RetroVision – The Great Aladdin Debate
In 1992 Walt Disney Studios released Aladdin into cinemas, where the film was met with critical acclaim. The success of the film in conjunction with a thriving gaming industry led Disney to commission the release of an Aladdin game. They didn’t just commission one game though, they did two, and this is where the great Aladdin debate begins.
If ever one game could so succinctly sum up an entire console war it would be this one. The games for the most part are fairly similar, they are both side-scrolling action platforms that follow the plot of Aladdin, but there a small number of differences that people will highlight and then use as a case for why their version is the superior one (a somewhat fitting analogy for the debate between the consoles themselves!).
When Disney decided to release the game they already had a development/ publishing deal with Capcom for Disney games on the SNES and so Capcom stepped up to the task. There was no agreement for the Sega Mega Drive though and with this in mind Sega bid for the rights, and won. They tasked Virgin Games USA (A subsidiary of Virgin Interactive) to make the game, which they did in collaboration with Disney Animation Studios. Virgin Games USA were selected to undertake the programming elements of the game due to their previous work with other external brands such as McDonald’s Global Gladiators and 7-UP’s Cool Spot.
If having the same/ similar games being on different platforms wasn’t enough reason for people to argue over which is better, add into the mix that these games were made by different developers, who chose slightly different design choices, and the argument will always be elevated. Arguments tended to be focussed on the graphics (obviously!), audio tracks and the core mechanics.
The graphics became one of the top talking points due to the contrasting styles used by the two developers. Capcom opted for a traditional 16bit pixel based design that was a standard of the SNES platform. The SNES game was more colourful and had larger sprites for both the titular character and the enemies that populate the world. The big negative of the Nintendo version in comparison to the Sega version is often cited as being the animations. Sega, in order to differentiate their game worked closely with the Disney Animation Team. By using their skills Sega found a smoother animation system and a style more fitting to that of Disney. This traditional animation style was digitised and compressed using an in-house process known as ‘Digicel’. This is often seen as one of the major selling points of the game on Mega Drive over SNES.
In terms of sound the games are on a similar playing field. The Mega Drive had new compositions from Donald S. Griffin, designed specifically for the game, but the songs did not loop and stopped for a few seconds before starting up again mid game. The SNES version looped its tracks though and also had a better sound chip and thus sounds were sharper and more complex. The issue lay in the fact that the loops were short and therefore repetitive during long stints playing the game.
Gameplay is where the games differed most, even though they were both action platformers. The Nintendo version was very much in the mould of the traditional Prince of Persia games. There are a lot of platforming elements that focus on acrobatics and jumping on the head of opponents is the main form of attack, with apples used to stun larger enemies. The mega drive version focuses less on the platforming and much more on action. In this version Aladdin uses a blade to attack his enemies and his apples can kill enemies rather than just stun them, but he loses the ability to jump on the heads of his foes. The way bonuses levels are accessed and the format of them also differs between both games with the mega drive version boasting the Abu bonus levels.
There is no doubt that both these games are good, if not great, games but the argument between which is better will always persist. As a product of one of the most bitter console wars this game epitomises the binary arguments that people formulated at the time, without even considering that they were just both simply good games. Some mega drive purists will call back to sales and average review figures to justify their case (which has some merit; MD: 4mil sold/ SNES: 1.7mil; MD: 88.33%/ SNES: 78.38%) but the SNES fans will claim that the SNES version has, like a fine wine, aged better.
The lead designers on both games have also weighed in with their opinions on the games. Shinji Mikami, of Resident Evil fame and lead designer on Aladdin for SNES, stated that “If I didn’t actually make [the SNES game], I would probably buy the Genesis one… Animation wise, I think the Genesis version’s better. The Genesis version had a sword, actually. I wanted to have a sword”. On the other hand his counterpart David Perry said that “I’m really biased as we made the original game and got Disney to deliver the animation”. “So I’d flip the quote, ‘If I didn’t actually make the Genesis version I’d probably buy the SNES one”.
So to try and answer the question of which is better well… Its all just a matter of opinion!
…except the Mega Drive version was better!
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