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Fantasia

Genre: Platformer Developer: Infogames Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1991

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its classic film Fantasia, Disney released a special home edition on video. As a sort of unofficial tie-in, Sega and Infogrames developed a platformer around the movie’s most memorable scene. In hindsight, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, as the thought of being able to use Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was pretty appealing. Use magic against those single-mindedly nasty brooms and fighting the Demon of Bald Mountain had the makings of one heck of a game. Moreover, collecting the sheet music needed by the orchestra to play the movie score seemed like a novel idea, and having the Demon be the one responsible for scattering them all over gave Mickey a reason to face off against this awesome villain.

But as they say, the road to hell is paved with great intentions.

As a film, Fantasia is a cinematic masterpiece, filled with awesome visuals and an epic soundtrack that takes the viewer on a journey that overwhelms the senses. As a game, however, it falls apart on so many levels as to not only stain the good name of the movie, but that of its star Mickey as well. That’s a pretty mean feat in itself, as the famous mouse had just come off one of the greatest hop-‘n-bop platformers ever made with Castle of Illusion only a year earlier. Compared to that wonderful game, Fantasia is like doing porn after winning an Oscar.

At first glimpse things look well enough. The graphics are maliciously inviting, making great use of the Genesis’ limited color palate. Few colors are normally a bad thing, but this actually worked to the game’s advantage, as the movie is filled with dark pastels. The use of highly detailed foregrounds gives everything a great sense of depth, and the whole visual atmosphere of the film has been captured here. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at that screen grab of the first level in the back of my video game magazines of the time, drooling at those gorgeous graphics. I quickly sent away for it to Chips ‘N Bits, something that was a pretty big event for a high school senior with little cash flow. Sadly, my spirit was almost as crushed as the box the game came in when I finally got to play it. The slow and awkward gameplay caught me completely off guard.

See, that’s about where everything falls apart. Visuals aside, the game is just broken. Mickey takes far too long to turn around, and he jumps like he’s totally devoid of motivation. As every one of the five stages (divided into multiple areas) is literally crawling with foes, this makes using his jump attack more challenging than it should be. Mickey is a sorcerer’s apprentice though, and he’s able to cast small and large spells at enemies. Unfortunately, he only has a limited amount to use and must collect crystal balls in order to replenish his power. What makes this so frustrating is that there are decidedly few crystal balls in each stage, which means you’ll be forced to depend on the jump attack more often than not.

With some practice, you should be able to get past the clumsy combat system; however, that won’t help at all with the actual platforming parts. Moving platforms are way too fast, and some secret areas actually send you back to earlier parts of the stage, which are each quite long. The musical notes you’re looking for are very well hidden, and not collecting enough means you’ll have to restart the stage until you find the required amount. Believe me folks, there’s nothing like doing the same stage over two or three times to make you regret your purchase.

Adjustable difficulty levels and the option to change lives/continues allotted don’t really help much, and continuing means you’ll have to start the entire stage over again from scratch. Add to this the complete lack of boss battles and the mediocre musical score (seriously, who’s idea was it to try and emulate Fantasia‘s soundtrack on the Genesis of all consoles?), and what you have is a train wreck with mouse ears. I won’t spoil the ending for you, because you’d need to actually have one to do that, so let’s just leave it at that.

Playing Fantasia after having enjoyed Castle of Illusion so much makes me angry at all the lost potential, but I’m willing to give Mickey Mouse a pass here. He managed to redeem himself with World of Illusion and Mickey Mania, but this still remains a dark period in the famous rodent’s history. What was definitely the biggest factor here was that Fantasia was rushed out the door. Even Sega Head of Product Development Ken Balthaser has said that it needed at least two more months of development time. Even so, I don’t understand why Sega chose to go with a new developer and engine for this game instead of just tweaking the already stellar one used for Castle of Illusion. If you’ve seen the movie and are looking to keep that classic Disney feeling alive, go play the aforementioned games, or even Quackshot. Just be sure to stay far, far away from Fantasia. Trust me, Mickey will thank you for it.

SCORE: 4 out of 10

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