Review by Zork86
An often forgotten Disney and Genesis gem.
You know what's nearly universally true about old (relative I know, but you know what I mean) games? Disney games were good. Pretty much all of them in my experience. I have personally not played a bad Disney themed game, not during my childhood and not now when I go back to revisit parts of it. That includes this game, the oddly titled Ariel: The Little Mermaid. Lucky me, the Disney Renaissance took place as I happened to be growing up, right place, right time.
If you don't know what that is a quick and dirty version is that Disney pulled themselves up out of a rut and started making great animated movies again and this trend started with The Little Mermaid in 1989, which happens to be one of my favorites. If you want more info on this, there's Wikipedia and the internet at large. A little more background for this game, it was developed by Blue Sky Software, which was a kinda sorta first party developer for Sega back during the Genesis days. They made a lot of really solid movie tie-ins and other games, most notably Vectorman 1 and 2, and Shadowrun for the Genesis. This game is one of their earliest attempts on the system and it kind of sets the precedent they became known for...if you ever knew or heard about them to begin with.
No, I'm not going to break into song...
This is a humble game if I had to describe it in one word. The Little Mermaid goes like this; you pick from Ariel or Triton if you're scared of cooties and your objective is to free captured merpeople called polyps (The wormy looking things in Ursula's cove from the movie) and stave off sharks, sea urchins, eels and avoid death while finding treasure. Once you rescue each captured mermaid/man you find the exit to the level and face a boss. Not entirely your run of the mill design here, it's a little different, I know other games took the design route of find all of a key item to advance but I haven't played too many of those types of games so it's refreshing enough to me.
Really the game plays out like a kind of scavenger hunt which considering the movie and main character is a pretty good idea. You've got a map that shows you were everyone is, and a polyp counter on your HUD to tell you how many are in a level exactly.. Just don't die from all the sharks and stuff, but you've got defenses. Ariel can sing them away, apparently her singing is bad and it harms them...and Triton can shoot fireballs and lightning bolts at them which is much more impressive. Aside from that you've got your friends that can help you with various things in the game; Flounder is able to move boulders for you that block passage, Sebastian attacks enemies, and you have a...fish with a spoon on the end of it's nose that can dig up sand and reveal buried treasure that you can use as money to buy things from Scuttle's item store.
Speaking of which, in every level there is a scroll that takes you to Scuttle's item shop where you can buy things like health power ups, extra lives, special weapons like Ariel's starfish thing, and Triton's lightning, keys to unlock treasure chests, along with more of your fish friends as they have limited uses. There are four levels to traverse in the game too; Coral Reefs, the wrecked ship from Frozen, Atlantis (?!), and The Caves. Really, this is a fairly easy game to learn and play, including the boss fights which are pushovers. However, if you do find the game too easy, you can always crank the difficulty up to hard which can provide a little more challenge.
That said though this game reminds me a lot of Ecco the Dolphin, it's not just me that's noticed that similarity as well. This is an interesting thought too because the game predates Ecco by at least a year. It doesn't really have quite the same exact gameplay but there are many similarities. The floaty momentum based in water controls, thoroughly exploring the levels and fighting things underwater...I guess.
The sights and sounds under the sea are quite enjoyable.
Visually this is a pretty nice looking Genesis title. A lot of the color palletes and tilesets are of course very water themed and there's some pretty cool effects reflecting this in the background and foreground. The Caves especially look great as there's lots of moody lighting with deep purples and bright, volcanic red and yellows. The character sprites and animations look really good, some things look straight up ripped out of the movie like the sharks and eels, which I guess are supposed to be Flotsam and Jetsam even though you run into them quite a bit. This ain't Aladdin, but it's still very well done.
One of the strongest suits of this game however is the soundtrack. Blue Sky did a really good job with this track which opens with a nice 16-bit rendition of Under the Sea. The rest of the tracks for them all sound pretty inspired by the movie and reflect their respective stages and areas well. The Caves strike again, as the track for the final stage is just great. Steel drums and horns along with some nice bass, that track sounds like something that could've been in the movie. This is a pretty tough soundtrack to find but if you like to collect it's one worth tracking down.
When it comes down to it, this is a very enjoyable and easy going game. It's easy to understand, not too difficult to play and has a lot of nice sights and sounds to offer. If I had one real complaint I guess it would be that it's pretty short, it maybe could've used one more level. But count this one among the 16 and 8-bit Disney gems.
+ Game is simple to learn and play, a fun and not too demanding of a romp.
+ The levels are large and explorable, reminding me a lot of Ecco the Dolphin.
+ Animation and detail on sprites is pretty impressive, backgrounds and color palettes are as well.
+The sound and especially the music is very good.
- Bosses are kind of a push over and are more of a formality.
- The game is on the short side.
Overall Score: 7.5 Good
Score Modified to 7/10 for Gamefaqs.
Product Release: Disney's Ariel: The Little Mermaid (US, 12/31/92)
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