TaleSpin
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Developers:
    • Capcom (NES)
    • Dual (GB)
  • Publishers:
    • Capcom (NES)
    • UK Bandai (GB)
  • Released:
    NES
    • US December 1991
    • UK 09/24/1992
    GB
    • US December 1992
    • UK 1993
Score: 65%

This review was published on 02/22/2017.

TaleSpin is a shoot 'em up video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in North America in December 1991, Europe on September 24, 1992, and Australia in 1992, where the game was published by Mattel. The game was ported by Dual Corporation to the Game Boy in North America in December 1992 and Europe in 1993, where it was published by Bandai. This game is based on the Disney animated television series of the same name, which first aired a preview on The Disney Channel in 1990, then later that year became part of The Disney Afternoon. In total, the show aired from May 5, 1990, to August 8, 1991. Disney licensed Capcom, creators of the Mega Man franchise, to make an assortment of NES games based on their animated IPs, like DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and The Little Mermaid. Of those, the first DuckTales game is the most popular, because it sold over a million copies on the NES and Game Boy, making it Capcom's best selling game on both platforms. Most of these games are pretty good, but TaleSpin is one of the lesser good ones.

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Like a lot of the animated shows on The Disney Afternoon, TaleSpin used established Disney characters from elsewhere. Specifically, many of the TaleSpin characters are from the animated movie The Jungle Book, which first had a theatrical release on October 18, 1967, but was rereleased in theaters shortly before the premiere of the TaleSpin show. TaleSpin stars Baloo, the bear from The Jungle Book, except here he's a pilot. Initially, Baloo operated an air cargo freight business named "Baloo's Air Service," but he went bankrupt and got bought out by Rebecca Cunningham, a female bear with a business degree, and she renamed it "Higher for Hire." Together with an orphan bear boy named Kit Cloudkicker, who acts as Baloo's navigator, they act as the crew for Higher for Hire's only aircraft, the 20 year old Sea Duck. A red wolf named Don Karnage is the main antagonist of the show, as he leads a group of air pirates that are always trying to steal Baloo's deliveries. The game's plot plays out like an episode from the show, with Rebecca sending Baloo off to deliver some cargo and Don Karnage trying to steal it.

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Unlike most of the Capcom developed Disney games on the NES, this one is a shoot 'em up, where you take control of Baloo as he takes control of a miniature version of the Sea Duck. Upon initial inspection, the game will seem to control just like any other Gradius inspired shooter, with the d-pad letting you fly in all eight directions and the B button being used to shoot, but there are some pretty wild differences. Firstly, you have a health meter represented by hearts, so unlike most shoot 'em ups, you don't die in one hit. Secondly, touching the environment doesn't usually hurt you, but you can be squished to death if the edge of the screen pushes you into a wall or something. Thirdly, you normally shoot in the direction you're facing, but it's possible to shoot diagonally upwards or diagonally downwards by holding up or down on the d-pad while shooting. While this may sound like a feature, it's actually a hindrance, because you'll often find yourself accidentally shooting in diagonals when all you want to do is make fine adjustments to your elevation.

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Action is viewed from the side with the screen automatically scrolling in a single direction, usually horizontally, but sometimes vertically. However, pressing the A button will cause Baloo to fly upside down, which will make it so that the screen automatically scrolls backwards. This is a rather interesting mechanic, because it allows you to backtrack through a stage to collect any items you might have missed, like fallen cargo, moneybags, and fruits, most of which give you extra points. You can't always go back, however. Baloo will also shoot towards the left instead of the right when he's upside down, so this even comes in handy during boss battles, where you're unable to backtrack. Very few shoot 'em ups allow for this kind of freedom, making TaleSpin a one-of-kind game, for better or worse. Even though it's kind of a disorienting maneuver, this is definitely the coolest thing about the game. Constantly going backwards does slow down the game's pacing, but it's never required.

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Between each stage, you'll visit Wildcat, a mechanic from the show, and you'll be given the opportunity to buy power-ups using the money you've collected. Besides extra lives and continues, you're able to buy upgrades for the Sea Duck to increase its speed, rate of fire, and maximum health capacity. You keep the upgrades even if you die, which is awfully forgiving for a shoot 'em up. The shop system would be good if it weren't for the fact that some of these upgrades should have been granted from the start. Baloo is initially limited to firing only one bullet at a time, meaning you have to wait for the bullet to fly off screen before you can fire another. This makes the game incredibly frustrating until you can afford the rate of fire upgrades. It's ludicrous that the game limits your rate of fire in such a manner, considering this is a shooter.

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Despite what the story states, you don't really have to worry about collecting cargo, as they simply provide extra points and money. All you have to do is get to the end of the stage and defeat the boss there. Along the way, you'll be accosted by the aforementioned air pirates, and occasionally Don Karnage himself. The graphics and music are decent; the boss theme is particularly good. Some of the sound effects were lifted from Mega Man, though, like the sound enemies make when being damaged. A few of the environments are unique for a shooter, like a baseball stadium where a giant baseball breaks open a hole in the ground that lets you fly through some tunnels, and a haunted house with possessed hats and fireplaces that attack you. Unfortunately, the frustrating controls and low rate of fire make it hard to enjoy any of this, and only one of those issues is fixable, provided you have the patience to do it.

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Bonus stages are hidden throughout the game. In order to locate a bonus stage, you'll have to shoot specific spots on the screen, which often reveals invisible items like fruits, but occasionally uncovers hidden bonus doors. It's pretty stupid, because there's no real way to know where anything is hidden until after it's been revealed, so the only method to find stuff is to blindly shoot every inch of the screen like a madman. Anyway, during a bonus stage, you'll be controlling Kit as he flies around on his airfoil. The objective is to pop balloons to reveal items, such as fruit and extra lives. Unlike Baloo, Kit can't shoot or turn back, so you'll have to touch the balloons to pop them, and you'll only have one chance to do it. You're also timed, but that's rather pointless, because these stages scroll forwards automatically at the same pace and you can't go any faster or slower. There are only two variations of this bonus stage, neither of which are particularly exciting.

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For a portable port, the Game Boy version of TaleSpin is a near perfect conversion of the NES original. Aside from the lack of color and lower resolution, it faithfully recreates most of the graphics, music, and sound effects. However, the backgrounds are a bit sparser and the screen scrolling is a little jerky. The stage design has also been condensed to better fit the smaller screen, but the stages are still mostly the same. There's no particular reason to play the Game Boy version over the NES original, but it's not a bad port. A couple of other TaleSpin games were released for the TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and Game Gear in the early 1990s. Despite sharing the same title, all these games were developed by another company, so they're completely different from the one on the NES and Game Boy, and also way worse. There is no better TaleSpin game than the one on the NES and Game Boy, though admittedly, that doesn't say much.

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This game doesn't live up to the standards set by most of the other Capcom developed Disney titles. It's by no means horrible, but it has enough problems to make it less than good. The biggest problem is the frustrating controls; it's incredibly difficult to shoot straight while you're bobbing and weaving past enemy attacks. The other major issue is the low rate of fire. Sure, you can fix that by buying rate of fire upgrades at the shop, but it'll take a couple of stages before you'll be able to afford the best one. Besides, this shouldn't be something that you have to upgrade in the first place. Almost all shoot 'em ups start you out with a high rate of fire, so there's no excuse for this one to not do that. If it weren't for these issues, the game would actually be pretty good. Being able to fly backwards at nearly any time is a cool mechanic, but it's sad that such a neat idea went to waste in this game. You aren't missing much if you elect to sit this one out.

Word Count: 1,596

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