The Little Mermaid
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    NES
    • US July 1991
    • JP 07/19/1991
    GB
    • UK 1992
    • US February 1993
Score: 70%

This review was published on 02/21/2017.

The Little Mermaid is a side-scrolling action video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in North America in July 1991 and Japan on July 19, 1991. The game was also ported to the Game Boy in Europe in 1992 and North America in February 1993. This game is based on the Disney animated film of the same name, which is based on the Danish fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen that was first published in 1837. Disney's movie adaptation was first shown in theaters on November 17, 1989, and it became quite popular. Now any time people think of The Little Mermaid, they think of Disney's version of it. Due to that popularity, Disney licensed Capcom, creators Mega Man, to make a game out of it. Before that, Disney had Capcom make NES games based on two of their most popular animated television shows at the time, DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Both of these games were big hits, with DuckTales selling over a million copies on the NES and Game Boy, making it Capcom's best selling title for both systems. They didn't succeed purely due to name recognition, either, as they're also excellent games. The Little Mermaid isn't quite as excellent as those games, but it's still alright.

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The movie stars Ariel, the mermaid referenced in the title. She's not as little as the title may lead you to believe, being that she's sixteen years old. Ariel is the princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantica, which is ruled by her father, King Triton. Bored from her underwater life, Ariel is curious about the human world, often collecting human artifacts in her grotto with her best friend, a fish named Flounder, and she frequently goes to the ocean's surface to visit Scuttle, a seagull who tells her some rather inaccurate information about human culture. Against the wishes of Sebastian, Triton's crabby adviser, Ariel falls in love with a human prince named Eric. She then asked the sea witch, Ursula, to transform her into a human so that she could meet the human prince. Eric also falls in love with Ariel, and the two decide to get married. It's at this point that the game's story breaks away from the plot of the movie to do its own thing. In the game, Ursula attempts to conquer the sea while Ariel is away. Putting her wedding on hold, Ariel turns back into a mermaid and dives into the sea to stop Ursula.

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Ariel can hop out of the water by holding up on the d-pad and pressing the A button, but she'll be limited to anemically flopping around with the A button on land. However, when underwater, she can freely swim around in all eight directions using the d-pad, and holding the B button down makes her go faster. She mostly controls well, but turning left or right is slow. Pressing the A button while underwater will make Ariel whip her tail to shoot out bubbles. Similar to Bubble Bobble, most small enemies that come into contact with these bubbles will be encased in a bubble. If an enemy can't be bubbled, it'll be temporarily stunned. Ariel can grab enemies trapped inside bubbles by touching them, and then she can throw them by pressing the A button. This must be done quickly, because bubbled enemies disappear after a short while. Bubbled enemies can be thrown up or diagonally upwards by holding those directions on the d-pad during a throw. If a bubbled baddie comes into contact with another foe, both will usually be killed, even if Ariel is simply holding it. Additionally, Ariel will sometimes find seashells that she can grab and throw like bubbled enemies, except these don't disappear when thrown at foes. This game certainly has some interesting mechanics.

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There are various power-ups you can collect to make Ariel stronger and better. Most power-ups are found within big treasure chests, which can only be opened by tossing seashells at them. There are two types of power-ups; red pearls and green pearls. Both of these enhance Ariel's bubble attack, with red pearls increasing its power and green pearls extending its range. She's able to hold up to three of each, and the increases are cumulative. At first, it takes two tail whips to encase an enemy into a bubble, but having a single red pearl makes it so that it only takes one, plus Ariel will be able to knock over barrels with her bubbles, causing them to roll down stairs and such. At two red pearls, she'll be able to encase nearly all enemies in bubbles, even the larger ones, and she'll be able to move small rocks with her bubbles. With three red pearls, she'll be able to move big rocks, and bubbled enemies will sink after a while instead of floating upwards. Every time you get a red pearl, your green pearl count resets to zero, and you lose everything if you die. You can check how many pearls and lives you have by pressing the start button. The game's got a neat power-up system.

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You know how almost every game has a water level that everyone hates? Well, nearly all of this game takes place underwater. It's not as bad as it sounds, though. Stages are tackled in a linear order and are fairly linear themselves, only occasionally featuring branching paths. The music and graphics are fairly decent, which is unsurprising considering Capcom was at the helm. There are lots of fun environments, too, like a sunken chip, an icy area with frozen water, an undersea volcano, and Ursula's castle. Enemy variety is low, however, mostly consisting of the same small fish enemy. There's not a whole lot to the stage design, either, so you can usually just swim on through with nary an obstacle in your path. Since nearly everything's underwater, there are no bottomless pits. There's a boss at the end of every stage, and some of them are from the movie, like the nameless shark, Ursula's two eel lackeys, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Ursula herself. The game is quite short at only five stages long, and it ends on a sour note, as the final stage is an annoying door maze.

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Occasionally, there are optional puzzles where you may have to push a rock or barrel onto a treasure chest to open it for a juicy power-up. Also, if you do Ariel's tail whip near sand, she may dig up seashells or human artifacts like forks and smoke pipes. You can also throw seashells or bubbled enemies into crevices to sometimes reveal these artifacts, too. The artifacts only give you points, but you do get extra lives if you get enough points. You also get points if you grab more power-ups than you can carry, so it's useful to get more even if you don't need any. There are unlimited continues, but the game is so easy that you probably won't need any of them. In fact, it's entirely possible you'll get through this whole game without losing a single life. That's highly unusual for an NES title.

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The Game Boy port is basically the same, except it lacks color and has a lower resolution due to the portable's smaller screen. Some of the backgrounds have less detail and the sprites are smaller, but things still generally look pretty close to the NES original, barring the lack of colors. Impressively, the Game Boy version's music is almost identical to the NES original, though it plays at a slower speed. While the Game Boy version isn't a bad conversion, the NES original is still obviously better. There were other The Little Mermaid games created by different developers for the Sega Master System, Genesis, and Game Gear, but all of these are completely different from the NES and Game Boy game, despite sometimes having similar titles. They're also all way worse, ranging from mediocre to terrible. You'd be hard pressed to find a better The Little Mermaid game than the NES one.

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It's nowhere near as good as most of the other Disney licensed Capcom games, but The Little Mermaid is still decent. The core mechanic of encasing enemies in bubbles and throwing them into other baddies is cool, and smoothly swimming around in all eight directions also feels pretty good, even if the turning is a bit wonky. The game's a little too short and easy, though, plus the stages don't have a whole lot going on in them. It's a casual game that'll provide a nice, laid back experience, but there's not much to it.

Word Count: 1,457

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