The Console Wars: Aladdin Vs… Aladdin?

Forget the current resolution wars between PS4 and Xbox One. This intellectual property added fire to the already-brutal console wars fire of the 90’s. I remember having brutal teenage arguments with friends, unjustifiably defending my choice (SNES) even though I’d never played a second of the Mega Drive version at that time. I was a bit of a SNES fanboy. I won’t deny it.

Having since experienced both from start to finish, is there an actual definitive answer? Let’s see which one truly is the diamond in the rough. (Sorry not sorry).

Aladdin (SNES)

aladdinsnes1First of all, both versions of Aladdin for the SNES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis were published and developed independently. The former by Capcom, due to its Disney licensing rights with Nintendo at the time. It is a simple, enjoyable although not-so-challenging 2D side-scrolling platformer. It does however boast some of the crispest visuals to ever appear on the platform, accompanied with a great, faithful soundtrack.

Although not the longest of games, every level plays out at pretty breakneck pace. As Aladdin you vault from posts in the ground and swing from those stuck out of walls, Prince of Persia-style. Capcom implemented the Super Mario method of bad guy disposal: jumping on them. Such disposals are integrated into the paths you take, creating an often seamless journey through the streets of Agrobah and beyond.

Capcom’s Aladdin was the first hit game of designer Shinji Mikami, of future Resident Evil/Vanquish/Evil Within fame. It is indeed the level design that is Aladdin’s greatest attribute. The traversing of obstacles flow effortlessly when negotiated with the desired precision. It’s a game to perfect as well as conquer, with the charm and essence of the movie all wrapped up in a nice few hours of entertainment.

Aladdin (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

The Sega version of Aladdin was published and developed by Sega and Virgin Games respectively. Sega’s licensing gave them something Capcom didn’t – Disney animators. Yes, Disney actually animated this game. So naturally, the character sprites looked ripped right out of the movie, and are superbly animated.

But not just the visuals were different; Aladdin was given a sword, and jumping on enemies just caused you harm – cue a more recent Prince of Persia homage with its basic swordplay. For those enemies further away, collected apples become an essential secondary attack, which adds an extra dimension to the very few boss fights.

RugridealaddinAfter the first couple of levels the fun factor soon transitions into massive frustration and annoyance. The learning curve steeply rises about halfway through. The ‘Rug Ride’ level was nearly as frustrating and life-sapping as the infamous Battletoads bike level.

Comparing the Genie levels of both editions, this one is just a mess in level design, and at times too difficult to be tolerable. Catching, holding and jumping between several balloons with instant death should you miss just feels so unnecessary. Who knew Robin Williams’ Genie was so malicious? Oh wait, he wasn’t, so why is he TRYING TO KILL ME?

Another soon-to-be-famous designer was responsible for this version: Dave Perry, of Earthworm Jim fame. You can definitely see the resemblances between the two. Unfortunately for Dave, I wasn’t a fan of Earthworm Jim mechanically either, despite both games’ success. It looks nice, though, I suppose.

References today

You have my view, but the debate still rages on between the two. As recently as February 2014, Polygon posted an interview with Shinji Mikami, who stated he preferred the animation of the Mega Drive version. He further complimented the game by saying he would have probably bought the Mega Drive version – if he hadn’t have made the SNES version of course.

Over on Twitter, someone declared their love for Aladdin on the Mega Drive to the @GAMEdigital handle, only for Game to re-tweet and add an image…..of the SNES version. It was later claiming it would be a ‘clearer’ image. Take that, Dave Perry.

Nintendo/Squaresoft Gems of a Generation

Before Square Enix there was Square Company. From its inception Square released 145 titles before its merger with Enix in 2003. Many of these games were released under a given ‘Squaresoft’ brand name, such as the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII for PS One, which was one of the west’s first taste of Squaresoft magic, which paved the way for world-wide RPG dominance. However this series, and other famous Square properties such as the Front Mission and the SaGa series all in fact began on Nintendo platforms, albeit mostly Japan-only releases.

Following Nintendo’s failed SNES-CD venture with Sony and then Phillips, and subsequent continuation with cartridge games with the N64, all these properties moved onto the Sony PlayStation. And, despite Final Fantasy VII being the most famous RPG of all time, and subsequent remakes for today’s platform, it’s often the SNES titles Squaresoft produced that remain firmly in our hearts.

The SNES has the best anthology of RPG’s, and in my opinion are still the most accessible to this day. The afore-mentioned series’ may well be the most recognised due to their ongoing adventures, but 2 in my mind stick out as the 16-bit generation’s best: Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana.

Potential spoilers, be warned.

Chrono Trigger

The superlatives for Chrono Trigger are never ending, echoed by many, with good reason. The brainchild of A-List creators Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), Yuji Hori (Dragon Quest, from fierce rivals-come eventual partners Enix) and Akira Toriyama (DragonBall creator, and Dragon Quest artist), it’s incredible to think this game could even happen. It did, and it is a magnificent package. The SNES proved to be the platform that showcased both graphical power and fully conveyed stories and characters by their creators, and Chrono Trigger has both in spades.

You play Crono, a young boy whose chance meeting with a young woman named Marle at the local fair, leads to a series of time travel adventures. He makes friends while ripping back and forth through time, uncovering the plans of an evil force laid dormant for centuries.

Presented in typical top-down RPG view, Chrono Trigger at first seems like no more than a typical Final Fantasy affair, but it’s active time battles keep the action flowing perfectly, and none of the battles feel forced into, which Final Fantasy games can certainly be guilty of.

The heroes assembled throughout lead you through like any great fantasy novel; you connect with them and want them to win, not just because it’s the aim of the game. One such hero is Frog, who is (surprise), a frog. But, you just know from the first meeting there is something more going on, and you have to know. This is typical of all the hero contingent, and it’s what separate’s Chrono Trigger from the pack. Chrono Trigger’s further uniqueness from other RPG’s of this nature stems from its time trial plot device; there are no less than 13 different endings possible in this game, and a typical run through is around 20-30 hours, unlike similar RPG’s that can clock in double that easily. It’s not very often that JRPG’s warrant a replay, but Chrono Trigger does exactly that. It has been re-mastered and re-released numerous times, but never strayed away from its 2D blueprint. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Secret of Mana

Another Squaresoft classic, and is actually a sequel (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for Game Boy being the original), Secret of Mana is a grand adventure. There is more of a Link to the Past feel to it, but with key JRPG elements being the backbone. The combat system is the best example of this; like Zelda, you are free to move, attacking enemies when you wish, however to land the heavier blows you must allow your weapon gauge to recharge 100% first.secret-of-mana_3

You control any one of 3 three characters; Randi, the main protagonist and holder of the Mana Sword), Primm, a princess on the run from an arranged marriage) and Popoi, a ‘Sprite’ who has no memories of his past, so joins the quest to seek them. The quest is almost Zelda-like; the Mana Sword must be re-energized by acquiring the power of the 8 Mana Seeds. Compared to Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana is indeed much more clichéd and simpler in its story. But its unique mixture of real-time battles, epic bosses, excellent use of the Mode 7 graphic technique, and seamless flow to the adventure make it near flawless. Additional to this is the intuitive and superb Ring Command menu system; options such as equip, using items, etc. appear in a circle around your controlled character, leaving you to simply access the desired options without the arduous, multi-layered menu system JRPG’s often have.

Both Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana have been released for touch screen mobile platform in recent years, and even with the initial bedding in process of touch-screen joysticks, little of the magic is lost, 20 years on from their inception. Although of the same genre, they are different adventures in so many ways, and easily 2 of the best RPG’s of all time. They are also 2 of the most treasured items to own for retro-collectors, easily fetching over £100 each if boxed. If you haven’t experienced either, I suggest you do. Prepare to be dazzled.