Have You Played… Disney’s Aladdin?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Weirdly I wrote this several days before today’s announcement that Aladdin and other 90s Disney platformers have been re-released on GoG. Spooks!

There’s a black hole in my memory regarding Aladdin. I know I played it, and I know that I owned a boxed copy of it – I remember typing in specific words from specific pages of the manual in order to pass the copy protection. But I can’t remember why I would have owned a legit copy. I couldn’t afford many, if any, games back then, so the last thing I was going to do was drop cash on a bloody Disney game. That said, I do remember that Aladdin got its hooks deep into me.

As the uncool PC dweeb in class, I was desperate for Mario and Sonic-style platformers with which to keep up with the console Joneses, plus there was indeed a mild mania around the Aladdin movie at the time, Robin Williams’ genie being considered to be the height of comedy by 13-year-old boys.

The DOS version of the game didn’t arrive until 1994, two years after the film and one year after the Megadrive version. I suspect the well-received Sega edition had been briefly the talk of class, so there was I, a year later, thinking I could join a conversation everyone else had forgotten about. Typical Meer.

In any case, I was deeply charmed by the game, convinced that its big, exaggerated sprites were an exact replication of their animated counterparts, convinced that this slightly sluggish platformer which mostly revolved around collecting apples was the very future of videogames. Collect the apples. All the apples.

Looking back now, either via GoG’s surprise rerelease or with the legally uncertain assistance of Archive.org’s library of emulated DOS games, Aladdin actually is fairly impressive on a technical level, for a 1993 game. Resolution and framerate harms it, but it is entirely recognisably Disney visuals, with a ton of fun animations attached to its small roster of characters. It feels treacly and combat in particular is tiresome, but there’s a sense that plenty of thought and effort has gone into this – it’s not a crank the lever, spin-off a videogame ethos that came to blight so many 90s and 2000s adaptations, but an attempt to be a true companion product. This was, I suppose, an age when the word ‘multimedia’ was bandied about with wild abandon.

That said, there’s an odd focus on killing and being killed with swords that I suspect would not sit entirely comfortably with Disney executives now. Aladdin’s propensity to casually murder women who are throwing pots out of windows is particularly eyebrow-raising. It’s OK, though. Not aged at all badly, speed aside.

Aladdin makes me mourn for the 3D takeover that was right around the corner, for how interest in pursuing animation-like 2D games waned so sharply. The things we might have seen. A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view. Bring it on, Cuphead.

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18 Comments

  1. gbrading says:

    I remember in the 1990s I had a trio of Disney Megadrive games on CD; Aladdin, The Lion King and The Jungle Book. Aladdin was the best game overall (even with the really difficult magic carpet level), The Lion King was punishingly difficult throughout and The Jungle Book was the easiest because you could cheat and because it was non-linear.

    Stupidly I somehow gave away or lost the CD. Aladdin does feel sluggish to play, but it had some great animations and music and followed the plot of the film pretty well. Aladdin’s cry of pain whenever he gets hit is drilled into my brain. I think the version I played was different from the one on GOG; the health bar was represented by smoke from the lamp.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I remember liking Lion King most. First half was a platformer, second half was a beat ’em up.

  2. GameCat says:

    I’ve played only bootleg NES version which is almost 1:1 port of SNES version with slightly downgraded graphics.
    One of the best looking NES games.

  3. withad says:

    If I remember rightly, the Mega Drive version of Aladdin actually had Disney animators working with Virgin’s team to get the look just right. The SNES version was done completely separately, without such nice animation and with less emphasis on the swordfighting, I think. Retro Gamer had a nice article on it recently.

    • Spuzzell says:

      The different gameplay styles of the two versions are down to personal preference. I only played the SNES version recently and really liked not having to hit people with swords for once. Throwing apples and using movement and cleverness felt more like being a cheeky Arabian scamp than the Sega killing spree.

      The SNES was also a better console graphically generally and the SNES version of Aladdin certainly looks a lot nicer to my eyes, even with Disney animators on the other side.

      What’s not in question is that the sound in the MegaDrive Aladdin was terrible.

  4. theblazeuk says:

    I played this to death on the SNES, mainly for the crazy genie levels and the magic carpet fleeing from the cavern level. So good.

    Swordfighting didn’t really happen on the SNES, you just jumped on people’s heads, slid and threw apples at them. You could hurt people with their own swords I think but you never picked one up. It was grand and honestly the animation was pretty amazing, at least at the time.

  5. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    The magic carpet level on the Genesis version was an absolute fuck. I remember many young tears being she’s over that bit.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Actually, only about 52% of tears are shes.

      Also, yes, that level sucked.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      I had the benefit of playing it on an underpowered intel knockoff PC (Cyrix?). The faster that magic carpet level for, the slower my machine went giving me ample time to avoid the obstacles.

  6. Kunstbanause says:

    This was my first favourite game!

  7. haldolium says:

    I honestly don’t remember. But Prince of Persia was better anyways…

  8. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    ABBA ABBA

    (Also pausing with the mickey mouse ears. Great times.)

  9. Turkey says:

    Kim Justice did a review/mini documentary about the making of the MD Aladdin earlier this year.

  10. C0llic says:

    Played this on the old megadrive. It was good. Back then Disney released some very slick, pretty platformers. They looked amazing for the time.

  11. Geewhizbatman says:

    Aw, my comment of desiring the Pocahontas game and linking its ridiculous commercial from back in the day are gone. A tragedy akin to Troy that ;(

    • Alevice says:

      you posted it in the other article worry not

      • Geewhizbatman says:

        Oh lolzies, I’m just a ditz thank goodness. What a tragedy it would have been to lose it xD

        As for actually paying attention to this article, no I never played it. But I do have many, many memories of watching my sister play it and it was entertaining just to watch. She was the action-platformer type and I wanted to see the enemies and watch that camel shoot spit at people but I would have gotten no where. I thought it did really capture the fantasy….though no I don’t believe she ever did finish it because even she wasn’t willing to start at the beginning of a bad save point just to see what she already knew was the ending.

        Then again, that was how a lot of our gaming together went. Battletoads was when we both quietly decided to leave the genre, I think. Which is sad because by the time things like Crash Bandicoot and the like were out I think we were too burnt out to want to slip off another perilous edge. There was Mischief Makers at least and, really, after delving into that insanity what else was there?