By the time Capcom’s The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse debuted in 1992, we had already seen several games about Mickey Mouse on home consoles. Meanwhile, between games like DuckTales and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Capcom had a good run of great Disney licensed titles under its belt. Yet I can’t help but feel the acclaimed developer must have felt a certain weight in developing this title.
I mean, we’re not just talking any character. This is the Mickey Mouse, arguably the most famous animated character ever created. Outside of publishing Hudson’s Mickey Mousecapade, this would be Capcom’s first time giving Mickey a starring role. They can’t just make a fun platformer with some classic tunes to do this character justice. Nay, a game about Mickey needs to feel grand, exciting, and majestic. And the developers at Capcom would need the power of the Super Nintendo to do it.
Of course, I can’t say for certain that this philosophy is what drove the creation of this game. But what I can tell you is, while flawed, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse lays a nearly ideal blueprint for what a licensed game should be. Because this isn’t just a game about Mickey Mouse; this is Mickey Mouse as seen by some of the greatest talent of the 16-bit era of gaming.
After you hear the lovely title screen jingle and start the game, Magical Quest lays out its plot. Mickey is playing catch with Donald and Goofy when he wiffs catching the ball, making it bounce off his head. Pluto rushes after the ball and apparently gets lost after about 5 seconds, which causes both Goofy and Mickey to go searching for him.
After Mickey falls off a cliff in his second failure of the day, he meets a wizard who informs him that Pluto has actually been captured by Emperor Pete. If Mickey wants his dog back, he’s going to have to go on a quest. A magical quest, if you will.
Obviously this is a textbook definition of an excuse plot, though I would also go to war with someone who apparently stole my dog. However, what really sets the game’s tone is the first level. Treetops immediately hits you with a distinct, beautiful set piece placing Mickey high above the clouds, featuring tall vines inspired by Mickey and the Beanstalk. You get a small area to practice the controls, so you can try jumping on enemies and flinging them around. If you’re feeling brave, you can grab onto tomatoes that spin like a helicopter and send you high into the air, letting you uncover some hidden secrets.
It immediately imbues a sense of wonder and whimsy fit for a Disney game. But more importantly, it introduces players to fresh concepts that go beyond what you’d expect from the usual licensed title.
This all combines with the music, which honestly sounds quite good throughout the entire game. The Treetops theme goes for an orchestral angle, featuring triumphant trumpets and fluttering flutes that sound fit for an RPG. Not that this should surprise you, as composers Mari Yamaguchi and Tatsuya Nishimura would go on to score Capcom’s classic Breath of Fire. All these elements come together to inform you that this is a real adventure, even if it’s made for kids.
At the outset, Mickey has trouble directly attacking enemies. He can jump on foes, and as mentioned above he can toss items and certain stunned enemies to inflict damage. It’s a clever system, especially since it leaves you feeling deliberately weak throughout level one.
This changes dramatically once you get into the game’s costume system. As Mickey makes progress, he’ll discover three outfits that expand his moveset. The first is the Sorcerer outfit, which gives him an actual attack that he can charge up Mega Man style. Next is the Firefighter, which equips Mickey with a long-range hose that can extinguish fire-based foes and move blocks around. Finally there’s the Climber gear. This features no direct attack but gives Mickey a grappling hook, letting him vault around like you’re playing Bionic Commando.
As those examples show, it’s fun to see Capcom give Mickey moves that take inspiration from their titles. But what makes this setup work so well is how the level design takes advantage of each outfit. Sorcerer is far and away your best damage dealer, so you’ll want that equipped to deal with bosses. Meanwhile, Firefighter helps solve puzzles, like using the hose to push around Thwomp-looking enemies to use as platforms. Even if the number of costumes pales in comparison to the number of powers you get in Mega Man, they have greater impact on how you navigate each level.
Though the costume unlocks come at set points throughout the game, they add a great sense of progression. In fact, I’d go as far as to argue that Magical Quest was a testing ground for Capcom to hone ideas that would pop up in some of their best SNES games.
In addition to the costumes, Mickey can augment his stats by exploring levels and uncovering secrets. At the start of a Normal-mode playthrough, Mickey will have three hearts (or three HP). However, by collecting hidden heart containers along the way, his life can grow all the way to ten hearts. These are well-hidden, but even as a kid I certainly didn’t need max health to beat the game. In my recent replay, I only found three containers by the end.
Weirdly enough, Magical Quest introduces some old-school RPG grinding if you’re into that sort of thing. Aside from hidden hearts, Mickey can explore and find coins. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble into secret shops that can potentially contain recovery items, heart containers, and even upgrades to the Sorcerer and Firefighter outfits. At first, I found it weird that I wasn’t even close to affording certain upgrades when I first uncovered them. After all, the game doesn’t let you backtrack and locks certain items to specific shops.
However, I eventually realized that levels repopulate with coins and items when you die, including extra lives. In other words, if you want a maxed-out Mickey, you’ll want to explore a screen with a 1-Up hidden in it, collect as many coins as you can, and then throw yourself off a cliff so you can farm it all over again. To be clear, none of the upgrades are substantial enough to warrant grinding for them. But I was fascinated to realize you could do that, in a retro Disney game no less.
As far as I can tell, Magical Quest is Capcom’s first SNES title that plays with these kinds of concepts. In the following years, the company would release games like Mega Man X and Demon’s Crest that combine top-shelf platforming action with exploratory adventure elements. I can’t say for sure if Mickey Mouse walked so Mega Man could run. Either way, it makes Magical Quest fascinating to me on a historical level.
Don’t get me wrong, Magical Quest definitely doesn’t reach the same highs as Capcom’s best SNES titles. Some parts feel like beginner’s traps at times, with one boss that straight-up one-shots you if you don’t know preemptively know how to dodge its opening attack. Also, this one is incredibly short, even by SNES standards. By the time you get Mickey’s full roster of costumes, you’re basically a stone’s throw away from the end of the game. The fact that later levels lack the scope of the first stages make me think that Capcom intended this to be a grander adventure. But at some point, they ran out of time, money, or possibly both.
Still, what is here is impressive for a licensed game. Stages are filled to the brim with unique gimmicks, the visuals are impressive and varied, and the controls are polished to shine. Magical Quest would later see two direct sequels, which notably include two-player cooperative play. The game’s immediate follow-up, The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie, didn’t leave nearly as strong of an impression on me growing up. Additionally, I never wound up playing the final game in the trilogy, as it wouldn’t come West until we finally got its GameBoy Advance port in 2005. Needless to say, I was a bit checked out on Disney games by then.
Still, to this day, I always compare any Disney game to Magical Quest. Games like the recent Disney Illusion Island play off the concept of Mickey becoming a hero, which I can enjoy. But for me, the first Magical Quest didn’t convince me Mickey could be a hero because it said he was. It communicated this concept on a deeper, potentially more important level.
As I watched the credits for The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse upon my most recent replay, I was taken by all the pseudonyms that Capcom’s employees were known to use at the time. A Planner was listed as “MX-5 (Crushed By Cat) Kamecha,” which could be one or three people, I can’t tell. There was also “Tall Nob,” who apparently worked on Capcom’s version of Aladdin as well. And those are just the first names that pop up.
It really reinforced to me just how much this game feels like Capcom rather than Disney. The people of this company really knew how to speak the language of video games, even in 1992. So in an inadvertent way, tying Mickey Mouse to their own identity is what really sold me on this character. Mickey didn’t need to be a universal mascot that adhered to pages of strict style guides. He could instead be a reflection of the people using him at the time. And for someone who happened to like the work of these developers, that really resonated with me.
I know that The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is ultimately a glorified commercial for Disney products. But Capcom’s approach felt like they wanted Mickey to sit at the same table as any other character they owned, with all the personality and polish that entails. I wasn’t really a Disney kid, so this version of Mickey with seemingly boundless potential spoke to me. Mickey looked, played, and felt like a proper video game hero. And since I didn’t really relate to the interests of a lot of kids in my rural hometown, this gave me at least something I could talk about with my Disney-loving classmates at lunch.
I don’t think much about Mickey Mouse nowadays, nor do I have any real attachment to the character. But for one point in time, Capcom got me invested in this mouse and provided great memories in the process. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the real hero wasn’t Mickey himself, but the developers who knew how to make him relatable to a new audience. I don’t know where “MX-5 (Crushed By Cat) Kamecha” or “Tall Nob” is today. But I hope they’re enjoying a rest fit for legends.
Filed under… #Capcom#Disney#Feature#retro#SNES
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