Every gaming generation has a few genre styles that are dominant, and in the early 1990s scrolling shmups, brawlers, and cutesy mascot platformers were the most prevalent titles on a game shop's shelves. Julian 'Jaz' Rignall was prophetic in his editorial for the February 1991 issue five of Mean Machines as he recognised a new wave of complex console releases that were taking gaming in a more sophisticated direction. However, he also acknowledged that adorable platform games would continue to be commonplace, because in that very magazine there was a Mega Game ovation awarded to Castle of Illusion on the SEGA Mega Drive.
It's not always recognised, but for a limited time period Mickey Mouse was SEGA's iconic platforming star to rival Mario, shortly after Alex Kidd and just before Sonic the Hedgehog. The rights to Disney's anthropomorphic mascot changed hands many times in the following years, but the influence of Castle of Illusion could be felt in every side-scrolling Mickey Mouse game that followed, including March 1996's EU release of Mickey's Wild Adventure on the PSone.
Developed in the North West of England by Traveller's Tales, the single player Mickey's Wild Adventure game was noticeably harder than Castle of Illusion – and didn't include swimming sections – but the fun of chaining bounces on enemies' heads or throwing marble projectiles was the same classic gameplay as in SEGA's 16-bit title, as well as its 2013 PS3 remake. Similarly, the focus upon quality sprite animation, plus backgrounds that included using library books as platforms, oversized confectionary cakes, a final level set in a castle's dungeons, and an end credits sequence that involved an audience watching a theatre stage performance were all pure Castle of Illusion-isms.
Released over a year after the Mega Drive, Mega-CD, and SNES versions – but landing just six months into the PSone's EU launch – the traditional 2D presentation in Mickey's Wild Adventure was a launch window transition from the 16-bit to the 32-bit era in a similar manner to Ubisoft's Rayman. Progress in Traveller's Tales' game is generally easier than Rayman as although Mickey receives numerous cheap hits, there are less leaps of faith or instant death pits. Mickey's Wild Adventure also has fewer boss battles, plus as a European PAL game it shares a slow pacing, and without a world map its linear one hour completion time is shorter than beating Rayman. If you're purchasing this on the PlayStation Vita, PS3, or PSP it's worth noting that Mickey's £4.99 PlayStation Store price tag is more expensive than Rayman, too.
In Mickey's Wild Adventure, you travel through six main levels themed around classic Mickey Mouse animated cartoons, spanning from 1928 to 1990, and including a hidden time warp to an extra bonus level based upon 1935's The Band Concert. The game naturally opens with an homage to Mickey Mouse's debut appearance in Disney's river boat captain yarn, Steamboat Willie from 1928 – not to be confused with One-Eyed Willy, who was the fabled pirate ship skipper in The Goonies.
The six core levels are broken into 26 sections, and immediately when skipping along the steamboat at the outset you quickly learn that almost everything can hurt Mickey. This includes taking damage from the steam puffing out of the boat, and a goat spitting musical notes, each of which are consistent visual attentions to detail regarding the original cartoon. You may question receiving seemingly cheap hits that deplete one of Mickey's five white glove health points due to a strict and ruthless collision detection system, but by the third Moose Hunters level from 1937 you'll understand that patient progress is achieved from treading carefully, or even taking one-step-forwards and two-steps-back. Just like in Rayman, you can also damage boost past enemies with brief invulnerability after receiving a hit, and keeping Mickey's distance from scattered skeleton bones or baby spiders dropping from an underground tunnel ceiling ensures that the game becomes much easier with practice.
A simple control system involving ducking, jumping, and throwing marbles develops intricacies when you discover that Mickey can grab different heights of rope to alter the distance covered by his swing trajectory. It's also advisable to experiment with holding the jump button down longer for higher vaults, and using a technique of keeping jump constantly pressed for a method of linking continuously bouncing leaps. There are interesting basic puzzle mechanics throughout, too, from ringing bells that lower a bridge to boiling an explosive laboratory cocktail to open a locked door in the second The Mad Doctor level from 1933. Considering that Mickey Mouse is not particularly confrontational by nature, avoiding enemies wherever possible can be an effective approach. This is especially relevant when you consider that enemies regenerate, so while the acronym for this game may well be MWA, it doesn't need to star a Mickey With Attitude.
Mickey's Wild Adventure benefitted from quality assurance work by Psygnosis, so once you train on the level layouts, your perseverance turns early frustration into mastery and enjoyment. There's the option of playing a practice game through a cherry-picked selection of levels, although beating the easy difficulty mode omits the sixth final stage. It's feasible to complete the full game using two continues before game over on the normal setting, with the choice of increasing Mickey's extra lives from three to five. Initiall,y the lengthy last level, modelled upon The Prince and the Pauper from 1990, feels like unevenness in the game's balancing, since even with firework rocket restart points if you use a continue after dying deep into a stage Mickey is rudely returned to the very start of the level. There is no ability to save your progress, and this game doesn't even include an archaic password system.
With experience the sixth concluding level's design becomes a chunky standout portion of a great platformer. The PSone port's closest relative is the Mega-CD version, but while the alternatively titled Mickey Mania SNES rendition was impressive for its 16-bit hardware, it was missing key content that the PSone excels in delivering. The PSone extras over the SNES original include: a Down Stairs segment after level two's Gurney Ride, The Band Concert bonus level, and an extra climactic First Battle section against the end-game boss Pete – which glues together the finale's plot points regarding rescuing eight different classic Mickey characters, as well as a mouse's best friend, Pluto. The closing stage's size and scale changes from being a hindrance into a highlight, so you may eventually salute the mascot mouse by saying that his game's conclusion feels epic, Mickey.
The most exclusive part of PSone Mickey's Wild Adventure is an out-of-the screen set-piece moment from 1947's Mickey and the Beanstalk, where Willie the Giant chases Mickey towards the camera. PlayStation gamers will be familiar with the variety presented from such a scene, as Naughty Dog incorporated similar run-at-the-camera escape routines in Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Although there is another corresponding Moose Chase, the actual fifth level's Willie Chase doesn't appear in any of the other games.
The PSone title establishes itself as the superior version predominantly through its 2D sprite and background artwork, as its attention to detail surpasses the next best Mickey Mania game on the Mega-CD. With graphics by Andy Ingram – who was general manager and designed Mickey's Wild Adventure alongside Jon Burton – Traveller's Tales added extra visual sparkle to level five's beautiful parallax scrolling purple gems in the Underground section, and fresh colour accents to blue tinted sky castle clouds in the Nice Garden segment. The SNES wowed gamers with a rotating tower in Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, but the PSone's spinning 32-bit brickwork and fiery lava effects separate it from Mickey's 16-bit offerings. Level six's snowy village rooftops scrolling outside the windows of Prince Mickey's castle is the frosty icing that's missing from the other games, and it sugar-coats PSone Mickey's Wild Adventure as the tastiest looking version.
A review in the fourth February 1996 issue of the sterling, but short-lived UK multiformat magazine MAXIMUM explained that while they preferred the game to PSone Rayman, in the context of cute platformers dominating the previous 16-bit era they felt that "although dated in terms of gameplay, there's no denying that Mickey's Wild Adventure looks excellent". Two decades later, and the 2D presentation now appears to flow more smoothly than many 2.5D games of the era, like Pandemonium!. One-on-one fighters kept sprite and pixel art presentation alive in the late 1990s – more often on SEGA's Saturn and the Neo·Geo than the PSone – but few platformers clung as tenaciously to a 2D art style, and the inherent traditions of side-scrolling gameplay to the degree of Mickey's Wild Adventure and Rayman.
This game has been unswerving in its dismissal of the ravages of time, so it has earned its title screen subheading of The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse. In a similar manner to the graphics, Mickey's Wild Adventure is more memorable because of the CD audio work by Andy Blythe and Marten Joustra – who both also composed the music in Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex. From the sea shanty feel of Steamboat Willie, complete with a hint of the classic Drunken Sailor, the tunes for settings like The Mad Doctor and 1937's The Lonesome Ghosts capture the spirit of their respective cartoons. Each level has a distinctive style, so Moose Hunters features frantic country music banjo strings, while the Nice Garden theme breezes through whimsical fantasy, leading to the Underground with its sweet changes after a tense sweeping orchestration. Both The Library and The Kitchen tunes blast out trumpet fanfares to convey their royal castle location.
With plentiful outbursts of charismatic speech announcing the smallest of events in the gameplay, and sound effects that include an amusing Tarzan yelp when Mickey swings on chains to escape across dungeon lava, the audio adds to the staging of this game's dramatic performances. This complements the vivid animations, which include the exaggerated posing of dying Weasel guards, Pluto's yapping at a charging moose, and tiptoeing ghosts who creep up on Mickey.
In an E3 preview in the June 1996 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, the American magazine rightly questioned why this game had not reached their shores, and they described it as "Mickey's Wild Adventure is a side-scroller typical of the previous Mickey games, featuring nice graphics and animation typical of Disney". With Disney Feature Animation Florida assisting Traveller's Tales with development of this game, it's no surprise that it conveys select highlights of Mickey's career in animation so effectively, with touches like film-strips framing a gradual monochrome to colour transition in the Steamboat Willie stage coming across as symbolic, even when you consider that the original cartoon was only produced in black-and-white. It's a style of 1930s cartoon animation that a game like Cuphead is recreating for 2016.
Mickey's Wild Adventure also included a pre-Twisted Metal David Jaffe in the role of Initial Game Design Treatment as part of Sony Imagesoft's contribution, and his interest in movie direction links tidily with the plot's celebration of Mickey's animated film career. Traveller's Tales subsequently went on to develop Disney games based around Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Finding Nemo, so before fans cross their white gloved fingers for a LEGO Mickey Mouse game, they should fill their big yellow boots with this lovingly drawn and animated PSone Disney Interactive production.
With a March 1996 EU release at the tail end of a 16-bit infatuation with cute side-scrolling platform games, but in the year that gaming became captivated with 3D mascot platformers, Mickey's Wild Adventure bounded onto the PSone staunchly grasping hold of 2D sprites and pixels. Returning to Mickey Mouse's animated film roots across six levels and a secret time warp bonus stage, it felt difficult at first to defeat the meanest Pete around, but it became a joy to practice in a cartoon landscape that traversed from 1928 to 1990. It has a timeless quality now, as its eloquent graphical art and endearing audio capture the spirit and style of both Disney and classic 2D platforming. In hindsight, PSone gamers can announce in a squeaky Mickey voice that "oh boy, am I ever glad you're here", because Traveller's Tales designed the little mouse in Mickey's Wild Adventure to stand tall beside our lofty memories of Castle of Illusion.