I, like many people I’m sure, take care to play through 16-bit-era classics with some regularity. I’ll play Super Mario World or A Link to the Past at the drop of a hat. And while it may stir some degree of latent nostalgia, for the most part, those games demand return trips more by nature of being sublimely designed games. They speak to a younger me but mostly transcend that nostalgia—it’s like reading a good book. What was so special for me about this collection of Disney Classics, though, was that while these games may not hold up to as much scrutiny as some of the pillars of the platforming genre, Aladdin and The Lion King truly brought me back to a different time. Disney and developers Nighthawk Interactive take these memorable Disney platformers and make you remember why they were so special when they released 25 years ago.
The most impressive thing about this collection is how much care and detail was put into preserving these experiences. Not just a simple port of these two games but rather a museum-like attention to detail—with one major exception. In the case of The Lion King you are getting the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions so you can play it exactly how you remember it, but Aladdin noticeably is missing its Super Nintendo version, presumably because that game was made by Capcom and would have some licensing issues. Fortunately, the Genesis version of Aladdin is generally considered the superior version, but note that if you played it on Nintendo’s console, it won’t be making an appearance here. In its place they’ve released the “Final Cut” version that adds small animation improvements and new secret areas to explore. It’s an interesting “what if” for returning Aladdin players. They don’t stop there, though, as you can also play the Japanese version and a pre-release Demo version that was shown to press for Aladdin, and both games include the handheld versions as well.
It’s an exhaustive package, and while I’d only recommend playing the handheld versions if you are historically curious, I’m glad they did the work to bring all these games together. Like many collections from this era it also includes different screen options; from using the game’s original aspect ratio to adding scan lines if you want to pretend you aren’t playing this on a giant flatscreen tv. What I enjoyed most about this package beyond its detailed recreation was that they also included several interviews with the original developers that really dig into the creation from the breakneck speed of development to actually calling out flaws in the design. They were compelling interviews that anyone picking this up for the nostalgia will surely appreciate.
Importantly, if you are coming to these games fresh, their classic status may feel overblown. Compared to many modern platformers or even some of their contemporaries, some of the gameplay is loose and imprecise, the level design at times feels arbitrary and needlessly confusing, the difficulty (arguably these games’ most memorable traits) is harsh and unforgiving. All of it screams of a bygone time in game development: when a big movie necessitated a game to accompany it or when a game punished the player as a purposeful means of only rewarding the truly dedicated. When seeing a character animate well (and if one thing stands the test of time, it’s the animation) was a substitute for game play.
Getting past a guard as Aladdin often felt more like you made it through sheer luck rather than by executing a well-timed jump or expertly placed sword strike. It’s not to say a better player couldn’t get through the games unscathed, but I found myself being blindsided by obstacles more often than I would have liked. None of this will be news to anyone familiar with these games or other games of this ilk, but it speaks again to the difference in game design from two decades ago.
In spite of the games’ old school sensibilities, they are still a blast to play thanks to some brilliant additions to these modern ports. While you can choose to play them as they were intended to be played—really counting your extra lives and breathing easy only when the large “Level Complete” text is plastered on the screen—you can now thankfully create several save states per game so one mistimed jump doesn’t cost you an hour of progress. More crucially still—and what helped me on these playthroughs with my old-man reflexes—is that at any time you can hold down the trigger and rewind to before Simba once again plummeted to the bottom of the waterfall. And in lieu of a chapter select for these games they went a step further and you can watch a video of the games being played perfectly, and, with the press of a button, jump in at any moment and take control. If you’re having trouble getting past a level, you can easily scrub through the video to the final level and take over with the benefit of all the lives and collectibles up to that point. You’re stuck on a particularly difficult platforming section? You can watch how it’s done, rewind, and attempt it yourself or simply take over the controls when it’s done. I loved this addition because even if you don’t need or want that assistance, it still offers a unique way to see all these games have to offer.
It creates an experience that I could easily recommend to anyone looking to revisit a childhood favorite, but who maybe doesn’t have the patience of their eight-year-old self. It’s also easy to recommend for that kid who now has kids of their own who are watching the live-action films and falling in love with these characters and stories. There is still just as much charm in the animation and music as there was in 1993, and it’s a testament to these games that I had just as much fun playing through them now as I did then, even if some of their flaws were more obvious now.
Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King
Not content to simply remake these games, this collection offers a nearly complete (sorry SNES Aladdin fans) look into these games and what made them so special. If you weren’t a fan in the 90s, you won’t be persuaded now, but for older players looking to tap into some sweet nostalgia or a new generation discovering these for the first time, this collection hits all the right notes.