Oozing with charm and packing a great atmosphere, The Great Circus Mystery can be a good experience for youngsters and Disney aficionados
Nowadays, Disney often struggles to transport the quality of their animated properties into their playable versions. In fact, the company’s efforts in that translation seem frequently more focused on making money solely on the famous names attached to the software than delivering an engaging product. Regardless of the causes behind that phenomenon – sheer laziness, the comfort of knowing the titles will yield good profit no matter what, or the fact that the complexity of game-development has skyrocketed – one thing is undeniable: Disney has dropped a long way down from its glorious gaming days, which lasted through the first half of the 90s.
The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie, the second installment of Disney’s Magical Quest series, is the product of the successful partnership between Disney and Capcom that birthed many of the best titles of that golden era, including Duck Tales, Aladdin, and The Lion King. In this particular outing, however, the Japanese gaming giant is unable to do for Mickey Mouse what it did for those other three franchises; that is, it does not succeed in producing a fantastic classic that is good enough to be revered by gamers and Disney fans alike. Still, The Great Circus Mystery remains an enjoyable and original take on the Mickey universe.
It all begins when both Mickey and Minnie decide to spend a day at the circus. Upon arrival, though, they are warned by Goofy that something had gone awry: everyone that was in the tents disappeared, including Donald and Pluto. Naturally, the pair sets out to investigate the situation, having to go through a sequence of six unique stages to get to the bottom of the mystery.
At heart, The Great Circus Mystery is a standard platformer of the Super Nintendo era. Players can tackle the adventure solo, in which case they are forced to choose between one of the characters, or alongside a friend, which is by far the best way to experience the game. The difference between Mickey and Minnie, however, is merely aesthetic: both of them move, jump, and throw enemies that have been stunned in the same way. If it were restricted to this simple set of movements, The Great Circus Mystery would have to perform some considerable tricks to deliver an experience that is sufficiently varied and clever to stand out from its platforming generational peers of mediocre quality. But – luckily – the game avoids that trap by being smart enough to borrow its predecessor’s finest feature: the costumes.
At a relatively early moment, the midway point of the first stage, Mickey and Minnie will come across the first of the game’s three costumes, which means that just a very small portion of the adventure’s short running time is spent with both mice in their standard form. The Sweeper Outfit, the first one to be acquired, lets the couple suck enemies with their vacuum cleaners, consequently turning them into coins that can be used to purchase outfit upgrades and extra lives or hearts from shop locations scattered around the levels. The Safari Outfit, meanwhile, gives Mickey and Minnie the ability to use hooks to swing from blocks, slide down vines, or latch onto walls and platforms. And the Cowboy Outfit gives them a gun to shoot corks at enemies and blocks, and a prancing broomstick horse that performs high jumps.
With the exception of the Cowboy Outfit, whose jumps are somewhat annoying to perform given the button press needs to be timed with moments on which the always-hopping horse touches the ground, all of the four Mickey and Minnie setups control and behave very well. Due to all of those skills, some stages are designed with obstacles aimed towards a specific outfit, while others demand that players switch between them constantly. The same goes for the mini-boss and boss of every stage, as some of them need to be beaten through the use of one costume, whereas others can be defeated with any of the available outfits, with the caveat that one of them is usually certain to make the combat easier.
Despite the fact that the six stages hold a nice amount of personality in their visuals and colors, as The Great Circus Mystery is a game that undeniably looks great and is well-animated, their design just does not reach those heights. Actually, The Great Circus Mystery occasionally comes across as mundane and uninspired, alternating solid platforming challenges with segments that feel like they were put together without much thought. The game’s failure in being constantly engaging is baffling not only because the costumes and settings explored gave developers plenty of level-creation opportunities, but also because the short nature of the adventure – one that only contains six stages – should, in theory, have allowed for more time to focus on each level.
Still, The Great Circus Mystery is able to carry enough redeeming features to keep it interesting. Playing it alongside others is fun, and its soundtrack is filled with great tunes, even if the fact most of them are pretty brief means that they loop a little bit too frequently for their own good. Moreover, its twelve boss encounters are creative; and its level of difficulty is good although its continue system, which takes players back to the mid-level checkpoint once all lives are lost instead of making them return to the stage’s start, comes off as not adequately punishing.
Released during Disney’s golden gaming era, The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie is definitely not as great as the best games based on the company’s properties that came out back in those days. In fact, it is not even Mickey’s finest outing. However, given it is oozing with charm and it packs a great atmosphere – which alternates between adventurous, urgent, and mysterious – it can be a good experience for youngsters and Disney aficionados, especially if they are playing it beside someone else.