If you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.
Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.
And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.
On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon element for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.
On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.
It’s also tremendously less fun to play.
Okay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.
But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.
Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.
Meanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.
And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.
I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.
And it’s not a bad thing.
There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.
So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.
FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)
- System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
- Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
- Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?
Really think this one has legs.
- Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
- And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
- Goggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
- Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
- Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.
What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!
Creative But Sloppy vs. Fun But Safe sounds like a pretty good general descriptor, yeah. Honestly, I think an even better comparison than GOTY-caliber games would be comparing western games to west-inspired Japanese games, and vice versa. Skyrim vs. Dark Souls* would be the obvious choice but I’m thinking more Skyrim vs. Dragon’s Dogma, or on the vice versa side Devil May Cry 3 compared to Ninja Theory’s reboot DmC: Devil May Cry.
On the subject of the games, I definitely lean more SNES Aladdin ‘cuz I feel that “fun to play” is much more important than “looks awesome” in the 16-bit era, but I do really like the look of the Genesis installment. Would’ve loved to have seen a version of Disney’s Aladdin that combines the best of both worlds (Capcom’s gameplay and level design talent with Virgin’s Disney-assisted art direction and creativity when it comes to level themes).
* Heck, FromSoftware’s been taking inspiration from the west long before the Souls series ever came along. Armored Core’s always felt more inspired by the likes of BattleTech than Gundam, and King’s Field and its derivatives are very much Ye Olde Swords & Sorcery games.
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