It was sometime back in the early 90's when Disney was cranking out cartoon after cartoon based on their popular animated movie characters. Somehow, amidst all the DuckTales, Chip N Dale, and Aladdin series came the conglomeration that is TaleSpin, featuring characters from the Jungle Book. Baloo, for some reason, is no longer a wild bear living in the jungle, but a pilot working for some airborne delivery service. It's only natural that, along with this show, came the obligatory Capcom NES game based on it. Now, it's common sense that tells us that reviews don't write themselves, but as I played TaleSpin, which is undoubtedly the worst of the NES Disney games I've beaten so far, this review was practically writing itself.
I've heard that this game has really good graphics, but I think we should take a second look at some of Capcom's other NES games, particularly any of their earlier Disney games. TaleSpin's graphics are okay, but they're far below Capcom's standards.
The backgrounds lack detail, are very uninspired, and take place in the most mundane of settings. You spend a lot of time just flying through the sky or caves. Only the baseball field has some measure of interesting detail, but then you spend half that level in another underground cave.
The enemies are small, rather typical Disney-style animals. Most of them are unrecognizable, except maybe to people who have seen a lot of the TaleSpin cartoon. They severely lack the personality of the animal villains in other Disney games. Rescue Rangers, for example, had such fun enemies as the flying ninja squirrels, chameleons that changed form, gangster weasels and alligators, etc. In TaleSpin, the same few rabbits and wolf enemies keep repeating throughout the whole game. The bosses, on the other hand, are much better. They are the traditional large and colorful bosses that became a trademark of Capcom's NES games. My particular favorite is a ghost boss who takes up the whole right side of the screen, but you can only see his shoes, gloves, hat, and bowtie. Baloo and his Seaduck airplane look okay, but the little bear that you take control of in the bonus stages looks like he's flying around on a croissant. The graphics are not particularly bad, but aside from the bosses, there is nothing really great about them, either.
It seems like Capcom's style of NES music only went so far. The music in a lot of their later NES games didn't quite measure up to the tunes of their earlier classics, and TaleSpin is one game where the style sounds like it's really getting spread thin. Capcom attempted to recreate the bouncy calypso beat associated with the TaleSpin cartoon's music, but the result is a bunch of banged-out tunes that gave me quite a headache to listen to. The title theme recreates the show's theme song rather well, but I don't like it as much as the Rescue Rangers and DuckTales songs. The sound effects are pretty much all recycled from other Capcom games, and I can't think of any that were different or outstanding. The boss music is okay, but not spectacular. It's music that says, "Here's a boss, you're fighting it," and not much else. While other Capcom Disney games may have been partially worth owning for their sound, that is not the case with TaleSpin.
The play control of this game tries to be intuitive, but instead, ends up being rather sloppy. I'm not even sure where to begin, it has so many problems. First of all, until you earn enough money to get the better engine, your ship's speed feels a little sluggish. When you move up, your plane's nose banks diagonally up, and when you move down, your nose dives diagonally downward. While your plane is in these positions, you cannot shoot straight ahead. Your plane will shoot diagonally up or down, instead. This is awkward, because what it means is that as you're dodging around the screen and shooting, you'll often miss the enemies, as your shots fly diagonally instead of straight. There are times when you need to shoot diagonally, but it's difficult to hold that position.
You start out being able to shoot only one bullet at a time. That's right. Only one bullet can be on the screen at a time. You can upgrade to two and three bullets when you've earned enough money, but shooting will be an annoyance until you do so.
One of the more intuitive aspects of the control is the Seaduck's ability to flip upside down and backtrack, which is something you can't do in most shooters. This is kind of fun and useful for collecting items, but the plane doesn't always want to flip when you press the button. The control is adequate enough to allow you to complete the game, but its overall sloppiness is part of what detracts from the fun.
I have to give TaleSpin some credit. It probably has one of the most unintentionally-hilarious plots I've ever seen. Instead of having some kind of storyline that is followed, the game's entire plot consists of the lady bear, Rebecca, sending Baloo out to different places to deliver cargo. However, you only need to play about 2-3 levels of this game before something becomes obviously clear: It seems like Rebecca is trying to kill Baloo! Why on earth is she sending Baloo on all these pointless missions to places infested with Don Karnage's pirates and killer bosses? Oh, sure, she says you have to make deliveries, but why would Baloo need to deliver things to a cave, a construction site, or a baseball field? Or a place up above the mountains where there aren't even any people, and just happens to be Don Karnage's hideout??
And while we're on this subject, I would like to mention that I never really thought the concept of "TaleSpin" made much sense anyway. Isn't the song "Bare Necessities" the one thing most people would associate with Baloo? Why is it that a bear who only needed the bare necessities in life is now living in a human-like fashion, working for an airborne package delivery service? How did Shere Khan become a multimillionaire when he couldn't even learn how to make fire? Where did all these other talking animals come from and how is it that they live in a world without humans, when there were humans in the Jungle Book movie?
I have seen the TaleSpin cartoon receive a lot of praise for having good writing, but the game's plot consists entirely of, "Go there, deliver this, fight a boss" scenarios. Other characters from the show, such as Molly, Kit Cloudkicker, and Wildcat make cameo appearances, but sadly, King Louie isn't anywhere to be found.
Ironically, TaleSpin feels a bit more difficult than most other NES Disney games. However, it's mostly due to the bad play control, and the fact that you don't get the good upgrades for your ship until late in the game. The levels are short, and aren't designed really well. You mostly fly straight ahead, shooting at the occasional enemy and dodging the occasional obstacle. There isn't anything that a very minimal amount of memorization and practice won't let you overcome.
You don't automatically get continues, but you can buy them with enough money. By shooting everywhere, you should be able to uncover lots of hidden items and bonus areas that will give you extra cash.
The bosses are more challenging than the actual levels, but I didn't find any of them to be overly difficult. The giant ghost boss was my personal favorite because of the way you have to dodge around his visible parts as he's attacking you. Also, there is one particularly good dogfight sequence between Baloo and Don Karnage towards the end. However, the rest of the boss fights are uninspired. In some cases, such as a wrecking ball boss, and the final boss, you can destroy the parts of them that pose a threat to you, thus making the fights even easier.
A Disney-themed shooter is definitely something you don't come across every day, but unfortunately, this is not one of the better games I've played. You fly through levels, shooting a popgun-style bullet at various enemies that spring up, while collecting fruit and treasure chests. Some parts of the levels emphasize shooting, while others emphasize dodging. For example, at the beginning of the cloud level, you'll be shooting at flying sharks and other enemies. Then you go through a section where you dodge mines and lightning bolts. Then, finally, you end up shooting at flying things, again. Most stages seem to take on this similar pattern of shoot-dodge-shoot. Unfortunately, none of it is very engaging at all, due to the simplicity of the level design. Because shooting and dodging are so limited by the play control, the screen never fills up with lots of enemies.
There are only two major types of enemies: The kind that are stationary and shoot things at you, and enemies that try to ram into you. This makes enemy patterns too predicatble. The backtracking is one rather unique aspect of TaleSpin. When you flip over, the screen starts scrolling the other way, which can help you collect missed items or keep from getting squashed in tight situations. However, enemies usually respawn when you do this, which often makes it an undesirable thing to do. The game is also quite short, and most gamers of average skill and above can very likely complete it in less than an hour.
Overall, TaleSpin felt very irritating and pointless. It severely lacks the charm and decent gameplay of Capcom's earlier Disney games. If you're a fan of TaleSpin, you may find more here to like than I did, or you might be disappointed by its lackluster presentation. I can really only recommend this game to people who may want it to complete a collection of some kind, ie, NES, Disney or Capcom games, shmups, etc.
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