Genre: Platformer Developer: Virgin Studios London Publisher: THQ Players: 1 Released: 1995
It’s a story of deception, child slavery, and therianthropy as only Disney could tell it. The 1940 release of Pinocchio took some truly disturbing themes and images, tossed in a few heavy-handed moral messages (many of which were delivered by a rather lecherous talking cricket), and turned it into a truly wonderful film that moviegoers have been enjoying for nearly seventy years. Fifty-five years after the film’s original release, Disney Interactive answered a question that, in 1940, few had thought to ask: Could Pinocchio be turned into a decent video game?
The answer, as the developer Virgin Interactive no doubt discovered, is rather complicated. For one thing, Pinocchio lacked the action sequences that made video game translation easier for Aladdin and The Lion King. Virgin devised a rather clever solution for this limitation by taking prominent moments from the film (and by “moments” I mean “a few seconds”) and designing specific levels around them with a commendably eclectic variety of goals and play styles. The end result is closer to a collection of mini games than a congruent experience from beginning to end.
The opening level is standard platforming fare as you guide Pinocchio through town on his way to school, evading angry geese, bullying truants, and the incessant distractions of Honest John and Gideon. In the next level, you take the role of Jiminy Cricket as he beats away moths and other insects so he can secure a spot on the lamppost to watch Pinocchio perform in Stromboli’s puppet show. In the levels that follow, you play game of Dance Dance Revolution meets Simon with the other puppets in said show, ride a roller coaster on Pleasure Island, trudge along the ocean floor in search of Monstro, and race across the ocean’s surface on Geppetto’s raft with the enraged sperm whale in hot pursuit.
Clearly designed with younger gamers in mind, the majority of these levels are short, simple, and almost laughably easy. Many levels teeter dangerously on the tedious side, and (with the possible exception of the puppet show level) none of them are especially fun. The “vehicular” levels like the roller coaster and raft sequences shake things up dramatically with a sucker punch of unexpected challenge, not terribly unlike the driving sequences in Battletoads.
Although Pinocchio stumbles in terms of gameplay, it absolutely amazes from a graphical point of view. I can think of no better way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out with it: this is the best-looking Genesis game I’ve ever played. From the opening level, as Pinocchio bounces merrily through a gorgeously-rendered Italian village, this game is a constant feast for the eyes. Fluid, expressive animation is given to every character in the game, from Pinocchio’s skipping gate to the geese that lower their heads and charge as he approaches. In the puppet show level, each of Pinocchio’s “moves” (left hand up, right foot kick, etc.) are fully animated. Get through each of the four dancing sequences and Pinocchio will clap excitedly, just as he did in the original film. After you use up all your lives (excuse me: “tries”), the Blue Fairy grants you a continue, and a rejuvenated Pinocchio flaps first one hand then the other, clearly as amazed by the mobility he has been given as I am to witness it.
Musically, anyone who has played any other Disney game knows what to expect: rather crude instrumental renditions of the songs from the film. The original songs themselves were quite good, fortunately, so expect to be humming “There Are No Strings On Me,” for a bit after playing through the game.
Although it’s clear that a very talented group of designers put some serious care into the Pinocchio’s visuals, it’s disappointing that the rest of the game didn’t receive the same level of meticulous attention. The sporadic, almost nonsensical progression between the first few levels can be a bit confusing even for those who have seen the movie fifty times and didn’t skip over the static, storybook cut scene that sets up each level. It also often feels that the levels vary in styles for the sake of variety itself, especially when entire stages have been made out of events that literally only had a second or two of screen time. It can be argued that this is the expected result of trying to make an exciting, engaging game out of a movie that simply does not lend itself well to a video game translation. If this is the case, however, I have to ask… why attempt it in the first place? Pinocchio had been re-released in theaters just a few years prior to this game’s release, but surely there were equally relevant films that would have made the transition a bit smoother.
As it is, Pinocchio is a bit of a challenge to score. On one hand, I would argue that this is the most visually engaging and amazing titles on the Genesis (and yes, I’ve played Aladdin and Earthworm Jim). In that sense alone, it is an achievement right up there with the original 1940 masterpiece. As far as gameplay goes, however, it’s more on the level of The Rescuers or The Aristocats. I applaud Virgin Interactive for not making just another standard platformer, even though in this case they, like Pinocchio himself, often mean well more often than they do well.
SCORE: 6 out of 10