Donald's first Japanese-only adventure wasn't exactly the best game he could have starred in, so it was probably for the best that it was localized as something entirely different so that people didn't associate him with such lackluster products. But there are times when the restriction of licenses make it so that the wide audience miss out on a truly great game and fades into obscurity because of it. That is the case with Donald Duck: Mahou No Boushi, released in 1995 by Epoch. The game was developed by a rather unknown group called SAS Sakata, who previously had been mostly used by Data East to convert their arcade titles onto home console systems, as well as original titles like Werewolf and Robocop on the NES. The title of the game translates into "Donald Duck and The Magical Hat".
Daisy Duck's birthday is coming up and Donald joins her into town for some window shopping, looking for ideas what to get her. As they stroll down the street, Daisy catches eye on an expensive hat and tells Donald she wants that for her birthday. Realizing quickly that he doesn't quite have the money to buy a 300 dollar hat, he makes the decision to get some part time jobs so that he can buy it in time for her birthday party. As the game starts, Donald gets himself a flyer with the available jobs listed and their salary rates.
The four jobs that Donald can choose from are paper boy, window cleaner, canary fetcher and game show participant.
The paper boy job takes you through a small stretch of houses that loops infinitely until all papers are delivered. By pressing the A button when passing the mail boxes, Donald will throw a paper in. The roads are confusing however, and paths constantly cross each other in forks so its up to Donald to figure out the way to reach all the subscribers. To make matters worse there are rabid dogs and reckless drivers all over town and as if that wasn't enough, some subscribers live in air balloons, so there is no choice but to launch into the sky to deliver them the paper. After having delivered 25 papers, Donald gets paid. The window cleaner job requires Donald to go high into the air with the use of a lift and ladders, balancing on the narrow window frames and avoiding people throwing trash out of their windows or playing catch with a ball in between office windows. Some of the frames are old so they have cascaded, requiring the use of both ladders and the lift to reach all the dirty windows.
The canary catching requires Donald to go in and rescue Grandma Duck's bird, which has been locked up and taken by Pete apparently. The guard dog is asleep, so it's important that the bird is retrieved by being as quiet as possible. The simple touch of a cup will lead it to fall down and break, and stepping on the radio leads them to start playing loud music. The game show is run by Goofy and goes by the name Race A Go Go!! This is an obstacle course broadcast on the local TV where the participants must race to the finish and avoid getting stuck in jello or fall into the shark tanks. Each job has an intro sequence where the special controls are explained, often with Donald being frustrated over the work he must do and having a temper tantrum over it.
Once the money has been raised, Donald heads over to the hat store to get Daisy her gift now that he has the sufficient funds. Now you might be wondering "Is that it? Four jobs and he gets the hat?" Well of course not. Once Donald arrives at the hat store, the hat is sold out. Completely at a loss of what to do, a magical wizard appears and says he will help Donald in getting his hat if he will assist him of getting rid of the ghosts in his castle by turning the lights on. Once agreeing and maneuvering himself up the clock tower, the sailor suit garbed duck is told of the wizard's secret and reveals himself to be the king of a kingdom far away where Big Pete put a spell on him, turning him into a magical hat. The king asks Donald for his assistance in lifting the curse and getting rid of Pete's evil doings in his kingdom, and teleports them both there to start an all new adventure. In this kingdom, Donald has the choice of four different levels, all which he must go through and face Pete's henchmen before catching a ride with Pete's blimp up to his floating castle. If there was ever a halfway mark in a game where the 180 turn makes you go WTF, this would probably be it.
This is where Mahou No Boushi turns into an action platformer. The kingdom Donald visits shares a lot of similarities to the one Mickey goes through in Magical Quest by Capcom, in fact, the overall storyline and layout feels very similar, as well with Pete being an evil wizard in a strange faraway world. The major difference of course is that Mahou No Boushi features a first act that is completely different from the rest of the game, and that there are no special suits for Donald to obtain. He does get the power of the magical hat to help him out however, which allows him to become invisible and protect himself from enemies. Aside from that, enemies are taken out by jumping on them and delivering a diving headbutt. Each level is very different from the other, often making use of a gimmick that goes throughout the entire level. The forest area is maze which uses Mode 7 to rotate the world around in order for Donald to reach the right paths. The ice level is a race against a cheating rabbit who will push you off track if he catches up with you. The mountain ranges and crystal mines play more normal though the high mountains uses a lot of wind gusts to fly Donald around, while the crystal mines makes use of mirrors to teleport him to different rooms. The boss battles all have different strategies to them, with some pretty interesting ideas like the mirrored ghosts, who will do the opposite of your control input so that the player basically has to control the boss into the falling spikes while still controlling Donald to avoid them.
Like most of Donald's adventures so far, the game looks absolutely amazing in motion. Donald moves and behaves almost exactly like in the cartoons, and everything from the way he moves, bickers, talks and reacts are all spot on. The background art is at times absolutely stunning, especially in the high mountain ranges and the dangerous village, where the background stretches far back with views of mountain tops and oceans. Stylistically it shares a lot of similarities to the Magical Quest series as mentioned before so it is quite apparent their goal was to give Donald an adventure similar to Mickey Mouse and for it to be just as good, if not better.
Mahou No Boushi would have succeeded in being a wonderful game if it wasn't for just one major flaw. The game suffers from some extremely shoddy hit detection on Donald's landings, leading him to just go through small platforms or taking a hit from enemies if he is not precisely at the right angle and spot, which is pixel precise with no room for error. This leads to Mahou No Boushi being incredibly frustrating to the point where you are the one who will throw down the hat and start yelling at everything within reach. This flaw is not made better by the jumping mechanics either, which sometimes has its little mind of its own. The distance which Donald travels in his jump isn't very far, but he has a sprint which can help him accelerate and achieve more air in his jump by holding down Y. The problem with that is the sprint takes a bit to get going and second, the added boost is not determined by how much speed is gained before the jump, rather it changes from normal to Michael Jordan with rocket shoes within a split moment. Even the simplest jump gets screwed over by this as Donald will just suddenly fly four times the length of his normal jump and plunge him into his well deserved death.
It's quite a shame that these two flaws make such a huge impact on what could have been a truly amazing game had it been more refined. Everything else is there - clever level design, interesting plot, beautiful graphics and what would be balanced difficulty had it worked right. At least the music is awesome, with plenty of catchy game pop and old-time tunes accompanying the levels, and some hilarious songs featuring vocals from Donald. Donald actually has quite a bit of speech in him despite being an SNES game, mostly yelling thing in Japanese like "yatta". The most interesting speech sample though, is the very clear and surprising "god dammit" which Donald yells once it is game over time. It would be a cold day in hell before Disney of America would ever allow Donald to yell such profanity, but it must have slipped through the Japanese division. The music was composed by Takahisa Hirano and Takeshi Miura, who coincidentally worked on only one other game together - the Japanese only release of Disney's Alice in Wonderland on Super Famicom. Miura would go on to become a head composer on the Resident Evil games for Capcom.
Mahou No Boushi was never released outside of Japan and never re-released in any shape or form, leading it to be virtually unknown for most gamers, even in Japan. When the game works, it truly shines and is one of the most enjoyable Disney titles out there, with the graphics being some of the best on SNES, and the music always being enjoyable and diverse in style. For those who survive through the flaws and shortcomings, there will be a great adventure waiting and the ending makes it actually worth the trouble.
Mickey to Donald: Magical Adventure 3 (ミッキーとドナルド マジカルアドベンチャー3) / Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey and Donald - Super Famicom, Game Boy Advance (1995)
Next to Sega, the company who had the biggest success with licensed Disney video games were Capcom. Whereas Sega pitted the famous characters in starring roles in their all original grand adventure, Capcom mostly developed games based on the Saturday morning series that were airing at the time and had great success staying close to the source. Once the SNES came around, Capcom took a page out of Sega's book and developed an all original game titled Disney's Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. The game was a smashing success both critically and commercially with its unique costume changing feature which allowed Mickey to don various magical costumes, all which gave him different powers to get through the levels. Two sequels were eventually made and the second game, The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie, introduced a 2 player co-op mode with Minnie Mouse stepping into the action. The third game almost suffered the same fate as Mahou No Boushi and went unreleased in the West until 2003, when Capcom ported the entire Magical Quest series to the Game Boy Advance. This game was Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey and Donald, released as Mickey to Donald: Magical Adventure 3 in Japan during the Christmas season of 1995.
The Magical Quest series do not take place in any strict continuity or each game are individual stories which are told very similar to one another. Huey, Dewey, and Louie discover an old book in Donald's messy attic while hiding from their ill tempered uncle. Upon opening the book and reading a few lines from it, it turns out that the book is magical and transports the three ducklings into Storybook Land and captured by the evil Baron Pete. Pete has long planned to take over the Outside World in which Donald and Mickey inhabits and when the book was opened, that plan was set in motion. Once the duo notices the boys are gone, they are told what is going on by the Fairy of Storybook Land (who seems to be based on Cinderella rather than Tinkerbell) and with her assistance heads into Storybook Land to rescue them and to stop Baron Pete's plans.
It follows the structure set before it by the two previous Magical Quest games by throwing Mickey and Donald into a vast fantasy land which is filled with dangers and secrets. Storybook Land is heavily based on fairytales, using everything from medieval castle courtyards to Arabian deserts and costumes which feel appropriate within the settings. Both characters have the same set of default controls, being able to either jump on top of the enemies or pick up blocks and throw them across screen, as well as stunned enemies and other objects. The way they are set apart is with the magical costumes which are different between the two. For example, Mickey will get a full knight armor with a lance and shield which he can use to protect himself, while Donald gets wooden barrel because his rear end is too big for the armor and a hammer. The way each suit works is very different from one another, except the tree climber suit which are the same for both of them. Mickey's costumes allows for him to attack in all directions, while Donald will always just attack straight ahead.
The different features in the costumes is often the key for both players to make it through the level in one piece. Because of his metal armor, Mickey will sink like a rock if he enters water, but Donald can duck and do a barrel roll, which not only works as a great defensive maneuver, but also enables Donald to be used as a flotation advice. Mickey and Donald can also throw each other around to access secret areas filled with either coins, apples, hearts or secret doors leading to shops or bonus games. This allows for some good co-op moments where players really need to work together for both to evenly get ahold of treasures and health. In single player mode, many of these areas are completely unreachable. During single player, a second player can join in at any time by pressing start.
The bonus games are played by finding the secret doors which leads to them. These bonus games are a game of chance where you are asked to pick one of three cards with whatever on the card being the price. If the card turns out to be a Pete card, there is no prize to be had however. The shops allows for costume and health upgrades, as well as 1-ups. A health refill is on the house. On the stages you can find coins and apples behind almost every block and inside string boxes with gold engraved faces on them. Apples gives high amounts of points which can lead to extra lives.
Everything looks very similar to the previous Magical Quest games, with some truly gorgeous graphics and great animation on both the heroes and villains, and everyone sporting great expressions and mannerisms that bring them to life. It doesn't look quite as good as Mahou No Boushi did and they both deal with a lot of the same characters and environments. Donald especially looks a bit off at times in this game, especially in his costumes. The main problem with his looks is that his beak is sometimes too short and he just smiles way too much, despite his nephews being in danger and kidnapped. The soundtrack is quite good too, though doesn't quite live up to the first Magical Quest music. The music was composed by Mega Man 5's Mari Yamaguchi and Mega Man 7's Tatsuya Nishimura.
Even though the game is the closest you will get to World Of Illusion on the Super Famicom, it doesn't feel as cooperative to play even with the premise being fairly similar. For one, the routes of each stage remains the same, while World of Illusion cleverly sent both characters on either separate quests or a special quest together depending on your choice. The controls aren't as responsive as they could have been either, and vary a lot in functionality between all the suits. It's certainly not a bad game by any stretch, and should have arguably been released back in the day to allow fans to finish the Magical Quest trilogy on the same console rather than waiting nearly 10 years before doing so. For those who would start out playing this game before the others, it would probably be a very positive experience but for everyone else who played the predecessors, it doesn't feel too different and lacks a certain feel of progress. The humor is really good though, with Donald always ending up with the short end of the stick with some great reactions.
Even though the game could be enjoyed and even understood without the ability to read Japanese, it was fan translated by translation group RPGONE in 2004 that could be played through SNES emulation. In Japan, the GBA port was released in 2004 as well, and one year later, this was localized and brought over officially by Capcom marking the first time the game was officially released outside of Japan. The GBA version features a link up mode which allows two players to enjoy the co-op mode should they both own the game and have the cable. There are no other changes other than the smaller resolution and shorter view, though the music is butchered by the GBA sound capabilities.
Up until the mid-'90s, most of Disney's video games were licensed out for other companies to develop, apart from a few educational titles and interactive CD-ROM audio books. It was therefore going to be very interesting to see exactly what Disney's own development group, Disney Interactive, were going to deliver when it was known in 1995 that they would start to develop their own titles based on Disney's characters and films. The first title Disney Interactive developed was an all new Donald Duck game which broke from the mold and delivered something quite different and in some ways was bold in both visuals and tone. Donald in Maui Mallard was first developed for the Sega Mega Drive by Creative Capers Entertainment under the Disney banner, but was only released in Europe and South America for that platform. This was because Nintendo had struck an exclusive deal to have the game solely on the SNES in North America. The SNES port came one year later and was ported and co-developed by Eurocom. The same year that the SNES version was released, an enhanced version was released on PC, again developed by Creative Capers Entertainment. Several years later, in 1998, the game was ported to Game Boy by Bonzai Entertainment.
Donald stars as the private eye Maui Mallard, who is on vacation on a tropical island deep in the Caribbean, when suddenly the mysterious idol Shabuhm Shabuhm goes missing. It turns out Shabuhm Shabuhm is the guardian spirit of the island and without his protection, the island will be blown to smithereens. Maui takes the case and decides to investigate the mysterious abduction, and the clues leads to a haunted mansion which is where the idol was last seen, which in turn leads Maui to a native village. The inhabitants of this village, the Muddrakes, don't take kindly to Maui's presence and actually try to sacrifice him by throwing him into the nearby volcano. What the Muddrakes don't know is that detective Mallard actually has a secret identity - he is also a bo staff wielding ninja. They decide to put him through the "Test of Duckhood" to see if he is worthy of saving the island, and if he is, it'll be up to Maui to save them and retrieve the idol from whomever stole it.
Maui Mallard is quite the departure from any other Donald game, let alone Disney game before it. The image and likeness of Donald is now used like an actor portraying a character, and Maui Mallard acts nothing like you would expect Donald to behave outside of a somewhat hot temper. Mallard is depicted as a PI loosely modeled after Tom Selleck's classic character Thomas Magnum, and is described as cunning and brave detective with a soft spot for beautiful women who continuously breaks his heart. He has the aforementioned hot temper, as hot as his gun in fact, and always wears his trademark red Hawaiian shirt and blue cap no matter where he goes. The approach to the game is strikingly dark, with mentions of sacrificing, cannibalism, not to mention the very uncharacteristic use of a gun in a Disney game, a company that has always had a staunch stance against the depiction of violence. The gun is a bug gun which shoots different kinds of fire bugs, and the way Donald shoots this gun is strangely aggressive and accurate, making him an excellent marksman. The enemies are plenty and have lots of variety throughout the game, often leading to several different kinds of bad guys per level. The way they are depicted also departures from Disney's usual light hearted tone, with grim evil spirits, boney butlers cute but incredibly mischievous Muddrakes, ninja ducks and most surprisingly of all, zombies. If walking dead in a Disney game was not surprising enough, they actually lose limbs and flesh per shot taken from Maui.
Disney games bring in a ton of material for artists and developers to look into for inspiration which leads the majority of them to look excellent and Maui Mallard is no different. The graphics are what you would expect from a game based on the largest animation company in the world - absolutely gorgeous. The backgrounds have a ton of detail and is layered far back to give a sense of vast jungles and decorated windows, and Maui can often go behind or in front of many of the different set pieces that are placed in the foreground and background. The sprites are all drawn from animation cells and contains more animation frames and detail than most games on a 16 bit console. Every frame is carefully drawn with no expenses shed, and the simplest action like ducking down or jumping flows with finesse and Maui never remains static. Even if no button is pressed on the controller, Maui will start looking at maps, aim his gun around or do tricks with a rubber chicken. All the enemies too feature as much detail as Maui, leading the whole game to feel like an interactive cartoon almost. For a game with so much detail, it also manages to show a lot of different objects and sprites at once on screen with virtually no slowdown, which is very impressive, especially on Mega Drive.
All the levels are connected by a storyline which is told between each level. Maui will either think to himself or other characters will address him during these cut scenes, which is stylishly done on a small patch of jungle with the twilight only showing the silhouettes of the characters. Even the levels themselves present a sort of narrative that Maui follows based on what is told through the pre stage story, and every stage feels very much part of an overall story rather than just being a device to get from A to B. The levels mostly take place at night with thunder and rain coming down hard which creates a very distinct and dark tone to the overall game along with the creepiness of the bad guys Maui encounters. The stages are quite diverse, with the clues and objectives taking the detective through mansions, jungles, shrines, villages, volcano caves and ghost ships. Some of these stages play to the strengths of both Maui and his ninja alter ego, with Maui being able to shoot in all directions, use different kinds of ammo and use hooks to project himself into the air, while the ninja can climb narrow spaces using his staff as well as swing and jump across gaps by hooking it to spikes in the background. At certain times, Maui is the only choice because of the stage using a gimmick tied to him, like bungie jumping on vines using his shirt. If enough treasures are collected throughout the stage, a bonus stage is unlocked upon completion. Each stage gives a password so that players can pick up where they left off.
In order to change into the ninja, Maui must collect ying yang emblems. These fill up his ying yang meter which dictates how long he can remain in his ninja outfit, due to a spell put upon him by the Witch Doctor on the island. During ninja mode, which is activated by holding down A, the meter drains continuously like a countdown and the ninja must be used moderately to ensure it doesn't run out. Once it runs out, Maui turns back to normal and must search for more emblems. His ammo is also limited, and being trigger happy isn't always the best idea. When the ammo runs dry, all the gun does is shoot bubbles, which does no harm and has no use whatsoever other than to remind Maui to find more bug ammo. The ammo can also be combined for customized firepower. Most of the stages are side scrolling mazes where Maui must find the exit signs to progress onto the next section, though there are several offset stages which makes use of gimmicks like bungee jumping and shrinking. Both in terms of art style and game design, Maui Mallard shares a lot in common with Shiny's Earthworm Jim, which was released two years prior to this game. Both Maui and Jim makes use of hooks to swing themselves around, both games feature bizarre stages and organic designs, not to mention bungee jumping stages and both characters makes use of an oversized and powerful gun.
The soundtrack was handled by Academy Award winning composer Michael Giacchino. Before Maui Mallard, Giacchino had worked on two other Disney video games, Mickey Mania and Gargoyles. It's pretty clear it wasn't Maui Mallard that won him the most esteemed award in the showbiz, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable mix of styles and is at times quite atmospheric. The music has a cheesy tropical jazz vibe to it with touches of kitch to create a fittingly hokey soundscape. The compositions are for the most part stellar, if not a bit too much on the ambient side of things, but the Genesis sound chip holds the songs back from fully growing out and showing their full potential, always sounding a bit flat. Giacchino won the Academy Award for the music in Disney Pixar's Up! in 2010.
Sadly the game suffers from what seems to be the Duck Curse in that Mallard is sometimes just so unresponsive and floats unnaturally around. The controls themselves are easy enough to learn and logically mapped, but it is again the jump that holds the game back to such an extent that it affects the overall enjoyment. The momentum of the jumps is almost as bad as in Mahou No Boushi, with Maui just never getting the desired air time or reach. Granted, it is far from as problematic as Mahou No Boushi, but Maui has a tendency to float too far or even jump in place. Another big problem is the distinction between background and foreground, or rather the lack of distinction. For a game with so much detail and lush graphics, it comes around to often be its worst enemy. Several of the stages are pretty long and with the added frustration of not clearly being able to tell what is what, they can become extremely difficult to navigate. The dark tone and style of the game starts to wear out when the stages become an endless maze of foreground rocks or trees which is hard to tell if it's really a wall or just in front of a passage, some ledges looks like they should be able to be climbed and used for elevation, but turns out to be simple background objects. It can become a real mess and in the darkest areas of the game, there are times when Maui will be behind solid black foreground structures, leading to several seconds of a completely black screen as it seemingly scrolls along Maui's run. The scrolling also hangs a bit behind his movement, which can lead to some unseen deaths since the screen didn't keep up properly. There is also nothing that aids Maui in figuring out the way to go, which is pretty annoying for a game that makes use of such large levels. The gun projectiles are also as tiny as a pea next to the sun, and makes it hard to know when you are actually hitting some enemies, especially the airborne kind.
It's a commendable effort to try and use Donald to portray an all new character and make use of a darker, more mature tone aimed direction to attract a wider audience. There's tons of potential in the game and it really does at times have its moments of brilliance, but halfway through it falls apart underneath the weight of its own material. It is one of the most gorgeous games ever made on the Mega Drive, and it should be praised for how much it really pushes the system to its limits, being always fast and always vibrant and never slowing down, being consistent from start to finish with a proper 50's detective and pulp comic vibe. It's just a long, tough and frustrating road to that finish. In early 2011, Noe Valladolid interviewed both composer Patrick Collins and artist Oliver Wade, who revealed that art for a sequel were made, but plans were ultimately cancelled.
Donald in Maui Mallard never made it onto the Sega Genesis in North America. The SNES version shows a huge improvement on both graphics and audio, with more colors, a bit more detail on Maui and a beefed up soundtrack. Some attempts were made to give a bit more distinction to certain objects, but both the controls and the level design remain pretty much as confusing as they were on mega Drive. The soundtrack is the best improvement out of all, and the music finally has its chance to be heard as it should, and it sounds absolutely awesome. There are several changes to level layouts and details throughout the game, like the bosses having stronger colors with darker outlines, and some levels shortened and retooled for better pacing. A pre-stage text screen is also shown with information on how much treasure is needed to access the bonus stages. There are also some advanced light effects found at certain times. Not all changes are for the better however, with some details being removed like the coliseum fight against the Muddrake warriors where the background now just shows a single row of spectators, while the Genesis had a sold out crowd who even shows signs as Maui fights. Some of the bosses also lose a sense of grittiness due to the brighter colors and more cartoony look.
In a move that proved fatal to the potential success of the game, the decision was made by Disney to remove all mentions of Donald Duck in both ads, in game product and the manual and change the name into Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow. This was done for two reasons. Disney was rather nervous of the reaction of many watchdog groups in America of seeing Donald handle a gun and starring in a game which has such a distinctly different tone than anything he has been in before. Disney also felt that Donald's image had lost some steam with the young crowd at the time. There was serious discussion of launching a Maui Mallard cartoon series as well, and Disney had high hopes for the game to launch this new property, again much like Earthworm Jim. Due to the impending release of Nintendo 64 just mere months after the release of Cold Shadow, the flawed marketing of removing Donald's name and poor timing of release made it a massive flop for Disney, and all plans for future media and game installments were cancelled. The PAL release kept the original title for the SNES release.
The only other US version released was the PC version. This was a greatly enhanced port based on the Genesis version featuring high resolution graphics, new effects and added details. The soundtrack was also redone with high quality samples and is redbook audio, meaning any CD player can play the tracks like an audio CD. Donald's name was also reinstated into this version, though Maui Mallard was completely removed from both title and in game dialogue, with all characters addressing the main character as "Donald". The PC version does not work with any operating system past Windows 98.
Long after it had become clear that Maui Mallard was a failed experiment, it was ported onto the Game Boy in 1998 by Bonzai Entertainment. It is a beyond terrible port with some of the worst controls experienced on the Game Boy. The graphics are messy and confusing and the music is an embarrassment, consisting of tone deaf melodies and noise. There is also no password feature. Stages were shortened down and changed to compensate for the smaller screen and some bosses were changed, like the metal spider on the first stage being changed into a real spider in the attic. The Maui Mallard name returned in this version.
Game Boy Screenshots
Maui Mallard 2 Designs
In Valladolid's interview with artist Oliver Wade, several designs are shown of what would be Maui Mallard 2. The story, game design documents and character designs were all done due to the amount of work that was put into the supposed launch of Maui Mallard media, but once the first game failed to gain any sort of success or recognition, the game and anything related to Mallard was quietly cancelled. The interview can be found here.