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Gamer Tuesday

July 31, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: Roger Rabbit (Famicom)

Developed by: Kemco

System: Family Computer (Japan)

You might recall that I talked about a Japan-only Disney game called Donald Duck, and how when it reached North American shores it became a Peanuts game. As I said then, that was a very common issue with licensed games back in the day. Sometimes the development company didn't have enough money in order to buy the rights to distribute the games overseas, or sometimes another company had the rights to the license in an specific country, and thus forced them to either change the license or re-invent the entire game. Today we are going to talk about another Japanese Disney game that would later become something else when brought over to the United States: Roger Rabbit.

In the late 80s, Disney (or to be more specific Touchstone Pictures) released Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a movie so fantastically dark and mature that it quickly grabbed the attention of movie goers, making it one of the most popular movies of the era. Sure it was a movie about humans co-existing with cartoon characters (featuring some of the best mix of live action and animation ever put on film), but it was a story that dealt with infidelity, genocide, political corruption, and murder. Of course, that's something we realized later on as adults. As kids, though, the main reason we loved the movie was because there were so many classic cartoon characters together, a feat that would never happen again on any other film. You had Disney's Donald Duck in a piano duel with Daffy Duck, Droopy Dog attending the elevators in Toon Town, and Betty Boop being a waitress at a bar. It was a cartoon fan's dream come true. Add the dark story to it and it was a wildly imaginative film to behold.

It came to no surprise that Disney would try to heavily market the film, mainly through usage of its lead star Roger Rabbit alongside his wife Jessica Rabbit and friend and sidekick Baby Herman. The character starred in three theatrical shorts, was a supporting character in a Mickey Mouse anniversary special, and is the star of Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin at Toon Town in Disneyland. Video games quickly followed suit, with a badly video game adaptation released by LJN for the NES.

In Japan, Kemco (the same company that developed Donald Duck) tried their hands at developing a Roger Rabbit game, and that game turned out to be... Roger Rabbit. While the American Roger Rabbit game tried to re-create the storyline of the movie (emphasis on 'trying'), Kemco's Roger Rabbit was primarily an arcade-like game. Playing as Roger Rabbit, the objective of the game is to collect as many hearts as possible and clear the stage, all while avoiding enemies that will hinder your progress. It's a very basic concept displayed in popular arcade games like Pac-Man, but the big difference is that Roger Rabbit cannot jump or attack his enemies, therefore he is defenseless.

Also like an arcade title, Roger Rabbit features hundreds of levels to complete, each one slowly raising the difficulty levels. Despite it not being about the storyline presented in the film, it does feature some elements, like Judge Doom's weasels being the primary antagonists for Roger to avoid, as well as gorillas inspired by the bouncer from the toon bar.

Now that we have explained how the game works, let's get to the fun part: the drastic license transformation it went through. As it was the case with Donald Duck, Kemco couldn't retain the rights to Roger Rabbit because there was already a Roger Rabbit game in the market and Capcom had the rights to exclusively distribute Disney video games in the late 80s and early 90s. So which franchise Kemco picked to replace Roger Rabbit? Believe or not, the Looney Tunes, or more specifically Bugs Bunny.


While with Donald Duck the change to the Peanuts franchise wasn't as noticeable because there were very few links that connected the Disney company with Charles Schulz's innocent characters, the Looney Tunes were indeed Disney's rivals in the same way that DreamWorks is Pixar's rival. The ideals are different but they are indeed fighting for the same audience. Without diving very deep into rich cartoon history it is ironic that a Disney game would transform into a Looney Tunes game. Roger became Bugs Bunny, the weasels turned into Sylvester the Cat and other miscellaneous Looney Tunes replaced the other enemies and the name was released under the name Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle. It gets funnier when you realize that Bugs Bunny and several other Looney Tunes characters made cameo appearances on Who Framed Roger Rabbit as denizens of Toon Town.

To make things even funnier, the Crazy Castle series became very popular in North America, with Kemco releasing many games across several platforms, nearly all of them featuring Bugs Bunny and friends. So to sum it all up, Roger Rabbit started life as its own independent entity outside the motion picture that inspired it and due to complex licensing issues it would grow up to become a huge franchise for Disney's rival company.

We've had fun seeing how one licensed game become another, how is the overall game? I've never played the original Roger Rabbit game, but I did play the Bugs Bunny version. As an arcade style game it is decent enough, it will provide a couple of hours of entertainment. The big problem is that the pace is very slow, and after the 10th level it gets to feel repetitive. Many arcade games are like that, too, but the pace is usually very fast with many things flying at you. The Crazy Castle games just lack that sense of challenge the classic games provide. Many people fondly remember the game, though, so the best I can say about it is that your mileage may vary.


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