Author: John Legendoffzelda
Mickey Mania was Sony Imagesoft and Disney’s gift to Mickey Mouse, a belated present for the guy’s 65th anniversary. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I were Mickey, I would have preferred that they didn’t get me anything at all. This game is an obtuse, gray embarrassment; it’s a shallow mess marred by terrible level design and dumb gameplay elements, and beyond that a completely shabby celebration of Mickey Mouse. All it has going for it are the twelve principle-animated sprites done by Disney artists. But since Virgin’s Aladdin had the same type of animation used to more potent effect, I see no reason to care. I have yet to agree with anyone who says it’s one of the best Disney video games, and there are certainly a lot of people who say this.
The story supposedly is Mickey just taking a celebratory romp through the high points of his filmography – six whole cartoons – though the game implies that the ultimate goal is defeating his nemesis Pete. In a set of moves copied from Castle of Illusion, Mickey eliminates his enemies by lobbing marbles at them and jumping on their heads. He has five hit points, represented by a gloved hand in the corner that curls a finger up with each hit point lost. Getting hit after the hand is curled into a complete fist costs the player a life, but hit points can be replenished by collecting stars.
At the start, Mickey is plopped onboard the steamboat in the black-and-white world of “Steamboat Willie”, and already Mickey Mania goes wrong. Disney’s main mouse must avoid losing hit points to both the steamboat’s whistles and chickens (kept out of the frame) that poke their heads from their shipping crates. It becomes evident from here that the game’s six levels are larded with fake difficulty in the form of enemy and obstacle placement that makes no sense except as a nuisance.
Enemy and obstacle placement is truly infuriating in this game, and the “Mad Doctor” level is notably guilty of this. The beginning of the level puts Mickey at the start of a collapsing bridge, with three large bats flying over it. Either Mickey must cross the bridge and nearly sacrifice all his hit points in doing so; or he must take the bats out with marbles, which given their awful hit boxes, is an endeavor that amounts to chance. But the most egregious example is one single bat placed in a puzzle towards the end of the level. In it, Mickey needs to fill a beaker with some chemicals, push the beaker onto a Bunsen burner and heat the mixture up to destroy a barrier. Flying above the chemical-dispensing levers is that bat, and it will always reappear no matter how often Mickey eliminates it. Why is the bat there? He isn’t there to kill Mickey; if he messes up the puzzle, he can do it over – the beaker is unable to fall off, and Mickey can go underneath the table to push the beaker off of the burner. No, the bat is there because Mickey has to jump on the levers to dispense the chemicals, and this is where the developers added another fake challenge to the gameplay mechanic. It was bad enough that Mickey has to hold the burner switch for 10 whole seconds before the beaker explodes; but that bat just had to be there.
Additional puzzles in this game are just as tedious (as in “push item from point A to point B”), and they also underline a serious flaw in the game’s flow: its start-stop rhythm syndrome. Returning to the “Mad Doctor” level, the second enemy types are evil skeletons that explode into showers of bones, and early obstacles are hanging pairs of knives that Mickey must cause to fall down so he can jump over them. What these two parts of the level have in common are that to reasonably avoid them, Mickey has to go in the opposite direction, running away from the bones and knives; “minding your surroundings” is one thing, but “reversing your whole pattern of movement” is something entirely different and stupider.
The game just weighs the player down with the time spent either stopping or not going forward. Aside from the “Mad Doctor”, the “Lonesome Ghosts” level is plagued with ghosts that Mickey cannot hit or go past, he can only wait for them to vanish. That can really get to some players. The “Moose Hunters” level, which has an amazing concentration of fake difficulty, makes Mickey stop every two seconds so that a boulder or a loose tree branch doesn’t fall on him – or that a moose Mickey can’t outrun doesn’t ram him from behind.
The three boss battles in the game all involve the boss wandering out of frame and launching obnoxious projectiles at Mickey. It’s here that I should bring up that the enthusiasts of Mickey Mania cite it as the debut project for Sony wunderkind David Jaffe. They are correct, and while I find the boss battles just as boring and dumb as the rest of the game, I like to pretend that Jaffe was responsible for some of its few good parts – like the fact that a boss’s hit points don’t reset if the player loses a life. It lets me think that somebody involved with this game had their head on forwards.
It specifically hurts the Super Nintendo version of this game that it’s the worst version available. The developers of the port removed a bonus level, a segment of the “Mad Doctor” level (which is nearly the exact same thing as a segment in the “Prince and the Pauper” level, so what was wrong?), segments of end-level animation, and a few presentation elements as well. But what cements this game’s abysmal quality for me are the design choices meant to commemorate Mickey’s anniversary; how could they have wasted so many opportunities? Why is the “Steamboat Willie” level the only one that gives the full release date of its source material, while the others just get release years? Why isn’t the “Mad Doctor” level in black-and-white like its source material, like how the “Steamboat Willie” level is? Why does the on-screen text call the boss of that level “The Mad Doctor” and not Dr. XXX, which is his real name? Why is Pluto in the “Lonesome Ghosts” level, when he wasn’t in the original cartoon? Why couldn’t there have been levels based on Mickey Mouse cartoons like “Thru the Mirror” or “The Brave Little Tailor”? Would that have required some kind of drastic shift in gameplay that the designers weren’t able to attempt? I don’t necessarily expect to get any answers; I just found it relaxing to ask.
Mickey Mania is awful. It’s just a disappointing failure on every count it merits in. Mickey himself happens to turn 85 this year, and in the time since this game was released, I would think he’s picked up a few more admirers. Having caught up with his work in recent months, I would say I’m one of them. Likewise, I’m sure this game will keep the admirers it has now. But my belief is that I will never be an admirer of this game, and if I were Mickey I would pretend it never existed.
One out of five stars.
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