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.