The late eighties marked Disney’s resurgence after nearly two decades of underperforming films. During their return to relevance, an up-and-coming gaming console known in North America and Europe as the Nintendo Entertainment System emerged. It revitalized the North American gaming industry after its severe crash in 1983. As many of the games on this platform became bestsellers, companies owning famous, successful franchises would license their properties to developers so they could capitalize on this rapidly growing trend. Unfortunately, many of these titles wound up being transparent cash grabs, as these largely unknown companies would put only the bare minimum amount of effort into creating them. Products that could hardly be considered finished lined the store shelves alongside earnest efforts, waiting to swindle enthusiasts out of their hard-earned money.
Disney themselves would follow suit, allowing a company to turn their IPs into video games. However, in an unexpected move, the developer to whom they gave permission was Capcom. By this point in history, the company had made a name for themselves with classic arcade games such as Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Gun.Smoke. Their success continued in the home market once they released the first installment in what would become their most well-known franchise: Mega Man. Capcom gathered their most talented programmers, creating adaptations of DuckTales, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and Tale Spin among others. Many of these efforts continue to be highly regarded to this day as some of the finest examples of licensed games in the medium’s history. Another one of the games released during this time was Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. This stands out slightly among Capcom’s other Disney-based games in that it’s an adaptation of a real-life location rather than a show or movie. It also generally isn’t remembered as much as their other Disney games. Does it nonetheless have a place in the NES library as an underrated classic?
Analyzing the Experience
Mickey Mouse is ready to start the big parade in the Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, Goofy left the Golden Key in the castle. Donald suggests going there straight away, but Goofy points out that one needs six Silver Keys to open the gate, and he admits to having misplaced them. It is now up to you to find the Silver Keys scattered throughout the park so the parade may start.
The cover art of Adventures in the Magic Kingdom along with its very name are somewhat misleading, as the park depicted in the game more closely resembles Disneyland, which is based in Anaheim, California, than the Magic Kingdom resort in Bay Lake, Florida near Orlando. This is relevant because Adventures in the Magic Kingdom features five distinct stages – all of which are based on famous Disneyland rides.
In a clever twist possibly inspired by Mega Man, you can complete the levels in any order you choose. You accomplish this not through a level select menu, but rather by exploring the park and visiting the corresponding attraction. The gameplay varies depending on the stage.
The first level is based off of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Here, the game is a basic side-scrolling affair wherein you are tasked with saving six civilians who have been abducted by pirates. All you have to do is walk to the civilians to rescue them. In the second half of the stage, the pirates become more aggressive, forcing you to find a means of defending yourself. By collecting a flare in a hidden cavern, you can easily dispatch the pirates. Once you’ve saved all of the civilians, you use the flare at the end of the stage to light a bonfire so you can make your escape.
The second stage takes inspiration from the Haunted Mansion. The controls are the same as they were in the Pirates of the Caribbean portion, but your goal is a bit more straightforward this time. All you need to do is make it to the attic and defeat the ghost that resides there. You have candles to defend yourself with, which you throw at the enemies to defeat them. Though you have a finite amount, there are plenty more within the mansion.
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad forms the basis of the game’s third area. Here, you’re riding a train, and you must choose a direction for it to follow whenever the track splits. You can control the train’s speed somewhat by pressing the “B” button to slow down, but you cannot stop it outright. As the train nears its destination, you will have to dodge boulders that roll across the screen, wait for boom barriers to rise, and avoid any dead-ends. If you get hit thrice, you will need to restart the level.
In the fourth event, which is inspired by the Autopia attraction, Panhandle Pete has pilfered one the silver keys and won’t give it back unless you defeat him in a race. This level too is simple enough; just make it to the end in first place while dodging various obstacles. Throughout the racetrack are ramps that you can use to propel your car upwards, potentially allowing you to take a shortcut. You can deal with your competition by ramming them off the track, though you lose if your own car lands out of bounds.
The final game involves piloting a spaceship to a distant star. Your destination is star “F”, and your current location is displayed on the monitor above. Prompts will periodically appear on the bottom monitor. When an arrow appears, the ship needs to go in that direction. You must press the appropriate direction on the control pad or else your vessel will take damage. Occasionally, a meteor will impede your progress. At this time, a button will appear on the bottom monitor. It will be on the left or right side, to which you must press the “B” or “A” button respectively as the situation warrants.
There are red stars scattered throughout the stages. If you collect enough of them, you can exchange them for something beneficial. You access the menu by pressing the “SELECT” button. There are four power-ups to choose from. “Life up” restores a single unit of your health. “Freeze” causes all enemies in the vicinity to become immobile. “Invincible” protects your character from harm. Though running into enemies in this state will not defeat them, he can pass through them without taking damage. Lastly “1UP” does exactly what it says – it grants you an extra chance.
If it’s one positive thing I can say about Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, it’s that it has a legitimately interesting concept. Considering the larger-than-life qualities many classic Disneyland rides have, the idea of making video game levels out of them is perfectly sound. Indeed, the fact that the gameplay has a large amount of variety to it – especially for a title made in 1990 – melds well with the eclectic nature of Disneyland itself.
Unfortunately, this is about as far as my praise for this game goes, as its attempt at combining various styles is the only thing it has going for it. The reason I feel it ended up as poorly as it did was because it feels as though Capcom went for quantity over quality. As a result, the game has a distinct lack of focus. Specifically, all of the levels are deeply flawed to varying degrees.
The issue I have with the Pirates of the Caribbean stage is that a significant chunk of it is spent without a weapon. This means you must meticulously avoid the enemies, and many of them have random patterns. Once you do get the flare, the level’s challenge dissipates instantly, as the enemies only take a single hit to dispatch. At that point, the only thing you have to worry about is the time limit.
The Haunted Mansion, which is the other side-scrolling level, is arguably the most well-designed in the game, and parts of it pay homage to Capcom’s notoriously difficult Ghosts ‘n Goblins. However, it doesn’t really fare much better, for during the final portions, you must navigate a series of moving platforms, which can damage you if you touch their sides. It culminates in a section wherein you ride on a flying chair through a haunted library. What makes this particularly irritating is that if any of the books hit your character, he is all but guaranteed to fall into the void.
Thunder Mountain is simple if you know the track’s layout front-to-back. If you don’t, it turns into a guessing game, as there are four different stations you can direct the train towards, and only arriving at a specific one will allow you to collect the key. If you arrive at the wrong one, you will have to try again. It’s not so bad if your destination is the first or fourth stations because they’re the leftmost and rightmost ones respectively, but if you’re required to arrive at the central ones, it can get frustrating. You could make it all the way to the end with only one unit of health only to be told your effort didn’t count.
Autopia’s main grievance is that it’s not particularly challenging at all – even with the possibility of falling off of the track and instantly losing. It may take you a few tries, but the road is straightforward, and defeating Pete is mostly a matter of just making it to the end of the stage.
If the Haunted Mansion is the best stage this game has to offer, Space Mountain is easily the worst. This level is a matter of pressing the right button as it shows up on the monitor. As the level progress, it speeds up to an unreasonable degree, and you’re only given a fraction of a second to react to the onscreen prompts. There are no checkpoints, and it goes on for a few minutes, which feel interminable when actually playing it. Though the 1983 arcade game Dragon’s Lair solidified their existence, Capcom has the dubious honor of creating one of the first console titles to feature quick-time events. In the early twenty-first century, they would go on to become one of the worst trends plaguing the AAA industry. Usually, historians give credit to artists who were ahead of their time, but it’s borderline impossible to declare this particular instance a worthwhile accomplishment.
Though I do think the idea of exchanging stars for power-ups is an interesting one, I have at least two problems with this system. The first is that it breaks the game’s challenge, for it’s easy to farm stars in certain levels. In doing so, you can theoretically get infinite lives or render the enemies harmless at opportune moments. You’re not punished too much for losing all of your chances though. You are only brought back to the title screen with all of your stars taken away should you elect to continue; the silver keys remain in your inventory as long as you choose not to start over. The other problem with this mechanic is that the menu isn’t available in the two levels in which they would actually come in handy: Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain. As it stands, there is no method of recovering health in either scenario. On the other hand, if they’re the only two levels left to conquer, you’ve effectively eliminated any repercussions for running out of lives.
Anyone paying attention will observe that only five of the silver keys have been accounted for. There isn’t a sixth one hidden in any of the levels; instead, you must walk around the park and ask the patrons about it. They won’t give the information for free; before they speak, they will ask a trivia question. If you get it right, another patron will appear somewhere else on the map, and they will ask you a new question. This challenge is pointless busywork because there is no real consequence for getting it wrong. If this happens, you can simply talk to them again, and they will ask you a different question. Once you’ve answered enough of them, you will obtain the final key. Some of the questions are all but guaranteed to stump anyone who isn’t versed in Disney’s history. My issue is that they’re more fitting for a multiplayer board game such as Trivial Pursuit; in a single-player video game, they grind the pacing to a halt. It doesn’t help that some of the questions have outdated answers, requiring you to think of what the right answer was in 1990 rather than whenever you happen to be playing it.
More than anything, I feel the final product’s fatal weakness is that it doesn’t have enough content to justify paying any amount of money for it. Curiously, the theme park was intended to be much larger during the early phases of development. In an interview with former Disney game producer Darlene Lacey, it was revealed that were to be levels based on the Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain. The former was ultimately cut as they were unable to create a tileset that could properly translate the experience of riding the riverboat. Though unable to recall specific details about the latter, she speculated it was dropped for similar reasons. Space Mountain was then either created a replacement or they extended its gameplay to fill in the void. It’s a shame that they didn’t include more iconic attractions. As it stands, a skilled player can clear the game in less than an hour with minimal difficulty, and even children would find it overly simplistic and boring.
Drawing a Conclusion
Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is the kind of game I would expect from a promising team of developers with little practical experience. By 1990, Capcom had released Mega Man 2, which is rightly considered one of the greatest games on the NES, and its equally lauded sequel was in development. For that matter, it’s not even the first Capcom-made game to bear the Disney license, as their quality adaptation of DuckTales predates it by nearly a year. Moreover, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers was released in the same month as Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, throwing into sharp relief the lack of effort that went into the latter. The takeaway from this observation is that Capcom really should have known better than to churn out such a subpar effort.
Having said my piece, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom isn’t what I’d call a broken mess of a game, and trying it out wouldn’t be a completely terrible idea. However, I personally cannot recommend playing it in any capacity. With its uninspired gameplay, it didn’t have much to offer even back in 1990. Coupled with the passage of time and the titles that easily surpass this one released in the interim, there is no practical reason to revisit it at all. Impressive though it may have been how this game tried to blend multiple genres into a single experience, that none of them are competently implemented renders it a meaningless effort.
Final Score: 3/10