Disney's animation studios were completely crushing it in the 90's. Movies like Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast were inescapable. And on the TV front they had stuff like Darkwing Duck, Ducktales and Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers. These were properties aimed at kids, sure. But they were also kinda cool. Cool enough that even teenagers and (possibly stoner?) twenty-somethings were paying attention. And none of that was lost on game publishers who rushed out to license these names and pump out games.
Back in 1993 the console wars were in full swing, but I was playing both sides. I had pretty much settled on my SNES as the winner, but was still picking up plenty of quality Genesis games as well. When Aladdin was released for the 16-bit consoles, I don't remember if I bought it or if I borrowed it from a friend, but it was definitely the Genesis version. At the time, I pretty clearly remember the Genesis version being hyped up for having better animations and more authentic renditions of the movie music.
I don't even really remember much about my initial impressions of the game. I guess I liked it, but it didn't really stick with me. But many years later, I did revisit the Genesis version and while I was still impressed by the visuals and audio, I didn't think it was a great game. It seemed way too hard. The controls felt clunky with floaty jumping and weird hit detection. Also, the levels seemed really badly designed. You had to collect certain items to finish a level, and the foreground and background was sometimes hard to distinguish, making the maze-like structure even more of a burden.
I'll be honest, though. I don't think I even realized that the SNES and Genesis versions of Aladdin were two completely different games until the 2021 re-release on Xbox One. So here's the quick rundown:
GENESIS - This version was made by Virgin Games, best known for their Earthworm Jim series. This completely explains the floating jumping, clunky controls, lack of visual clarity in level design, and awful maze level layouts.
SNES - This version was made by Capcom, known for making a plethora of quality Disney games on NES like Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Chip N Dale. Oh, and Shinji Mikami worked on this one... who later went on to create Resident Evil and The Evil Within.
Now which of the above games sound more enticing to you? Knowing the history now, I can't help but I played the wrong game in 1993. But I'm righting that wrong now. Thanks to that Xbox One collection, we've now got a bunch of versions of Aladdin (and Lion King and The Jungle Book) to dig through.
Having now played through the SNES version of Aladdin on my Xbox Series X (what a weird sentence), I have to say that this was really the better of the two. The graphics have that classic Capcom licensed look that we loved from those old NES games, but scaled up to 16-bit. The color pallet is muted yet tasteful. The controls are tight, with a strong emphasis on platforming and swinging from various spots in the environment.
It's a challenging game, but never feels cheap. The same cannot be said for the Genesis version. Overall, it's a pretty short game as well. I had no trouble getting through it in just a few hours, but that made it a nice little retro pallet cleanser between bigger games. There's only a handful of bosses, but they're done well. Again, if you loved bosses in say Ducktales, then this will feel good and familiar to you. The final boss against the snake form of Jafar is especially neat.
So yeah, my verdict is this - the Virgin Genesis game is one that survives memory due to rose tinted glasses. But it actually kind of sucks. The SNES version by Capcom is pretty much an overlooked and forgotten gem. It's by no means a must-play. But it is way better than you probably realize.