Genre: Platform: Developer: Eurocom/Disney Publisher: Virgin Games Players: 1 Released: 1994
It’s no secret that Disney’s Aladdin for the Genesis is one of my all-time favorite games. This may sound a little over the top, but for me the game opened up the idea of video games as an art form. After its release I became a die hard Virgin Interactive fan, quickly snatching up anything they released. I particularly loved the pairings of Disney and Virgin Interactive and with the release of The Jungle Book on the Genesis I fully expected another genre-defining experience.
The 1994 release of The Jungle Book wasn’t as big of an event as Aladdin or The Lion King, yet it was a time in which I greatly anticipated. I couldn’t wait to see how Virgin Interactive would handle yet another Disney license which I loved. I had heard that the game was very similar to my beloved Aladdin (for good reason, the original game mechanics were stripped and applied to the mega-hit) so you can understand why my expectations were so high. In the end The Jungle Book lived up to most of my demanding expectations, but failed to recapture the magic that was present in other Virgin Interactive games.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves. While traveling to the “man tribe,” Mowgli encounters various friendly characters and dangerous foes. The story, which was originally written by Rudyard Kipling, is an absolute classic in every sense of the word. The Disney adaptation of the story adds brilliant music and a ton of fun to the mix; it is of course, this version of the story we get for the Genesis.
As Mowgli you will explore ten diverse levels, and a couple of bonus areas, all with their own visual flair. Levels are composed of a number of “collectibles.” Acquiring gems (or are they emeralds?) is a necessity in order to complete each one, and the game requires that you scour all parts of each level for them, both horizontally and vertically. This allows for more open environments unlike, let’s say, Sonic The Hedgehog, in which you’re constantly moving right. While I enjoyed the freedom of the levels, I have to admit to some frustrations that this design choice caused. More than a couple times I had missed a certain area, forcing me to go back and comb each area over and over. It isn’t a huge flaw, but it tends to break the flow of the game at times.
Of course, exploring the jungle isn’t a particularly safe task. Mowgli will have to avoid multiple jungle critters on his way through the game. Aiding him in his quest are a variety of items to throw at enemies; these include pears, bananas, and boomerangs. This design choice feels a lot like throwing apples in Aladdin, and it works. Of course, you always have the classic option of hopping on an enemies head at your disposal as well. What results is a silky smooth platformer with some decent action elements.
Virgin Interactive was known for its ability to push 16-bit hardware to the limit, creating colorful worlds that animated brilliantly, and Jungle Book definitely does not disappoint in this aspect. For a game set entirely in “the jungle” there is a surprising amount of variety in the levels. Mowgli will travel through lush forests, tropical paradises, and desert wastelands. Each setting is wonderfully colored (what limited color palette?), and all sprites are well animated. Like in Aladdin, Virgin Interactive implemented a level of life-like animations not seen in ninety-nine percent of the games of the period.
Fans of the Jungle Book will be pleased to know that the game retains some of the classic soundtrack of its silver-screen sibling. You’re guaranteed to have Bare Necessities stuck in your head long after playing this game. The sound effects share a lot of similarities to Aladdin, and in fact, some are taken directly from the classic platformer. I would complain… I should complain, but I just enjoy them so darn much! My only issue with the sound effects is the lack of background noise. I do realize the limitations of the time, yet I can’t help but imagine that more “jungle” noises could have really set a new level of immersion.
The Jungle Book is an excellent example of a Virgin Interactive licensed game; it’s solid, smooth, and polished all around. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by a couple of masterpieces. It was released before Aladdin and around the same time as Earthworm Jim, and that’s some tough competition there. Still, the Jungle Book deserves its own place in every Genesis owner’s library. Everything you’ve come to expect from a Virgin Interactive/Dave Perry release is in it. The game is an absolute gem, so act like Mowgli and collect it as soon as possible!
SCORE: 8 out of 10