Though licensed video games have a pretty bad reputation in this day and age, during the 16-bit era, video games based on existing franchises of other media were a little more hit or miss, with quality titles balancing out the cash-grabs. This was notably true for Disney games, which produced a few memorable sidescrollers, and some not-so memorable ones. Unfortunately for Mickey Mania, it leans a little more in the latter category.
Mickey Mania is a 2D platformer that stars none other than Mickey Mouse. Mickey travels through six of his classic cartoons, which have all gone awry, leaving the iconic mouse to set them straight.
It’s actually a pretty great premise for a game based on Mickey Mouse, made all the better by the fact that each game world replicates the look of different classic Mickey Mouse shorts through the decades. Naturally, the game starts with the monochromatic Steamboat Willie, and works its way up to The Prince and the Pauper which, at the time, was the most recent Mickey short. Better still, the animations for each character, whether it be Mickey Mouse or his enemies, are all incredibly detailed. For a 16-bit game, it mimics the fluidity of traditional animation surprisingly well.
If only the rest of the game were as enticing. In terms of gameplay, Mickey Mania is a pretty straightforward platformer. Mickey runs around, jumps on enemies, and can collect marbles to use as projectile weapons. It’s not bad, but nothing special.
What really ruins the game’s potential is the level design. While the visuals of each world may be great, the worlds themselves suffer from a great lack of substance. Many stages really are as simple as continuing to go right until you reach the end of a stage, while maybe avoiding or defeating an enemy or two. The level design is just too bland, and just too easy…except when it isn’t.
While most of the stages are a cakewalk, the few that aren’t stack up some unfair challenges, making the difficulty spikes feeling inconsistent and poorly thought-out. The second world features skeleton enemies who, when defeated, explode into bones that bounce around the place, damaging Mickey whenever they come into contact with him. During one segment, Mickey is trapped in a compact elevator, and needs to defeat a skeleton on the outside in order to go up each floor. But every time Mickey defeats one of the aforementioned skeletons, their bones fly everywhere in the elevator, and Mickey has barely any space to avoid them. You may get lucky and avoid the bones of one or two skeletons, but you are guaranteed to get hit a few times, so you better be sure you’re at full health at this point.
Another segment (once again in the second world) suddenly drops Mickey onto an on-rail cart without warning. Unlike the sublime mine cart sections of Donkey Kong Country, the physics here feel clunky and awkward. Combine that with how rapidly the level starts without any kind of proper introduction, and this whole level becomes needlessly frustrating.
It’s this stop-and-go style of difficulty that make Mickey Mania’s inconsistency a jarring experience. This is felt even in some of the game’s mechanics, making things that much worse. Jumping on enemies, for example, rarely seems worth it, since your jumping has to be completely centered in order for Mickey to take out the bad guys. If your jump is even slightly more to the side of the enemy instead of dead center, Mickey will take damage instead. This can happen annoyingly often when enemies are constantly moving.
There were a good number of quality Disney games back in the day. Sadly, Mickey Mania cannot boast to be among them. While it features some fantastic visuals that manage to replicate Mickey’s animated outings quite well despite the technical limitations of the SNES, and even manages to capture some of the humor and charm of Mickey’s classic cartoons, the execution is just too lacking. Mickey Mania may have some good intentions, but as a game in its own right, it’s just too unpolished.