Genre: Action Developer: Software Creations Ltd. Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1 Released: 1993
Back in 1991, Disney released what would become one of their more endearing films, Beauty and the Beast. It became a hit for both kids and adults alike, was marketed on everything from bed sheets to dolls, and even spawned a direct-to-video movie follow up of sorts (it’s set during a blank area in the original movie’s time line). However, what very few expected was that it would also become not one, but two video games on the Genesis in 1993. One of those games was called Belle’s Quest, a kind of action/exploring game that centered on the movie’s good-hearted heroine, Belle, and was geared toward the girls in the Genesis’ fan base. But is this game a beauty that mirrors it’s female protagonist, or is it more of a beast that should be left alone? Read on.
Your name is Belle, a young woman who lives in a small village with your somewhat eccentric father, who happens to be an inventor. While you long for a life outside the typical one found in your village, your love for your father and the magical worlds created within the books you enjoy reading, keep you content. However, that provincial life that you’ve longed to get away from is about to left far, far behind. As your father leaves to show off his newest invention, a series of events lies in waiting within a dark castle elsewhere in the land. And these events will bring more into your life than you ever imagined.
When it comes to graphics, Belle’s Quest has more ups than downs. The colors start off bright and almost pastel in the beginning to create a cheerful opening to the game, then get darker and set a gloomier mood with subsequent stages. The characters that inhabit this changing world are drawn well, featuring detail levels and style that mirrors their Disney origins in how they’re drawn and designed. The characters tend to move quite smoothly more often than not, with Belle’s animation being particularly noteworthy, as her walk is surprisingly fluid. And while the other characters in the game vary a bit in this area, they generally range from looking fine, to nearing the same fluidity Belle has (even if the movements themselves are small, like the guy in the stocks).
For the most part, the backgrounds look pretty nice. The opening village is bright and colorful, with a healthy amount of parallax scrolling going on in back, and in front, of Belle. There are also various characters walking around in the foreground and background, giving the village a lively appearance. While it’s true that the shading of the village doesn’t give the buildings and such as great a sense of being three dimensional since all the colors stay rather bright, there are lots of nice little touches present. From there, things drop in quality a bit for stage two and its dark and spooky forest. While it too features a nice amount of detail and in front/behind parallax, the visuals feel odd thanks in part to stark lighting contrasts that just don’t look right in how they’re distributed. Finally, stages three and four will look very familiar to those who played Roar of the Beast (namely, that game’s stages one and two). They’re inside the beast’s castle, and outside in a very different looking forest. And while they’re dark as well, they’re far more colorful than the first forest in BQ, with attention paid to making things seem foreboding, but not devoid of detail or vibrancy. So between all that, and some decently done still-frame cinemas from the movie, the overall game got a healthy dose of attention with its visuals, despite a hiccup here and there.
With sound, this game has more downs than ups. As you play, you’ll be listening to three songs taken from the Disney film (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Be Our Guest” and “Belle”), along with some original music made for the game. While the movie tunes are instantly recognizable and are reproduced in terms of composition well enough, the music as a whole doesn’t sound as nice as it could have. The instruments are passable half the time, but with some rather irritating/piercing choices thrown in. This iffy level of quality is made to stand out even more by how utterly lacking this game is when it comes to sound effects. The few effects there are range from all right to iffy quality-wise. And while they fit reasonably well (armor moving, a lock being undone, etc.), their infrequent usage results in stretches where it’s just the so-so music playing, making for an aural experience that’s average at best. And really, I think they could have given Belle a better jumping sound than that of a “squeaker” fart.
The gameplay of Belle’s Quest is fittingly very simple, seeing as it’s a game for kids. Belle can jump and duck to avoid obstacles, the occasional enemy, or get across a pond/rooftop, and she can use “special” to talk to villagers, search part of the background (only on stage three), or pick up an object on the ground. There are no attacks for her to use, so it’s “avoid only” when it comes to dealing with the various birds, bats, rats and such that come at her. The game features four stages to get through, none of which have a boss of any kind at the end, but do consist of multiple areas each (except stage four, which is one long section). As you make your way through the stages, you’ll have to gather clues regarding what to do while avoiding Lefou (stage 1), make your way through mazes while staying away from various wildlife and critters (stages two and three), and finally survive a fast-paced romp over the countryside on the horse, Philippe. Along the way, you’ll find keys to unlock doors, books that restore and increase your health, and the occasional object to help you progress. And scattered in and between the levels, are some mini games that can give points and/or restore some health… namely, organizing books, avoiding kitchenware, and dancing with the Beast while catching falling rose petals.
Now, one might ask, “is the game broken?” Well, in a technical sense, not really. The controls work well enough for the most part, though the dancing scenes are very floaty (it’s on purpose, but it still doesn’t feel right), with gameplay that’s kept simple for its intended young audience. While the hit detection is pretty good overall, there are a few moments in question thanks a jump or two that you simply shouldn’t make but somehow do (namely on the castle roof) and how Philipe seems to just slide off the floating ice platforms at times as you wait for the game to let you jump again. And as mentioned, the musical instruments aren’t all that pleasing, nor is the lack of sound effects. But, in a design sense, there is one glaring fault that can’t be ignored… this game is utterly dull and without any real direction.
The entire first level is Belle trying to get a rock out of a river so some sheep can get a drink from the village fountain. The solution? Ask Gaston to move it… only after a healthy bit of wandering around. The next two levels are mazes (finding the Beast’s castle from the forest, and finding the Beast’s rose in the west wing), and the final level is riding Philippe through the woods to get back to the castle. There are no bosses to outwit, no big puzzles to work out (verbally or using objects)… nothing. It makes the entire game come off as frivolous, thanks to Belle not having any real impact or part in what’s supposed to be the game’s story. She was an integral part of the movie but not in this game. Why not have Belle figure out a way to move the rock herself? How about her needing to outsmart a creature to get out of the forest (jumping and ducking out of its way)? Have her avoid the Beast and his servants as she wanders through the west wing (akin to how she can avoid Lefou in stage one), or figure out a simple puzzle to get out of her father’s basement when she gets locked in there. I understand not having her hit or throw things, but is this the best they could come up with in terms of game design based on her and what happens with her in the movie?
Another good sized complaint is the design of some of the levels. The maze in the forest can be done in less than a minute if you follow the directions given by the man holding a pumpkin in the village, making it feel more like a mini game than an actual level. However, if you forget those directions, you’re in for a long bout of trial and error… and not the entertaining The Immortal type. The small maze endlessly sends you back to the beginning if you go the wrong way even once, which gets very old, very quick (this isn’t helped with how much some areas look quite similar to other areas). And the fast-paced horse ride for the final stage? Philippe (the horse) has one kind of jump… a full one. However, the second half of the stage is filled with areas that really need a quick, short jump to navigate spots. The result is a lot of deaths as you learn the layout too late. To be honest, when you consider this game was supposed to be for little girls, I can easily see many of them getting frustrated and giving up because of that final stage. And what’s the point of the final dancing mini-game with the prince? The game’s over. Why repeat what was rather dull the first time (you just go in a big oval for a minute and a half)?
Before I end this review, there’s something I want to bring up about Belle’s Quest. This game doesn’t feel complete. The reason I say that is simply this… I think Belle’s Quest and Roar of the Beast were one game at some point. If you play both games, and put the levels in the order of BQ stage one, RotB stage one, BQ stage two, BQ stage three, RotB stage two, RotB stage three, BQ stage four and finally RotB stage four, you pretty much have the gist of the movie’s story, going back and forth between perspectives. I could very well be wrong, but it sure fits, and the fact that some background elements and enemies get reused between the two games only bolsters this idea. But alas, BQ stands on its own, and it seems like it’s taking place between more important (and removed) sections the entire time, rather than like a game all its own.
So what’s the end verdict on Belle’s Quest? Sadly, it’s not a cheerful one. While it was a noble effort to try and create a game for boys and a separate one for girls, the girls got the short end of the stick. Yes, the graphics have a number of high spots, there are some creative ideas, and the music (save for some really grating instruments) is mediocre. But the rest of the game is just devoid of entertainment, with only the simple and briefly amusing book arranging and “dodge the kitchenware” mini games making things more fun. It’s a shame really, as the first level showed some promising bits of interaction with the liveliness of the village, the dialogue, and such. But the game never gets any kind of focus, and falls into the “this is what we think girls want” trap video game designers kept stepping into in the 1990s (gameplay bits that possess little substance). The game’s mired in tedious and pointless tasks that create no sense of purpose or fun, while leaving the between-stage cinema’s seeming more import than the stages, and greatly overshadowing any bright spots. This all adds up to an unenjoyable game, regardless of your age.
SCORE: 3 out of 10