My Disney Top 5 - Disney Video Gamesby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and healthy out there.
It goes without saying that all sorts of strange things have been happening over the last 6 months of this pandemic. For most of us, the early months at home brought with them some interesting developments. We never dove into the whole baking bread thing in this house for example. Not to say we didn't want to try. My wife is an excellent baker. When I send an email out at work to my friends and colleagues that I've brought in some of Diane's baked treats a line forms out my door. But you can't bake bread without yeast and, as some of you may have experienced, there was no yeast to be found back then. Still, we found plenty of interesting things to keep us busy. For instance, one day I walked down the stairs to the basement rec room and found this:
One of my sons decided to take out every single video game we had from all of our systems acquired over the years and lay them out on the floor. Why? Just because I suppose. He needed something to do that day. The games stayed that way for several weeks as my sons and I tried to play through some of them that have been left alone for quite some time. When I sent the photo to my daughter, her reply was, "That's crazy! You have so many…get rid of them! You can't possibly play all of them anymore." That's the practical side of the family speaking for sure. Me? As many of you readers know, I'm a collector, an accumulator. Thankfully, I'm far away from being featured on an episode of Hoarders. I keep my collections either out on shelves or neatly stored away and intact.
I never really considered myself a video game collector until that "Holy Cow" moment when i walked down the stairs and saw just how many games we have in the house. The photo doesn't do it justice. It does, however, make total sense. I grew up in the video game era. In 1977, at the perfect age of 9 we got Star Wars in May and then in September, we got the release of the Atari 2600. Two things were under every tree that following Christmas of '77, Star Wars toys and and a brand new Atari game system. So, me and video games, we go back a ways. In my house right now I still have that original, still functioning Atari from my childhood as well as my Nintendo Entertainment System, SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo, original Playstation, Nintendo GameCube, SEGA Dreamcast, Nintendo Wii and my son's Nintendo Wii U, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch as well as just about every iteration of Nintendo's GameBoy and DS handhelds. So, yeah, I guess I am a video game collector after all.
If you were to look closely in that vast collection of games spread out across my basement floor, you'd find an awful lot of Disney games. Disney and video games go back a long way, pretty much to the beginning. Some of you old timers out there might remember that Nintendo started out making small handhelds known as Game and Watches. This series of small games came out in 1980 and there was a Mickey Mouse version released shortly after in 1981, marking Disney and Mickey's first entry into the world of video games. Once that gate was opened, you'd be hard pressed to look back at the history of video game systems and not find a Disney title; everything from the early days of Atari, Amiga and Commodore 64, straight through the original Nintendo, SEGA and Sony consoles right up to today's big three Switch, Playstation 4 and Xbox systems. The games are a literal who's who of Disney properties; everything from Mickey Mouse to Snow White to Treasure Planet, to the Incredibles and to infinity and beyond. Seriously, never mind the biggies like The Lion King, Frozen and Toy Story, those were certainly bound to have games modeled after them. But even less popular Disney properties like The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company and The Emperor's New Groove all have had their own video games.
Being the Disney fanatic and Disney collector that I am, its no surprise that I have a whole bunch of Disney titles amongst the Super Mario, Pacman and Lara Croft games. A lot I bought for myself, many I bought for my kids. Some, I've bought just to add to the collection and I still haven't opened yet - case in point Return to Neverland and Treasure Planet for the original Sony Playstation. If I spot them used at a video game store or yard sale, I snap them up. That said, there are several that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years and have played many, many times. Let's count down which ones I consider the best of the lot with my Top 5 Disney video games.
Just to clarify, for the purpose of this list, despite being Disney-owned entities, I ignored all Star Wars and Marvel games. That could be a whole list unto itself, many of which were not created while these franchises were under the Disney umbrella. We're talking about straight Disney titles - with Pixar thrown in because it just makes sense. Also, I have been primarily a console gamer ever since that 1977 Christmas when I got my first Atari. That means I rarely if ever play games on a computer or online. So my collection and therefore these choices are games played on consoles. There have been plenty of PC and online based Disney video games, but just not in my house. No big reason really. they're just not my thing.
5 - The Haunted Mansion - Nintendo GameCube (2003)
Now, before any of you ask, no, this is not a game version of the terrible Eddie Murphy film The Haunted Mansion, and thank goodness for that. It's been more than fairly common for a film to have a companion game released with it especially in the science fiction or action genres which lend themselves to gaming. The experts call that synergy. What most gamers or people that cover the gaming industry will swiftly attest to is that most movie tie-in games tend to be pretty awful. Development of the gameplay and storyline aren't usually priority. The priority is to get the game out and capitalize on the hopeful success of the film by making fans want to play the game after they see the movie. In this case The Haunted Mansion game was released in October of 2003 followed by the film in November. Seems like synergy was in play and yet, there's no trace of Eddie Murphy in the game nor is there much similarity in the storylines. I looked into it and couldn't find too much background on why the game was different considering the fact that they were essentially released simultaneously. Perhaps a star of Murphy's caliber didn't want to be represented in the videogame? Perhaps the finished movie wasn't living up to expectations and therefore the game was changed? At any rate, not being too closely associated with the film version isn't such a bad thing in this case.
I always enjoyed this game ever since I found it for sale at our local Blockbuster Video. As a huge fan of the Haunted Mansion attraction, why wouldn't I want to walk around in a virtual recreation of Gracey manor. If you're a fan of the ride, there are plenty of elements from the venerable attraction scattered throughout the game. Your goal is to restore light to the mansion and free the 999 ghosts that are trapped there. I was and still am a big fan of the Nintendo GameCube system. It had a ton of great playing and great looking games. I've got a stack of Disney games for the GameCube but The Haunted Mansion was always my favorite and I still go back and play it today.
4 - DuckTales - Nintendo Entertainment System (1989) GameBoy (1990) Remastered: Wii U (2013)
As a kid, I was always a big fan of the Carl Barks Disney comic books, especially the Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck series. These books taking Donald, Scrooge and the nephews on globetrotting adventures were the precursor to the tremendously successful DuckTales series of the 1980's. One wouldn't think that Donald Duck would be heading off on so many treasure hunting expeditions or that he would be so involved with thwarting villains' plans to steal Scrooge's fortune, but that's just exactly what Barks did in these early comics and the creators of the 1987 Disney Afternoon series took that lead and went with it as do the creators of the current DuckTales series. The duck's adventures were the perfect conduit for a video game. The original DuckTales game released for the NES in 1989 is what is referred to as a classic side scrolling platform game. Meaning your playable character moves through environments primarily from left to right, has to jump, run, swim, swing and in this case pogo stick their way through a field of bad guys leading up to a battle with a 'boss' at the end of each level. (Think Super Mario Brothers as the prime example)
For a good long stretch of time, before the birth of 3-D environments and movements in games, that's what video games were. That doesn't mean they were all good or all the same. Many were fantastic fun. Many were god awful. DuckTales was one of the truly great ones. I played it through on my original Nintendo Entertainment System, bought the portable GameBoy version a year later and was thrilled when they upgraded the game, but still managed to keep the original feel, on Nintendo's Wii U system in 2013. On the surface, this was a kid's game, but it was so enjoyable that it built a strong following with the adult gaming crowd. Let's consider the fact that I was 21 in 1989 when I got this game and I'm quite sure I wasn't the only adult playing it, trust me. DuckTales was a big seller and it has been recognized as one of the best games for the original Nintendo game system on many "best of" lists over the years. The industry doesn't go back and remaster a game if it doesn't respect it and look back on it fondly so the fact that the remake was even done 23 years later should tell you something. Regrettably, I can't find my NES version but I have the GameBoy and Wii U versions and play them both frequently.
3 - Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue (1999) Playstation
When the Playstation was released back in 1995 things began to take a big leap forward. Games were looking more and more realistic and the introduction of 3-D environments began to stun fans with just how immersive things could be. Personally, there's nothing I like more than feeling like I'm actually in an environment. Walking through the Haunted Mansion, for example in the game above is always a thrill. The whole notion of being transported to another place through my entertainment wasn't new to me. I've dreamed I was in other worlds like the Star Wars universe or rolling down a desert road with Indiana Jones or exploring the jungles with Jonny Quest - my all time favorite Saturday morning cartoon. When the first Toy Story film came out, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was fortunate enough to see the original Toy Story in a special preview when I was working for VH-1. The theater was packed with MTV Networks employees, who at the time were just about all twenty-year olds. We were raised on cartoons and you could tell that this new computer animation thing had blown us all away that night. From that moment, I wanted to be in Andy's room playing with the toys that I grew up with. This was the first game that took me into that environment.
Toy Story 2 was a step up in film from the first and the video game was as well. You play as Buzz essentially going through the motions of the film on your quest to save Woody. It was the first time I felt like I was really exploring something that I had previously seen on the big screen, whether it was running through Andy's room or exploring Al's Toy Barn. Obviously, when you look back, the graphics seem a bit primitive, but I think they hold up just fine. Toy Story 2 is a fun game if you're a fan of the films and you have an old functioning Playstation, see if you can dig one up.
2 - Epic Mickey (2010) Nintendo Wii
When I first got wind of Epic Mickey in a video game magazine preview, I knew I had to own it. I pre-ordered it and made sure I had it on the day it was released. And I was in no way disappointed. Epic is the perfect title for this game. As a Disney fan, all I have to tell you is that Yen Sid, the sorcerer, is in the opening moments of the game and you should be on board. Couple that with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and they had me at hello. Explaining Epic Mickey is difficult. Our hero Mickey Mouse finds himself in a Disney world turned upside down and inside out and it's up to him to save the day. The fact that he does so by using paint and paint thinner to make things appear or disappear was a completely unique and ingenious method of game play. It's unlike anything else you've ever played before.
Suffice it to say though, that vintage and classic Disney gets its fair shake in this game and if you're a big fan, you'll be happy by what you see on the screen. Epic Mickey has its negatives. It's not terribly easy to beat and it can get a little frustrating at times. If you're just a gamer, these things may distract you. If you're a big Disney fan, you're too busy grinning to mind. I loved it so much I even got the Epic Mickey paintbrush controller. I had no idea this even existed. I was walking through the New York Comic Con show floor one year and spotted this at a table full of vintage video game paraphernalia and happily snapped it up.
It makes playing one of my all time favorite games that much better. I'm also a big fan of Epic Mickey 2 as well. Check them out if you haven't already.
1 - Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour (2000) Playstation, SEGA Dreamcast, Nintendo GameBoy Color
This may very well be my favorite video game of all time, not just my favorite Disney video game of all time. Is this the best game I've ever played? Look…as far as being a video game classic, it's not Asteroids, Super Mario Brothers or The Legend of Zelda, but none of that matters to a Disney fan like me. You get to race through The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Dinosaur, Space Mountain, The Jungle Cruise and the Tomorrowland Speedway all the while looking at scenes taken straight from the rides themselves and listening to music from the attractions. That's it. I could finish right there explaining why I love this game so much. Let me put it to you another way; as you race around the Tomorrowland Speedway you see the Contemporary Resort off in the background. How's that? That should have all you Disney fans reeled in right now. Playing as Chip, Dale or Jiminy Cricket in a race car shaped like a Doom Buggy only makes it that much better.
Years ago when I wrote a Disney Stuff article about this game I was pleased to receive an email from one of its creators, Michael Levey. Michael came up with the idea and wrote the storyline for the game. Years later, this past July to be precise, we had Michael on our MousePlanet Live: Fun at Home show and I geeked out pretty heavily thanking him for creating my favorite video game of all time. It was painfully obvious that a true Walt Disney World fan had a strong hand in the creation of this game and for years now, it's been making this Walt Disney World fan very happy. Considering I own all three versions of the game on three different systems, there was no debating which title would be seated in the top spot on this list. Thanks again Michael!
As always, this was a tough list to narrow down. There are so many Disney video games out there and I do own quite a wide variety of them. I'd be hard pressed not to mention how amazing Disney Infinity is. I mean, for a collector like me, a Disney game that comes with highly detailed figurines? Yeah, that game was a big deal in this house for a few years. In the end, I'm not so interested in building my game worlds like you need to do in Infinity, so that's why it's not on my list. There are so many others in so many different game genres too. I can't say enough about how creative a series like Kingdom Hearts is either, but I'm just not a role playing game type of guy so it didn't make the list. There are a whole bunch of excellent side scrolling platform games out there like Aladdin, The Lion King and Castles of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. But, as always, I have to pick 5 and these are the ones that have given me the most joy and they're the ones that I go back to time and time again to play. Like so many other Disney things in my life, they make me feel young and make me feel happy.
Those are my Top 5 Disney video games. If you are a Disney gamer and have your own list or want to comment on mine, click on the link below and let me hear what you have to say. Please stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.