One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my fourth review in this series called “50 games”.

I recently bought a SEGA Master System 2 on ebay. This was my first console many years ago - although I later sold it in order to upgrade to a SNES. Even though I feel like the games I played on the SMS2 just weren’t that good, sentimentalism took over and I wanted to play Wonder Boy again. Once aquired, I did some research and ordered some other games that I hadn’t tried. One of these was Disney’s Aladdin.

Quick background: In 1993 SEGA released a game based on the Aladdin movie to the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive. A year later, they released a version for the Master System, which is kind of surprising given the Genesis had been out for more than 5 years at this stage.

The first thing that I liked is that the game follows the animated movie’s story closely. It’s almost like an interactive version. Several cut-scenes are present in between and sometimes even in the playable sections, and each stage concentrates on a critical scene from the movie. For example: you start in the Bazaar, running away from a guard, and soon you encounter the Princess and do another running-stage, this time with the Princess in tow.

The graphics and animations of the game are absolutely top-notch for an 8-bit/3rd gen system. I also really like that each stage doesn’t have a lot of clutter and random items everywhere - the Genesis version has an abundance of apples (health items) and guards charging at you left, right and center, which perhaps makes it a more challenging 2d action game - but makes no sense from a story point of view (I don’t remember Aladdin slaying dozens of guards while eating apples).

I have no problems with short games - I like to finish games when possible, but that can be hard to do when a game requires hundreds of hours for the main story alone. Disney’s Aladdin is a short game, and I was actually almost a bit disappointed when I realised the total number of levels. But with reflection I think that’s fine; the game wants to tell the story, and adding a lot of filler levels just means that the whole story won’t be experienced by as many players.

Disney’s Aladdin is a nice little game. The controls are not perfect, but the game design focuses on the story and really tries to put the player inside that story, which I think is fairly rare when it comes to games based on movies.

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Story-telling can successfully be applied to 2d action sidescrollers
  • Giving a “reason” for a level makes it more enjoyable
  • Bigger is not necessarily better!