping Beauty?” has only gotten easier in recent years.
- Would I play again: I admit I have a certain fondness for this title… but I think I have more fondness for other Capcom/Disney games I can actually play to completion without cursing at Space Mountain. Sorry, Proto-Sora, you’re going back in the drawer.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Primal Rage for the SNES! And I was just talking about Jurassic Park and bodily harm….Please look forward to it!