I had a conundrum to overcome, readers. After considerable time away from GameCola, I had to choose the perfect game to review upon my grand return. A game that would speak to you—communicating my personality, tastes, opinions and integrity. For what must have been a full minute I agonised over this, painstakingly sorting through the thousands of games I’ve enjoyed and endured, desperate to find that one title that would serve as the catalyst to my resurrection.
The resolution, you ask? Essentially I got bored and chose the game I’d played most recently, which happened to be Mickey Mania.
However, this isn’t as arbitrary as it sounds—not only is Mickey Mania an extremely enjoyable game, it’s also rather appropriate as my comeback review. After all, long-time readers may remember that I reviewed both Castle of Illusion and its seminal sequel back in the old days. As a proven advocate of the old-school Disney games, what better to celebrate my homecoming with?
Mickey Mania is a platform game. This much should seem obvious, given that it was released on 16-bit consoles, as every 16-bit game ever made is also a platformer. Seriously, go check. Travellers Tales seem to have focused on simplicity, as Mickey is a piece of cake to control. By default, the A and C buttons jump, while the B button throws marbles, which is Mickey’s primary attack, alongside his size thirteens. The controls feel slightly floaty, which can be a little disconcerting at first. It doesn’t take long to get used to them.
Each stage takes the form of a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon, largely from the thirties. This means that the levels aren’t exactly related, so there isn’t much of a sense of progression. This problem is compounded by the learning curve, which essentially doesn’t exist. The chronological nature of the cartoons doesn’t really lend itself to a traditional game structure, so you will play levels that really belong near the end of the game (“The Mad Doctor” is a particular culprit) rather too soon, for the obnoxious reason that the cartoon it’s based on was released earlier than those that inspired the easier stages. The experience as a whole is slightly hamstrung by this rigid commitment to chronicling the all-American rodent’s exploits in the correct order, but not to the extent that the game is ruined. Heavens, no.
The levels themselves are varied, with each one built of several distinct sections. (Even the shortest level, “Moose Hunters,” has two sections that are entirely different.) Most of these introduce some sort of new gimmick, which is promptly done away with in the next area. This can be a little frustrating, as there’s certainly more they could have done with some of the mechanics. (The Queen Spider chase in “Mickey and the Beanstalk,” for example, is laughably anti-climactic.) This also gives the game a rather bitty feel, with some sub-levels lasting less than a minute. Thankfully, the levels are, without exception, fun to play and throw up more than a few surprises. There are plenty of secrets, some of which are extremely tricky to find, including a full secret level based on Mickey’s first colour appearance, “The Band Concert.”
As far as visuals go, Traveller’s Tales outdid themselves—Mickey Mania is graphically stunning throughout, with fantastic sprite design and background art really giving the game an authentic cartoon feel. The little touches, such as the scratches overlaid onto the first level (to simulate watching the cartoon on worn film stock), the three-dimensional entrance to the Lonesome Ghosts’ mansion and the way that the colour gradually returns to the docks as you pass through them lend an unmistakable sense that the developers cared about this game—and that’s without mentioning the rotating tower levels, which need to be seen to be believed. Mickey himself is arguably at the best he’s looked in a videogame, full of expression, smoothly animated and fantastically well-coloured. In fact, the colour design is worth extra mention—the game is absolutely lush throughout, with real depth to the character shading and a consistency that most similar games fail to match. It’s probably the best-looking game on the Genesis and has lost nothing in its transfer to Sega CD.
Sound-wise it’s a mixed bag. As it’s a CD title, the Genesis tunes have been replaced with a synthesised soundtrack. Whether you think this is better than the original chiptunes is down to personal preference, though I find the Sega CD’s soundtrack to be superior— the Genesis’ effort is fine, but I found it curiously forgettable. The tunes happily bounce along, and there’s a lot (a surprising amount, in fact) of sampled speech, with the titular vermin commenting on seemingly everything he encounters (my personal favourite being his jovial, if pointless, “Hiya, Mister Goat!”).
It’s worth pointing out that this game isn’t particularly easy. Aforementioned learning curve issues throw you into some pretty harsh situations early on (the trial and error of the elevator section in the second level springs to mind), and Mickey isn’t exactly a durable creature. The whole game can easily be beaten in well under an hour when you’ve learned it, but that could well take a while. Even when you’ve memorised the whole layout and know exactly what’s coming, you’ll still play through the game for the sheer fun of it.
Looking back over this review, it seems mostly negative, which is odd because I absolutely love Mickey Mania. It has something, a sort of x-factor that most licensed games are missing. Perhaps it’s the sky-high production values or the number of obscure secret areas that appeals so much, or maybe it’s the admittedly simplistic, but hugely rewarding, gameplay. Give it a try—any of the versions will do, though, atypically, the SNES conversion is missing quite a lot of content. (The game is available on Genesis, Sega CD, and SNES, and on PSX in Europe only as Mickey’s Wild Adventure.) See what you make of Mickey Mania.