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The GoodI would have been about three or four years old the last time I actually watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I’ve got a basic idea of the plot, some images can still be pulled up from my memory, and I can hum a few of the songs, but it’s all bits and pieces. I am, however, a fan of Capcom’s works on the NES and hold their licensed games in high esteem. To date, I’ve play most of them, and I can say that The Little Mermaid certainly stands out in one less than desirable way.
Taking liberties with the storyline, The Little Mermaid has Ariel changing back to a mermaid to fight Ursula, who is attempting to take control of the ocean. Like most Capcom games, it takes the form of a sidescroller and features all the tight controls and excellent sprite-work that one could expect from the publisher. In the first few minutes of playtime, it gives the illusion that it’s going to be yet another fun adaptation of a Disney license, and while it doesn’t lose steam or fizzle out, it does abruptly stop well short of its potential.
The game takes place almost entirely underwater, with only the occasional opportunity to flop across small stretches of land as gracefully as a manatee on the beach. Ariel’s only means of defense is shooting bubbles to trap the various aggressive sea creatures so they can be thrown against walls or into other enemies. The range and strength of the bubbles can be upgraded by opening treasure chests and collecting orbs, which would be a nice little character building mechanic if all upgrades weren’t dropped upon death, sabotaging any feeling of character progression.
Predictably, each of the levels are capped off with a short boss battle, largely drawing from characters in the movie. All the other enemies are pretty generic, and the music is comprised of passable 8-bit versions of the movie’s various songs alongside original, but forgettable, level themes. Gameplay is also pretty smooth and inoffensive for its entire runtime, but that’s about all the credit I’m willing to give it.
The BadI plucked the Little Mermaid off my shelf as something to play while I waited for a game to download on my PC. I fully expected to only get a taste of it and return to it at later date to give it a more focused playthrough. Less than an hour later, I was looking for something else to fill the time, not because I couldn’t stand playing it for any longer, but because I’d finished it.
I’m used to Capcom’s Disney licensed games being pretty short. In fact, for most Capcom games I sit down with the expectation of seeing the credits before I stand up again, but Little Mermaid is by far the shortest game I’ve played from the publisher. Less than an hour. Even shorter than the movie it’s based on. In that hour, I learned the basics of how to play and kept going until the screen said “The End.” It didn’t even offer me the option to play at a higher difficulty. That was it. Five same-y levels and a final boss. Done.
A small part of the issue is that the game isn’t very challenging. I died a handful of times while learning how to swim, but after the third level I stopped seeing the game over screen. The enemies in the game simply aren’t aggressive enough, and largely stick to extremely basic movement patterns. The fact that you can swim through most levels without even engaging any of the enemies or collecting the pickups practically negates them as obstacles and makes the whole game feel pretty flimsy. It’s important to note that the target audience for the adventure is likely children, and I’m sure that they’d find the Little Mermaid a lot more challenging than I did.
However, there’s a feeling of thoughtlessness pervades the game. Dying means you lose all your upgrades, but the only checkpoints in a level are directly before the boss when you would need those upgrades the most. It feels pointless to even have lives when a game over actually comes with the advantage of another opportunity to collect power-ups. The levels are so ridiculously short that it’s only a temporary inconvenience should you lose your stock of lives, and the boss battles aren’t so difficult that the upgrades are indispensable.
Then there are the secret power-ups. Each level has small cubbies hollowed out that invite you to throw a seashell or enemy into them. Doing so causes a pickup to appear – either health, or one of the absolutely pointless score increasing items. Yet you can’t throw enemies downwards, requiring that they be maneuvered so they’re thrown from within the cubby, rather than in the direction of it, which is so daft that I doubt was by design. Treasure chests also contain power-ups, but they can only be opened by seashells and rocks for some reason, so to get the orbs within, you’ll need to use the shells exclusively on the chests rather than taking a chance on the cubbies.
Finally, why the hell is it necessary to hold B to swim faster? I never let go of the button, since more precise movement was never required. It takes up a whole button that could have been used for something that’s actually useful. Jumping out of the water or sweeping the sea floor with your tail are both proximity based, and this causes you to lose the ability to shoot at high or low altitudes, so it seems like that would have been a much better use for the button.