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Gamer Tuesday

April 26, 2011

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow
Developed by: Eurocom (SNES version), Disney Interactive and Creative Capers (PC, Mega Drive)
Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis (Europe), PC, Game Boy

What do Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers and Talespin have in common, other that they are Disney Afternoon shows? They both took classic licenses and re-imagined them in new settings and characters, creating a new franchise along the way. Disney is no stranger when it comes to re-inventing their classic stories and characters. Often, fans love to see their favorite characters represented in different genres of fiction, such as the Mickey Mouse crew being rendered in CG and presented as educators in "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," or having original characters traverse the Walt Disney World theme park in the Kingdom Keepers series of books by Ridley Pearson.

Today's game places Donald Duck as a "medium-boiled" detective named Maui Mallard (who comically resembles Tom Selleck in his famous Magnum P.I role), who also adopts a secret identity in the form of a ninja called Cold Shadow. Maui is planning on retiring and living the rest of his life as a sailor in a beautiful tropical paradise. But as luck would have it, he is sent on one last mission: Search and find the missing idol statue of Shabuhm Shabuhm before the island it protects explodes. It doesn't help that everyone wants Don MAUI, yeah, that's it, Maui, dead.

The appropriately titled Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is a side-scrolling 2D platformer, released in North America in 1996, exclusively for the Super Nintendo. One thing to mention is that the game received a European and Brazilian release for the Sega Genesis (or the Mega Drive as it was known there) before North America received the Super NES version, but that version never made it. This was due to Nintendo securing the rights to the game once it came out. A PC version was later released that same year, while the Game Boy version graced the Nintendo handheld two years later.

The game was developed by Creative Capers, best known for their animation in various Disney games such as Mickey Mania alongside Disney Interactive. They worked their hardest in creating a unique Disney universe that felt familiar but was like unlike anything else on the market, something that wouldn't happen until the release of Junction Point's Epic Mickey last year.

Gameplay has Donald, erm, I mean Maui switching with his alter ego in order to fit his needs. Maui Mallard uses a long range gun called the Westchester Gun that shoots bugs, while Cold Shadow uses short range attacks with his stick and engages enemies in combat. Many compare the gameplay to that of Shiny Entertainment's Earthworm Jim, a very popular game series from the mid-90s starring an intergalactic worm that also featured combat heavy platforming and exploration.

Even if you are given the freedom to switch between characters this costs ninja tokens, which means that the player must carefully select the characters according to the challenges they come across. It remains an interest mechanic that would be seen in many of today's most popular games.

As if having a Donald Duck with a bad case of split personality wasn't bad enough, Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is a very dark game. The music is more haunting than cheerful and the graphics are darker than the standard platformer of the era. Donald, excuse me, Maui, would often do battle with cannibals, zombies and evil spirits that were out to destroy him! There are also several references to the occult, like a level called "The Real of the Dead," complete with a giant eyeball staring at you in the background at all times! The Genesis/Mega Drive version even features a "Game Over" screen that was altered in the Super NES version of the game! Disney has indeed done darker stuff ("Pirates of the Caribbean" for starters), but Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow stands as one of the darker games Disney has ever released.

Speaking of graphics, there is a noticeable version between the two versions of the game. The Genesis/Mega Drive version has darker graphics that best represent the haunting mood of the game, while the Super NES version has crisper graphics that are easier on the eyes, though for some it's the mood of the game that completes the experience.

If you have been reading this column long enough, then you know that many of the games featured here are famous for their stunning animation that live up to the expectations of the Disney fan, and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is no exception. Creative Capers created some of the most unique character designs ever seen in a Disney product. Their imaginations knew no boundaries as everything from zombies to Tiki gods leap out of their screen thanks to beautiful 2D animation. Many of its elements were clearly inspired by the Disney Ducks comics created by Carl Barks, and even a little bit of inspiration came from Darkwing Duck.

Much like the graphics, the music in each version of the game varied in quality, but they are regarded as one of the best of the era. This is all thanks to the talents of Michael Giacchino, nowadays best known for his work on TV shows like "LOST" and "Alias", as well as Pixar films such as "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," "Up," (Which earned him an Academy Award for best score) and will be scoring the music for the upcoming "Cars 2." Even before he earned awards for his work in film you could tell the man had talent in creating unforgettable melodies. Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow is definitely no exception as each level theme captures the grim imagery and tones very well. Everything from the sounds of Tiki drums pounding in the background to bird calls used as melodies set the game's mood very well.

The end of Maui Mallard in Cold Shadows teases the continuation of Donald Duck's stint as a private eye and ninja. Creative Capers were indeed set to work on the sequel, creating characters for it as well as updating the ideas seen in the previous game. Unfortunately, Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow was a commercial disappointment, released at a time in which the gaming industry was ready to welcome the next generation of gaming, and classic games like Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow were slowly being left behind.

It's a shame, really, and it is a fun title that explores the other sides to Donald's quirky personality. The gameplay was solid, but what really did it was the grim atmosphere that was unlike any other Disney product of the era. This is one case you will want to investigate time and time again.



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