One of the complaints that I hear concerning Games That Time Forgot is that the games I've covered so far aren't really classified as forgotten. I've often heard things like "well, I remember this game" or "I never forgot it", or "this game isn't forgotten by time"! And yes, the law of averages means that the chances of me talking about a game that no one has ever heard is pretty slim, especially in this age of the internet. However, there is also a really good chance that a game I talk about someone maybe hasn't heard of before or isn't familar with its development, like in the case of Doctor Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. Besides, the primary goal of Games That Time Forgot isn't necessarily to talk about obscure games (though believe me I have and will do so), but also to analyze and look at less talked about games and see if they're worth a second look or deserve recogntion. These include games that are oddball releases of popular franchises (Yoshi's Safari & Pac-Man 2), games that were popular at one point or even well received but are now barely mentioned (The Minish Cap & Metroid Fusion) or in the case of the game we're talking about today, stars a mascot of a multi-billion dollar company that to them was most likely just made to make a quick buck: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse.
Okay, I know that last part seems a little harsh, albeit a little bit true, but despite the cycnism, Magical Quest is far from a cash grab, being a well made platformer from the minds at Capcom, with the team going above and beyond what they were suppose to and actually made a game that was not only faithful to the character, but an excellent homage to both Disney and Capcom's roots. And it even did well enough that we got two sequels! Well sort of, but I'll get into that later. Yet despite all of that, the game never got the due that it deserved, neither then or now. Hell, for the longest time I was told the game wasn't real by my peers; whether it was one of their many ways of tormenting me or if they genuinely didn't know will be one of the great mysteries of life. And while I'm sure there are some of you who have heard of the game, there are also just as many, if not more, of you who have never heard of this game. But the people who have heard of the game and played have found it to be a solid game, myself being one of them, and I feel that it is my duty to let you all know why I never shut up about this game everytime there's a new collection of older Disney games announced and this isn't in that list.
So let's put on our Mickey Mouse ears and go on a magical quest. This is The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. Bonus points if you read this is your best Mickey Mouse voice.
The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, which going forward I'll just call Magical Quest, is a 2D platformer for the Super Nintendo that was developed and published by Capcom and was released in November of 1992 in Japan, December 1992 in North America, and March 18th, 1993 for Europe (why Europe had a release date compared to the others is beyond me). There was also going to be a Genesis port, but for unknown reasons it was dropped. Unlike previous games, where I can look up the game's Wikipedia and big name websites and videos for a lot of the basic developer info, Magical Quest made me dig for its development history. Not just because it's a pretty obscure game (the Wikipedia article at the time of this writing is literally this game and its two sequels), but also because it was released during a time where the Capcom staff used mostly nicknames when being credited in games, a practice that was started in the 80s when video games were just starting to get huge and to avoid rival game companies from poaching talent. So I had to put on my trusty journalism hat and had to do some honest, legit research here, and I'll be honest: I was kind of surprised who worked on this.
While none of them are household names or have the same rockstar status as a Miyamoto or Naka, let alone as popular as Capcom alums such as Shinji Mikami or Hideki Kamiya, the people who worked on this game is quite impressive. For example, executive advisor Tokuro Fujiwara (credited as Professor F) has a lot of game credits under his belt, like Ghosts 'N Goblins (plus Resurrection), Mega Man 2 AND Mega Man X, the DuckTales game on NES, Strider, and even Madworld. Then you have programmer Hisashi Yamamoto (credited as MX-5), who has done work on games like U.N. Squadron (a game that I do intend on talking about in the future), the GBA Final Fantasy remakes up to V, and even Bloodborne as a coordinator. Then we have music by Mari Yamaguchi and Tatsuya Nishimura (credited as Mari and Anie respectively), who have between the two of them credits for Street Fighter II, Breath of Fire, Final Fight II, and in Mari's case, I Wanna Be The Guy, though she went uncredited in that part. Even Noah Dudley, the producer who's also the only one who's fully credited, worked on various Disney games, including the SNES version of Aladdin, aka the superior version of Aladdin.
Again, none of these are household name developers, but it does show that there was a fair amound of talent that worked on Magical Quest. Not only that, but for a lot of them, this wasn't their first time working with a Disney IP (nor would it be the last either), so there's no question on whether it would be good or not. The question is how good would it be? Let's find out.
Normally when I write these and do play the games to get a feel for them, I try to be objective with my playthroughs, not letting any of my personal views or opinions of a game cloud my look back, even if I had experince with a game before and really liked it, like with Metroid Fusion or Pokemon Stadium 2. I'm sorry to say that I failed miserably here, because as soon as I booted up Magical Quest, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I was five again, playing this game and having a wonderful time.
The epic plot for this adventure is as follows: Mickey and his friends are playing catch, Pluto goes missing, causing Mickey to look for him and fall down a cliff. Instead of dying from the fall, he ends up in a land that's ruled by Emperor Pete, who intends to use his evil magic to experiment on Mickey's canine pal. Mickey of course wants none of that, so with the help of a wise wizard, begins his quest to save Pluto. Yeah, Kingdom Hearts this ain't, but for a plot of a platfomer, it's fine. To save his pal, Mickey must explore six stages, each consisting of about three to four small levels, sometimes with a midboss at the end of the second level and always ending with a boss at the last level.
One of the things I do love about this game and the levels is how they surprisngly transition into each other. Take for example the first stage Treetops: you start level one up in the sky (with the music being oddly in sync with Mickey falling into the level), meet the wizard who will help you, then leave. The next part has you leaving the sky and climbing down a beanstalk before entering a forest next to a lake, before fighting a miniboss, crossing the lake in the next level, before entering even deeper into the forest where you fight the boss of the level, a giant snake. Then when you start stage 2, the Dark Forest, you can see the lake that you crossed one last time before entering even deeper. It isn't much, but simple touches like this go a long way of making the game feel like an adventure, like you're exploring this huge world, and it really helps with the immersion.
Gameplay takes a little bit from a lot of games at the time, but with a twist. Mickey can jump on enemies like he can in any other platformer, but a lot of the enemies take too many hits to be taken out effectively; this is where the blocks come in. After meeting the kindly wizard in stage 1, magical blocks show up and can be thrown by Mickey, which is a much faster way to take them out. Some enemies can be stunned and used to hit other enemies, and while you can jump on some enemies and most of the bosses, it's heavily recommended that you go with the blocks or stunned enemies to attack. But that's not the only trick Mickey has up his sleeves, as this game introduces the concept of costumes.
Throughout Magical Quest, Mickey can get three other costumes besides his default one. First, there's the wizard robe, which gives Mickey a sweet turban and more importantly a magic attack, which can be charged up like in Mega Man, though it has a power meter, so you can't go crazy with it. Next is the firefighter, which helps you put out the fires in stage 3, Fire Grotto (which is a nice way of saying Hell), and can be used to push certain blocks, and even create platforms in the obligatory ice stage and also has a power meter like the wizard robe; I should point out that in both of these costumes, Mickey can't grab blocks, but he makes up for it by having a projectile. Finally, there's Mickey's mountaineer costume, which doesn't have a limited projectile (though it did in the beta), but rather a grappling hook that lets him grab onto ledges and special objects, and for all intents and purposes, turns the game into Bionic Commando. As a kid, I thought this was cool, but as an adult I can apperciate a lot of the subtle homages and references the game makes.
Besides the aformentioned Bionic Commando, there's of course references to Mega Man & X with the charged up magic attack, one of the bosses has an attack pattern like Toad Man, another has one like Firebrand from Ghosts 'N Goblins, not to mention all the Disney references, like with Mickey's mountaineer costume looking like Robin Hood's outfit or even the opening being an obvious reference to Alice in Wonderland. The developers clearly went above and beyond for this game and sprinkled it with so many references and homages to both Disney and their games.
The music is another high point of the game as well; as much as I like music in games and think it's one of the most important parts of a game, I usually don't talk about here because it not only is it subjective, but it's a little hard to explain why it helps. I'm making an exception here, because the music in Magical Quest is absolutely amazing. The music fits every level perfectly and really goes along with making the whole experince feel like an actual quest, sounding appropriately sweeping and epic in the case of stage 1 and 4, sinister in stages 3,6 (stage six being the last stage by the way) and the boss battles, or sounding hauntingly beautiful in the case of stage 5, the ice level. But easily, the best track of them all is the one for stage 2, Dark Forest. It is one of my favorite tracks in a video game, and it's what guranteed that I would never forget this game, as well as the reason I hold music in video games in such high regard. Seriously, just close your eyes and imagine this playing in a pirate game or something like Robin Hood:
In case it wasn't obvious at this point, I'll just say it as plain as day: I love Magical Quest. It was a good game when I was a kid, but as an adult, I can say it's a great game now. It's got an excellent soundtrack and pacing, wonderful gameplay and mechanics, and it's clear a lot of love went into this game. Not only would I recommend people should play it, but I would argue that it's perfect to get newcomers into platformers, assuming you haven't given them Super Mario World or a Kirby game. It's not a long game either, clocking in at about two hours, though I will say that if you're going to play it, don't do it on easy, especially if you've played video games before or have a pulse. Normal is a little bit more challenging, and hard mode can give you a bit more of a challenge, though again, nothing most seasoned players can get through. And yeah, it may suck that when you die you have to start that section from the beginning, but considering how short the sections are that's nothing. Plus, unlike most Capcom games of the era, Magical Quest has unlimited continues, so you can keep trucking along until you beat it; you do lose your score when you continue, but who cares about a high score in a SNES game anyway?
Like I said before, I tried to look at Magical Quest as objectively as I can, but it took a hold on me, and I honestly can't recommend it enough. I was actually surprised that it held up better than I thought. But what did other people think of it at the time? Let's find out.
Not that many outlets reviewed Magical Quest when it came out, but the few that did reviewed it positively. Most reviews did agree that it was a game for younger kids and that more experinced players should play it on higher difficulties. Still, it did well enough, selling 1.2 million copies worldwide, which I guess was enough of an incentive to make two more games (both of which I intend to talk about in the future): The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey and Minnie, which was released for the Super Nintendo and Genesis in 1993, and Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey and Donald, which released exclusively in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1995. The games remained pretty obscure for awhile (I didn't even know The Great Circus Mystery was a sequel until years later) until they were remade for the Game Boy Advance, starting with Magical Quest 1 released in 2002.
This version was developed by Capcom and was published by Nintendo and Disney Interactive, and was made to be compatible with the Nintendo Gamecube exclusive The Magical Mirror Starring Mickey Mouse. It also adds Minnie as a playable character, though her animations and sprites are pretty much the same outside of her magic outfit; this is one of the few times that Minnie refers to Mickey as her boyfriend, which I know that's the relationship, but it always felt weird to not seem them call each other that very much. Also, the music is......an acquired taste. I know the GBA isn't as powerful sound wise as a Super Nintendo, and it isn't bad, but I would honestly say stick to the Super Nintendo version for the better soundtrack.
Now we get to the big one here: why was it forgotten? One would think that a game starring arguably the most recongizable mascot of all time would have garnered some level of attention, and yet I'm talking about Magical Quest here. I think the reason for that is more to do with the games Magical Quest had to compete with, both at the time of its release, and throughout the Super Nintendo's life. What I mean is that the Super Nintendo was not lacking in 2D platformers, with the genre being arguably the biggest on the system and with no genre even coming close to topping in it terms of sheer quantity. That already makes it hard for a game to stick out, even when it stars a character like Mickey Mouse, but what makes it even harder is that a lot of those games are considered the best games not just in the genre but also on the system and of all time. I'm talking the likes of Super Mario World, the Donkey Kong Country games, Yoshi's Island, Kirby Super Star, and those are just the ones that Nintendo had made! Then you have what Capcom was making for the console: Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Mega Man 7, the SNES version of Aladdin, the first Mega Man X, etc., not to mention what other developers were doing like Konami with Super Castlevania IV.
That's why as much as I love Magical Quest, I hesitate to call it one of my all time favorite games. Maybe in top 15 or top 10 if I was feeling generous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the like of Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country 2. I wouldn't even say its Capcom's best game, because of the aforementioned Mega Man X. I guess the best way to describe it is that you know how most people consider The Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars movie, while you don't see as much love for A New Hope or Return of the Jedi? It's not because those two movies are bad anything, far from it, but because Empire just was such an amazing movie that hit it out of the park, that even though those movies are great, they aren't as amazing as that one. And that's what we have here.
But beyond being a B+ student in a class of A+ peers, I'd also argue that it doesn't really help either that Magical Quest didn't really have much in the way of brand recognition. I know that seems weird, since again, Mickey Mouse is a global icon. But compared to DuckTales or Chip 'N Dale's Rescue Rangers or later the game based on the Aladdin movie, Mickey Mouse didn't have anything like that at the time, and while none of those properties are obviously as big as the mouse, there was at least something to grasp on for those games. Mickey didn't have that, and while I doubt that played a huge part, it certainly didn't help either, and I have a feeling that if I didn't get as a Christmas gift, I doubt I would have asked for it.
And I know someone is going to respond to this with "well, what about Castle of Illusion? That game did well on the Genesis!" Well yeah it did, but two things to keep in mind about that game. One, Castle of Illusion came out at the time when the Genesis was competing with the NES in terms of power, so it was able to stick out from the crowd, and two, it was created primarily as a way to get people to buy a Genesis while Sega worked on their other stuff, neither of which Magical Quest was able to take advantage of for obvious reasons, thus resulting in it getting lost in the crowd, so to speak. Which to me I feel is a real shame, because while it may not be my favorite game of all time, it's still a genuinely solid game that respects Mickey as a character and Capcom's history.
Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt the answer to both those questions is yes.
The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is a love letter to all things Capcom and Mickey. That alone may not make it a great game, but the excellent level designs, amazing music, and stellar gameplay certainly help. While it may not be the greatest game on the SNES or even the best game Capcom made, it is definetly a game that deserves a lot more love and attention, and yes I would absolutely love a re-release. If you haven't done so, I highly recommend that you find a way to play this game. The amount of fun you'll have with it is nothing short of magical. God that was terrible.
So now that I got that out of my system, it's time to get cracking on the next game I'll look at. And hey with both Halloween and Metroid Dread coming out next month, I figure it would be a good chance to take a look at some obscure games in one of my favorite game franchises of all time, Castlevania. But which one? I'd tell you, but I think it's funnier to see you running in CIRCLES trying to figure it out and howling at the MOON in anger over what it is.
.........It's Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. That's the next game I'm looking at. See you then.