Monday, February 4, 2013

NES Replay: Aladdin

Developer: NMS Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Released: 1994
Cave of Wonders?: More like a cave of
BLUNDERS, amirite?
In NES Replay, we go through each NES game from A-Z to see if they're any good. Today: Aladdin.

When will publishers learn not to keep releasing games for systems that are dead?

Listen: If I still own and am regularly playing a PS2, it's not because I want a watered-down version of Modern Warfare 3 that's going to run at 10 frames per second. It's because I'm playing older games and would like to get games for cheap. Trying to bring current-generation games to systems that can't handle them pleases no one and wastes valuable resources that could be allocated to better games.

Let's take the example of DJ Hero. True, DJ Hero didn't sell very well on any system, but Activision made the boneheaded decision to also release a version for the PS2. It ended up selling a paltry 3,300 units in its entire first month. That's not a typo. I had more hits on this site the last month than units of DJ Hero for the PS2. All the money spent porting and tweaking DJ Hero and developing the turntable for the PS2 would have been better used by hauling the money in bales out to parking lot, dousing it in kerosene and lighting it on fire.

Gaze ye and despair.
That brings us to Aladdin for the NES. Aladdin looked awesome on the Sega Genesis (and pretty good on the Super NES too) because they put a ton of effort into it. The developers worked closely with Disney animators to make sure that everything moved incredibly fluidly, and the result was that every single thing in Aladdin looks stunning to this day. It's really the only reason to play it, since the level design is all right but a little bland.

So how would you port a game known primarily for its graphical fidelity to the NES?

The answer: Poorly.

Aladdin looks putrid. Because of system limitations, they couldn't include the great animation that was the hallmark of Aladdin. Not only that, but all the sprites are teeny-weeny, so they have no detail. There are some laughable animations too, like when Aladdin will need to hang from wires, and his hands aren't anywhere close to the wire itself. Let's look at a comparison from an early level on the Sega Genesis version and the NES version.

Genesis version. Notice the large, detailed sprites,
beautiful backgrounds and neat foreground effects.
NES version. Notice the, well, crappy everything.
I couldn't get the sword guy to walk into the screenshot, by the way.
Now, I'm not here to pick on the NES for having bad graphics compared to a 16-bit console. That's not the point. The point is that the NES couldn't handle Aladdin, and they had no business trying to cram it onto the NES. All it ended up doing was making the NES look horrible, making some kids very upset that their game didn't look as good as their friends' games, and probably selling some Genesis systems. Maybe that was the point, who knows.

Because of the poor graphics, that means that Aladdin has to sink or swim based on its level design and controls alone, and it simply can't. The levels were never the main draw of Aladdin, as the graphics in the Genesis/SNES versions made the levels come alive, not the other way around. The controls in the NES version are also really floaty and inexact, so it's just not very fun to play.

This game was released in 1994 in Europe. In 1994, the Super Nintendo was entering its murderer's row of Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and other classics. The Sega Genesis was at the tail end of a great run as well, with more good games on the horizon. The Playstation was a year away, for God's sake. To release Aladdin on the NES in 1994 was just a complete and total miscalculation. It was bad, and Virgin Interactive should feel bad.

Final Rating:

Next Week: Alfred Chicken

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