All posts by Handy Mandy

The Universal Journey: A Look at the Techniques Used to Make Journey a Universal Experience

Video games are a budding art form in need of games like Journey. Where other games rely on a male-dominated market and sell millions of copies based on their sex appeal and use of new technologies, Journey sells itself on its modesty, simplicity and universal relatability. What Journey does exceptionally well is that is pushes the medium of video games forward, not as simple entertainment, but as a human experience. Journey creator Jenova Chen often speaks of “innovating based on emotion.” This means that instead of focusing on the latest tech or trends, Journey focuses instead on the deepest emotional portions of ourselves and tells a tale which, for the most part, we all know and understand. The way Journey does this is by stripping away all the clutter and presenting a story which attempts to speak to all people across every culture.

In the 1949 book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell outlines the characteristics of the hero’s journey and points to countless examples throughout history where this archetype is presented. Drawing poignantly on everything from Greek tragedies to cave paintings, Campbell makes it clear that this “Mono-myth” is persistent in every culture, be they large, small, isolated or well traveled. Since then, Campbell’s “Mono-myth” has been used as a template for countless mediums attempting to capture that universal essence. From blockbuster hits like Star Wars, to the Harry Potter series the hero’s journey is present in countless contemporary works. In the game Journey the developers at Thatgamecompany use the hero’s journey along with other tricks to create an experience that is an almost flawless attempt at capturing the spirit of the hero’s journey and creating something infinitely relatable.

Released spring of 2012 for the PlayStation 3, Journey centers around the players journey from the heart of a desert to the top of a mountain. Through the journey the player will traverse ruins of a broken civilization, encounter divine beings which will aid them in their quest, and even interact with other players to complete the short but rewarding quest. Journey shines in its simplicity, it is a relatively short game with a relatively simple story, but through that simplicity a concise and well woven narrative can be told.

The character the player assumes control over is tailored by the designers to be ambiguous enough to, theoretically, remain relatable to everyone. The shape of the character is discernibly human-like with human-like movements, but by covering the character in its iconic red and gold cloak the developers create a symbol of a human for the player to project upon. This aids in the games ability to be relatable on a level which is deeper than that of the standard archetypes seen in popular culture today. The ambiguous protagonist is not new concept though, it has been a corner stone of game development since its inception. Characters like Link from the Legend of Zelda series are purposefully silent, so the players actions are individualized by each players experience. By alluding to the specifics the developers allow their audience to fill in the rest, making the experience unique to each player.

Other characteristics which lend to the games ambiguity are the methods of communication the character uses and the setting in which Journey takes place. Firstly, instead of words the character uses a succession of chirps to communicate with other players and helpful cloth creatures. Secondly, the whole of the game is based in the ruins of a destroyed and sand-covered civilization which is mostly indiscernible, yet holds similarities to real world ruins such as the ones in Karnak, Egypt and Babylon, Iraq. By creating a setting and language which is at the same time alien and familiar the designers remove cultural clutter which may otherwise fog a purposefully simple narrative and allows room for the players to interpret the game the way they see it.

Studios such as Disney, Studio Ghibli, and Pixar often rely on universal desires to make their works speak on a deeper level. Movies like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away speaks to the desire to be strong, but the fear of change, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast tells a tale of acceptance and blind-love. In Journey, the universal desires used are the need for meaningful companionship and the ability to fly.

The desire for companionship, though slightly obvious, is important for fully experiencing moments in our lives. The game creates an anonymous, social gaming experience, which allows the players to live and share what Studio Manager of Thatgamecompany, Sunni Pavlovic, describes as “a life’s journey.” In an interview with Fragzone, Pavlovic describes the beauty and intricacies of the cooperative experience of Journey stating that “the experiences [with other players] in Journey are so subtle that they can be interpreted however you want them to be, a player can be angry and be jumping up and down and chirping, but you would never know, you may just think they are excited” She describes also the importance of sharing our experiences by stating that “we can just rush through and accomplish as much as we can on our own because we have nothing to hinder us, but to me the meaningful part of life is the relationships we make and the impact we have on each other. I could achieve such great things in my life but if I had no one to share it with… and when my time here is over I will have made no impact on anyone else… and that’s what we are trying to do with our games, is leave some lasting positive impact.”

The desire for weightlessness and flight is ubiquitous in every culture, it speaks to us so deeply that is is almost an independent emotion. In art, weight is often used thematically as a concept of good and evil. A person with a back that is crooked and bent, as if they* are carrying a heavy weight, is instinctively seen as evil. Whereas weightlessness is a sign of innocence and purity. Journey helps to convey to the player a refreshing feeling of innocence, which is so often lost in the violent world of video games. The way Thatgamecompany uses movement and weightlessness lends to a whimsical-innocence in the game. The player floats down sand dunes as if they were on a snowboard and brushes through snow with ease as if they were almost weightless. The moment the player receives the scarf, which allows them to fly, is reminiscent to the moment in J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan where the children learn to fly by ‘thinking happy thoughts.’ The player, by singing to the helpful cloth creatures, is pulled into the sky and floats gently back to the ground only to be edged on by the cloth creatures to take flight again. This mechanic is used to traverse the ruins of the desert with grace and beauty. The use of flight as a reward for kindness and gentleness expresses a desire for innocence in us all.

Walt Disney once said “Over at our place, we’re sure of just one thing: everybody in the world was once a child. So in planning a new picture, we don’t think of grown-ups, and we don’t think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget and that maybe our pictures can help recall.” Video games as a medium stand out from other mediums due to their inherently immersible characteristics. This trait allows developers to go beyond simple entertainment and create actual human experiences where the lives of the players can be enriched. Journey is a step in the right direction for an industry which is plagued with claims of marginalization and immaturity. It shows that games are capable of bridging the gaps between fun, thoughtful and inclusive play and be able to tell a compelling narrative along the way.

Top 10 Games That “Leveled Up” The Industry

Looking back on the brief history of video games it’s easy to look at the titles that were our favorites, the ones that got us into gaming, or the ones that convinced us to buy this system or that accessory. But what are the games that truly shaped the industry into what it is today? This list is dedicated to the games whose impact was so huge that the game industry was forever changed, and any game after it couldn’t help but imitate it.

10. Tetris


I hate Tetris. It’s such a boring and repetitive game with such little pay off and no matter what you’re going to lose. But for some reason this game sold a billion copies and thus made the Gameboy the most popular handheld for decades. This still holds the place for the highest selling game of all time. Frankly, I don’t get it, but people were insane about Tetris. For a while there Tetris was so big that wherever you went in the known universe you could probably still hear that god damned Tetris song.

9. Final Fantasy Vll

For decades Japan had been trying to introduce us to the awesomeness that is the jRPG, but to little avail. Yeah, FF1 and 6 may have been relative successes in the States, but nothing could have prepared us for the masterpiece that was FF7. Thus, the floudgates opened and America got every shitty jRPG Japan decided to put out and some remakes we never asked. But never got the ones we wanted (Secret of Mana 2).

This game was so immense it blew my god damned mind when I was a kid, there were towns and maps and mini-games and side quests and crafting and cutscenes and omygawd! Whenever I rented games from Blockbuster I expected to beat them in a matter of days, but there was no freakin way with game, but I tried anyways. Every Friday night I would rent this game and play straight through Saturday and Sunday, reserving the weekday 1-hour a day for carefully thought out grinding or questing. I would write in my notebooks to-do lists for when I got home and had those 60 minutes to complete the tasks I wanted. It was never enough. So, as you can tell, this game was just a tad immersive.

8. Golden Eye 007


My god, why are there so many N64 games on this list. Oh yeah, because Nintendo actually made a game system and not a FMV, CD player like the Playstation. It really is unfortunate that the N64 preceivably flopped, it was the only system actually capable of creating good polygonal graphics at the time. The Playstation could hold a lot more memory, but did that really make there games better, or did it just leave more space for fuckin cut scenes and pre-rendered backgrounds.

But, yeah Golden Eye.  This game gave birth to the console FPS genre, which is really surprising coming from a licensed game. Perhaps it was the fact that is made by Rareware in its prime, before they started making Kinect games.  It may not hold up by todays modern shooter standards, but when I saw this as a kid I think my eyeballs melted, I didn’t think that graphics could be that good, yet there they were. This game had some of the most amazingly fun split screen play ever to grace the N64 and is to this day is held dearly as the best game ever made by dorm room bros. everywhere.

7. Minecraft:


This is another game that I just don’t like. It’s boring, repetitive and just not that fun. Sure, exploring your first caves was fun, but when that got dull I couldn’t really stick around with it. But for some reason this game became the global phenomenon that AAA companies wish they could make.

I mean, I understand the appeal of Minecraft. It’s a limitless sandbox of infinite possibilities with danger and exploration and creation, but I guess I’m just the type of person doesn’t like fun.

6. DOOM

While DOOM did not invent the FPS it certainly perfected the style. Any game that has you playing as an ultimate badass, fighting off demons on Mars is bound to be stellar, but this game took it to excruciating new levels and popularized the FPS genre as we know it.

Developed by Id software (the studio responsible for Wolfenstein 3D) DOOM was originally developed as a side project by John Carmack who built the DOOM engine while the rest of Id worked on the Wolfenstein prequel. It’s estimated that DOOM was the most installed piece of software in 1995, that’s right, it was installed on more computers than Windows 95.

 

5. Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time


Oh! The music, the graphics, that feeling when you went out into Hyrule Field for the first time and were like “woah”. There was nothing like it! There’s a reason why the internet hails OOT as the second coming of Jesus Ghandi Christ, because it’s really fucking good. That’s why!

What really made this game stand out as a revolution in 3D gaming was “Z-Targeting”. What? I don’t have to flop around shitty cameras to try to find this bat that’s gnawing on my face? No ya big dummy, just press Z. It was so simple, so elegant. Yet the things that are simple are oft overlooked, and your left trying to dislodge your camera from a tree. It really is testimant to Ocarinas innovation when a mechanic from an almost 20 year old game is still standard in 3D games.

4. Wii Sports


The moment I knew the Wii was gonna be insanely huge was when my dad, a 50 year old contractor who hates video games, decided to go out and buy one of these on launch day. He wasn’t interested in a new Zelda or Mario game, the thing that was on his mind when he picked up the system was the revolutionary Wii Sports. While he never again touched the system after the first night of playing bowling, it was an anomaly, one that I may never see again.

It’s strange how something that most gamers find tacky and unfun could help Nintendo sell 100 million systems. After I first tried the motion controls the gimmick quickly wore off and I was reaching for a more standard controller. But man, Wii Sports really did bridge a gap to the future that people had been waiting for for a long time. It was like being promised jetpacks by 1970, and actually getting jetpacks by 1970. Or better yet, a hover board by 2015.

3. Super Mario 64


As with many games on this list, Super Mario 64 was not the first, it was just the best. In fact, the first 3D platformer can be traced back to 1990 with a game called Alpha Waves. Pretty much the only thing Super Mario did that was revolutionary was that it was patient. It didn’t rush into the 3rd dimension like so many other mascots did (I’m lookin at you Bubsy, but then again you always sucked).

Nintendo took its loving time with SM64, waiting for hardware to meet talent and creativity. And when the stars aligned and the 6 sages sang the song of reckoning upon the shores of Azhura, they summoned the souls of 3D mascots slaughtered and poured their sacrifice into the game of legends! And thus, Super Mario 64 was born, and we played it at our local Game Crazy’s and said “This. Shit. Is. Good!”

If you need any further proof, just look at this E3 reveal of Super Mario 64

It’s like they had no idea the 3rd dimension existed, and Nintendo lifted the veil.

2. Super Mario Bros.

Is there anyone alive who hasn’t played or at least seen someone play Super Mario Bros.? I mean it sold over 40 million copies and has been around for over 30 years, I’d hope that would be enough time for Mario to make the rounds.

Super Mario Bros. is the game that single handeldly created console gaming, as well as popularizing the platforming genre. It has been #1 on countless top 100 lists and is essentially the grand-daddy of modern gaming. It was also the start of video games being absolutely obsessed with rescuing princesses all throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

1. Pac-Man

During a time when arcade games featured mainly two colors, some boring re-iteration of pong, or a Space Invaders clone, Pac-Man was doorway into the future . The sounds, the colors, the personality, it was all so magical and ahead of its time. And it was one of the first games to appeal to multiple genders, prompting Namco to make Ms. Pacman. The game may be lacking by todays standards, but the very concept of varied levels and power ups was like finding an MP3 player in 1913, it was that big of a step.

Pac-man was so huge that from 1980-1990 it generated over $2.5 billion in quarters. It holds the Guinness World Record for most successful coin-operated game of all time. Pac-man very well could have been the cause of Arcade Fever in the 80’s looking at the other games that were available at the time, I’d say it certainly was. And Pac-man is certainly one of the most beloved icons of the gaming world. From 1982-83 Pac-Man even had his own show, and having recently been introduced to the roster of Super Smash Bros. this 30 year old mascot isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Pac-man may have shaped the gaming industry more so than any other game before it or since. It stands as an icon, a mantra, reminding us of our roots and why we love gaming, ‘because it’s fun’. Who knows, maybe if Pac-man hadn’t come around this whole video-game thing may have fizzled out like so many fads before it. Or maybe it would be a completely altered version. But I for one am glad that little pill gobbler came around because I sure do love me some video games…

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Top 10 At the Moment

It’s always difficult to say what the greatest games of all time are, because our opinions are always subjective, no matter how hard we try to keep that shit out. So, I’ve decided to just make a progressive list of games that are my favorite at the moment (ATM).

I know, it’s not that interesting to hear someone else’s opinions of what they’re enjoying right now, but you know what, I don’t care!

10. Yoshi’s Island:


If you avoided Yoshi’s Island because it looked too kiddy you really need to reconsider that choice. This game may be the most masterfully crafted platformer I have ever played. Every level presents new innovation and challenge, the controls are frankly the best of any platformer I’ve ever played. The tongue is perfectly implemented, the extra floating makes Yoshi feel super powerful, shooting eggs is oh so satisfying.

Known also as Super Mario World 2, this game was originally supposed to have those pre-rendered graphics as seen in Donkey Kong Country. Thankfully, Shigeru Miyamoto decided to scrap the style and replace it with the beautiful crayon drawn style that made it so iconic and just damn beautiful.

9. Master of Magic:


Yeah yeah, whatever, this is just a Civilization clone with medieval skins. Except not! This game had so much fucking depth, complexity and originality that I still find new things to this day. This game is just, so good. There’s just nothing more satisfying then when you get that invulnerability spell and train an army of invincible griffins and just go wreck the entire map with a couple dudes. Or when you start out in the dark world and build up forces until you invade the parallel world

Orignally released for DOS by Simtex this game is currently available on GOG.com, so yeah, go fuckin sink weeks into this game.

8. Journey:


If you haven’t played this game do yourself a favor and go buy a PS3 (if you don’t already have one) and play it. This is truly the best argument for video games as art that I have ever seen. It’s simple, elegant, poetic and just so magical. The first time I played this game I cried like a little baby with tears of joy. This game fills the player with a sense of wonderment and ecstasy that can really only be achieved through this medium.

This game speaks multitudes in its silence. Never does it fully disclose what has happened, but through clever story telling and some of the greatest co-operative play I have ever seen, it sucks you in emotionally and refuses to let go. Journey may be one of the most finely crafted experiences I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy and deserves to stand on the same level as such masterpieces as Citizen Kane and A Starry Night.

7. Shadow of the Colossus


Another game that stands as an argument for games as art, this game is truly an epic experience. When I first played this in the demo case at my local game store I didn’t get it. Maybe it was because the demo started after the intro sequence so I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, but it just seemed boring. It looked like an action rpg, but I couldn’t find any towns, there wasn’t an inventory, and my character just looked so… weird. It didn’t help that the game would start over before I could get to the first colossi, talk about a let down.

It wasn’t until I played this game at a friends house that I understood that I had been playing one of the most epic and heartfelt games ever crafted. From the first Colossi to the melancholy ending this is truly one of my most cherished experiences and a splendid game.

6. Super Metroid


You hear a lot of game critics talking about games having “atmosphere” these days, but what do they really mean by that. Basically what they mean is how well a game can imitate Super Metroid cause that game fuckin invented atmosphere! But no, seriously… it did. This game just oozed with personality and ambiance, so much so that devs are still trying to play catch up.

Based heavily off of R. Gigers Alien universe, this game gave you such an immense and foreboding feeling of just absolute loneliness that few games can conquer, especially with the hardware limitations of the 16-bit era. Also, you get to play as one of the most badass bounty hunters since Bobba Fett. This game was inventive, it was innovative, it was downright massive and nothing in this world can match the feeling of hitting a random tile seeing it blow away to reveal a new power-up… awesome!

5. Act Raiser:


If it seems like I’m putting a lot of SNES games on this list, it’s because I am. And for good reason, the SNES is still one of the greatest systems ever released and to this day holds its own against modern releases in terms of fun. And if it’s fun we’re talking about than look no further than Actraiser! Yeah!

This game, created by Quintet and published by Enix was a launch title for the SNES and boy was it awesome. This game had you playing as “The Master” a god like being whose mission is to crush the monsters of (earth?) and allow people to repopulate it. Along with a totally kick ass side scrolling action, this game also had a fully realized sim game where you control a cherub and build your towns to repopulate the world. This game also had some of the greatest music from the 16-bit era. To bad Quintet went under in the early 00’s, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing a GOOD sequel to this game.

4. The Legend of Zelda (The entire catalog)


I’ve recently been playing through every single Zelda game again and I am just floored by how masterfully crafted all these games are, except for you Skyward Sword, you just suck.

Every game brought a new and fun innovation to the series that made the entire saga grow as a whole. Sure, there were some innovations that were put into newer games just for rituals sake, and some innovations that just kind of sucked (like a side scrolling Zelda) and also innovation just for innovations sake (like that stupid fucking pointless spinning top in Twilight Princess). But when Zelda gets it right, you better believe that whatever they did is gonna be an industry staple for years to come.

3. Gradius:


Yeah! Gradius! The arcade down the street from me just got one of these machines the other month and I have been pumping quarter after quarter into this sweet machine. There’s nothing quite like having a crowd of people gather round you as you plow through the first boss on one life, and then hearing cheers when you crush number three on the same life.

I didn’t grow up around arcades since my family sort of shunned video games, so this has been my first experience of being able to plant my name among the gods on that high score board, or having random people hand me quarters when I get a game over so they can watch me keep playing. It’s something magical that I’m sure a lot of people missed out on and people that did get to enjoy it miss. So if you’re around Portland, Oregon drop into Ground control and lets play some fuckin Gauntlet Legends!

2. Secret of Mana:


Oh, so sublime! The soundtrack, the art style, that feeling when you and your friends rock the socks off a tough boss. Sure, the story isn’t FF6 tier, but it’s there, and it has a lot of heart.

Known as Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan (cause we always have to fuck that shit up for some reason) this game got insane acclaim in Japan, but sold only moderately in other regions. Despite getting generous reviews it never took off in the U.S. the way it should have. Which is even more of a shame because Seiken Densetsu 3 is widely hailed as the best action-rpg of the 16-bit generation and never saw a release in the States. While you can get a translated reproduction, that shit is steep, son, and will run you anywhere from $50-100.

1. Aladdin (SNES)


What can I say, this game is just so damn good! It’s a serious guilty pleasure of mine and I love it to death! The gameplay is tighter than Fort Knox, the art style is original and lively, the sound effects touch my soul in a way that only the wizards at Capcom can do. Everything about this game is just pure and unadulterated FUN!

Maybe this is only up so high because I spent way to much time playing this for that Genesis vs. SNES Aladdin (which you should totally read). But I stand by this game as one of the best platformers ever made, sure it may be short, and it may be unforgiving-ly and sometimes unfairly difficult but I think that’s what makes it fun in that Dark Souls kind of way. My roommate and I played this game religiously while I was writing that article and had just the most amazing time doing it. And isn’t that what this is all about? Having fun and enjoying yourself.

Thanks for reading!

Infinity Shred, Gnar Dream: Album Review

The general flavor of the chiptune scene is not one of innovative ideas. It’s a culture focused on what was and what could have been, a scene lost in the possibilities that never came to fruition. In many ways, even the most joyous tracks from the chiptune genre are still fraught with a certain melancholy, a hearkening to the days when games and life were simpler. It’s almost like watching a group of 40-something dads playing Def Leppard covers, trying desperately to capture the nostalgia that has all but withered away.

Infinity Shred doesn’t grasp for the-good-old-days, it reaches back in time and rips it into the future.

Formerly known as Starscream, the band gained mass notoriety with their appearance on MTV’s Skins. Using a much more listenable and and more organic feel than its genre counter parts Starscream was able to wiggle themselves into popular culture in a way most chiptunes artists may never reach. The chiptune scene is very much stuck with its demograph of nerd-based-nostalgia, whether that’s the fault of the scene or the artists is unclear. Damon Hardjiriwogo, half of the electronic duo, comments on this stigma.

“Chip music tends to be very insular with many artists too afraid to or not knowing how to branch out and get themselves booked on shows that aren’t purely chip music lineups. There are many deserving hardworking artists arising within this scene, but they deserve more than this little niche has to offer … because [Starscream] started in a high school music scene, we were playing with a bunch of local punk bands and rock bands who had nothing to do with chip music and had never really even heard of it. And um, then kind of worked our way into the chip scene.” source: Pop Matters

When thinking about the two scenes on a musical level, punk and chiptunes seem worlds apart. But culturally, they exist in the same vein. I don’t think I’ve ever met a punk that didn’t play video games growing up, or a video game nerd that doesn’t own at least one Misfits album. The two cultures come from the same wont of frustration with popular culture and feeling like an outcast. And it would make sense that these would flow together beautifully.

The punk influence can be heavily seen in Starscreams re-branding into Infinity Shred. The new sound can be compared to such projects as Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor with an ever uplifting tone and constant build-up.

Soundscapes and spaceships

In Gnar Dream, Infinity Shred creates a parallel universe with its rising soundscapes and ethereal melodies. It doesn’t grasp nostalgia, it creates a new future and lets you live in it for the duration of its five songs. Never once, even during the songs which run upwards of eight minutes does this album let you go. It constantly and creatively builds towards newer and grander heights.

I find that, thematically, Gnar Dream wavers between a dingy house-show basement and floating through the universe on a crystal palace almost seamlessly and creates such a wonderful atmosphere. The entire five song saga feels more like a journey than an album, songs don’t ever feel disjointed or singular, every one is a different world of its own, but you stay on the same ship.

The divergence from standard DMG sounds is also prevelant, and while purists of the genre may abhor it, I believe it’s a welcome advancement. Lead lines are more flowing and less, well “chipp-y” which adds a much less frantic tone than a lot of other chip tune tracks.

A slow approach to infinity

In their slow approach to their songs they give a lot of room for new elements to enter and dissipate. Each song plays like a good level in an arcade shooter.  You never fight the same enemy to often, or see the same assets over and over, but the theme of the game is persistent and always prevalent, but always innovating on its standard formula.

This is especially true in the albums longest track “Hologram”. The reason we hear so many 3-minute pop-songs isn’t that we just can’t pay attention, it’s because 3-minutes is just enough time to use and reuse all of your assets before they get boring and dull, without needing to come up with new and interesting ideas. “Hologram” constantly brings new ideas to the forefront and brings back old ones for the listener to feel attached to the journeys progression. “See how far we’ve come” the song says as it brings in a familiar arpeggio.

As the album reaches its apex in “Wayfinder” a more concise formula is implemented, but is still inventive. The song builds, drops, and kicks in the leads with full force. “Wayfinder” is a build-up to hyper speed and a cruise through the nebula. The lead never feels stale and is always welcome in the mix. An ever pushing drum beat eggs the song forwards and pushes it through galaxies and bounces off of quasars.

As the album descends the listener feels a sense of wonderment, like a journey has been completed and now you’re on your way home.   Very few albums have painted such vivid imagery in my mind as this one. I find myself unable to listen to any of the tracks on there own, and while they stand alone just fine, I find it does them a disservice to not hear them in the full experience of this album.

Infinifty Shred may be a culprit of simply pulling the nostalgia card, but I don’t see that as an inherently bad thing. Maybe those memories are meant to be cherished and framed and glorified. Why not hearken to the days when a skateboard was a space ship, or a commodore 64 was a portal to another world. But Infinity Shred doesn’t dwell on those memories, they use them to paint an idea of a brilliant new future.

The Great Debate: SNES vs. Genesis Aladdin

If you were alive anywhere between 1990-2000 I’m sure you remember having this argument at one point. Whether it was on the playground or in the office, these games touched all demographics. Because they were so fucking good!!

I don’t know why there were so many damned good licensed games around this time, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there were just so many that there was bound to be a decent one here and there. But I mean come on, games like TMNT 4, Batman for the NES, Indiana Jones (just to name a few) were all unique and fresh games with unique and fresh ideas. Nowadays we just get fuckin Star Wars skins on a Just Dance game and that’s innovation! Woo! Okay, to be fair the Arkham games are fucking splendid

Now, Aladdin was developed by two separate studios with two completely different styles and they were two completely different games. Each game still had you playing as the token street rat we all know and love and each one had platform-y aspects, but that’s where the time streams split and we get to parallel universe versions of Agrabah.

Aladdin on the Genesis was developed by Virgin Interactive, a subsidiary of Virgin Group (the company that has had there hands in just about every pot for the past two and a half decades). While you wouldn’t expect a company whose main purpose is unadulterated capitalistic growth to be able to put out some genuinely good games, you would be surprised. They were responsible for a ton of awesome games, like Dune 1 and 2 and Earthworm Jim. So, they were decently well suited to go head to head with one of the greatest game companies ever to grace this mortal plane.

FUCKING! CAPCOM!

Now, I’m sorry if I’m being biased here, but Capcom may be my favorite developer from the 8-16 bit era and for good god damn reason! Seriously, look at there library, you got Street Fighter 2, Megaman, Megaman X, UN Squadron, Breath of Fire, the list goes on. Capcom had already had some experience developing for Disney Interactive and had fucking nailed it, making such great games as Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers and Duck Tales. So you could almost guarantee that they were gonna make something badass with Aladdin. And boy did they.

Let me just get one thing straight before we move ahead. I didn’t have a SNES growing up, I had a Genesis and was pretty ferocious about defending my system. I was one of the kids that would talk about blast processing, and Genesis doing what Nintendont. But to be perfectly honest I was pretty jealous. I used to go over to my friends house and play Yoshi’s Island and Street Fighter 2 and there was something about it that was just so, soulful. I don’t know how else to describe it, but when I would go home and put in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 I couldn’t feel the same amount of love that went into the game. Yeah sure, Sega was cool, and freaking Michael Jackson did the music for STH 3, but maybe being cool isn’t the end all be all of my desires when I sit down and play a game.

That being said, Aladdin on the Genesis was my favorite fucking game for almost a decade, it had style, it had swords, it had humor, and one of my favorite Disney protagonists of all time, it was the real deal. And even when I got my N64 and had games like Banjo Kazooie to play I still came back to this title. Virgin Interactive really did make an amazing game when they put out Aladdin, and also it was tough as nails! It took me years to beat the Cave of Wonders and when I did it was so damn sweet. The art style was crisp with those cell shaded graphics, the music sounded uncanny to the source material (at the time).

Now, I never truly played the SNES version until about a month ago when I picked this game up at a garage sale, actually that’s what prompted me to write this. I had always held the Genisis version as the be all end all of Agrabah awesomeness, but when I slapped that bad boy into my snes and heard that familiar Capcom jingle something wonderful happened on that there screen.

1. Presentation
Right off the bat you can see the art style in these games is supremely different. The SNES version has a much brighter tone to it with a pastel color pallet. All the characters and animations look original and fresh, and while it doesn’t stray to far from its source it gives enough to have its own charisma. Also, assets are much larger and thus have more detail and also take much more presidence on the screen.  The one thing that clearly stands out the feel of the world, the SNES version has a more varied and wider array of world decorations, making the world feel very much lived in and not just a maze of obstacles created specially for you.

The Genisis version on the other hand decided to stick very closely to its source material opting for a crisp cell shaded art style. It looks good, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t really feel right. The pallet is much darker and so is the overall tone. You can see from the very beginning that  Virgin is appealing to the older, cooler market, which Sega had a foothold in, when the Genie straight up shoots eogo. There’s a lot of humor in this game, but it edges on that slightly demented humor, which works very well in games like Earthworm Jim , but feels very unsettling in such a game that’s based off of such a whimsical movie.

Winner: SNES

2. Gameplay and Combat

While the Genesis version opted to stay true to form for the art-style they took the combat in a completely different direction. Instead of being the fun loving street rat you’re a scimitar wielding murderer vanquishing everything in your path.  Which admittedly is freaking awesome. And since you have a sword everyone has a sword which makes things a bit frustrating, because enemies are ruthless, and everywhere. But, when you finally get rid of them, or find that lamp that turns them all into puffs of smoke it’s very satisfying. You do jump around a lot and climb different objects, but platforming is less of the focus in this version, this ones all about the action!

The SNES version has a completely different approach to gameplay. In the SNES version the focus is all about jumps, glides and hand plants. The game has a very well flushed out parkour-style system which has you swinging on poles, doing hand plants on enemies to dispatch them and gliding with blankets you find throughout the world.  The fluidity of the movements are very rewarding and lets you explore the world in a lot of fun and awesome ways. It’s such a common thing for games with a lot of ledge detect to often fail, but in the SNES version that was never the case, movements always connected, actions always performed perfectly and it just feels so good.

Winner: SNES

3. Sound

When I was a kid I could not tell the difference between the Genesis soundtrack and the actual movie, they sounded so insanely similar to me at the time it blew my mind that that was even possible. Listening to it now I’m still very impressed, sound compression is no easy task, especially when you’re dealing that god awful Genesis sound chip. The soundtrack is still plagued with that strange metallic sound so many Genesis games had. The sound effects are crisp and satisfying though, collecting gems has a rewarding “pa-tink”.

The sound on the SNES is again, decidedly original. All the effects have a ver Capcom feel to them and are just so satisfying. When you make a game like Street Fighter 2 you gotta know how to make some incredibly rewarding sound effect. Everything from the little boing when you pounce enemies to that glorious jingle when you get a one up just feel amazing.

Winner: SNES

The Verdict:

SNES

It’s strange, while Virgin tried so hard to emulate the look and sound of its source material they just fell short of making a game that really captures the feeling of exploring the Cave of Wonders or traversing the dangerous streets of Agrobah. While still a great game in its own respects, when compared to the fluid wonder that is Capcoms creation it’s difficult to look away from its blemishes. Capcom truly made a masterful game when they put there energy into Aladdin, they wonderfully captured the magic and fun of the movies without making just a clone. These games seems more like collaborations between studios, all of which are masters of their crafts, and while some are better than others, they still made two of my favorite games of all time.

Thanks for reading!