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Gamer Tuesday

July 24, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights:Steamboat Willie Throughout the Years

No, you didn't accidentally end up in Saturday Matinee (though that's an excellent column I recommend reading). Steamboat Willie is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most iconic Mickey Mouse shorts ever made. It may not have been the very first Mickey Mouse short (that honor goes to 1928's Plane Crazy), but it certainly was the one that propelled Mickey into superstar status in the early days of animation that to being the first Disney cartoon with synchronized sound. Due to its large presence in film and pop culture history, Disney has referenced the short in any project with Mickey as the star, such as House of Mouse or the ending in the theme park show Fantasmic! Even their Walt Disney Animation logo consists of the first few frames of Mickey famously steering the steamboat and whistling.

To cut a long story short, Steamboat Willie is an important Mickey Mouse cartoon. With that little nugget of info in mind, video game developers have sought out to reference the short in any Disney video game with Mickey Mouse as the main protagonist. On today's Gamer Tuesday, I will talk about the worlds based on Steamboat Willie and how they were presented and implemented into the gameplay of each respective game.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

One of the earliest instances of Steamboat Willie being referenced was in Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse. The story behind Mickey Mania is that Mickey is traveling through some of the best films of his career. Some of the shorts referenced include Mickey and the Beanstalk, The Mad Doctor, and Lonesome Ghosts. And the very first level of the game is, of course, Steamboat Willie. As you would expect in a world based on a classic cartoon, all of it is presented as a black and white film, except for Mickey himself who is in color. You get to meet Steamboat Willie Mickey in the boat and do battle with Sailor Pete. The most interesting thing about this world is that as you progress, the world slowly begins to gain color. It is never explained why the world is in color at the end of the level. I do know that many Mickey Mouse shorts would be colorized years after their original releases, but it does seem to come out of nowhere in this game. Still, the Steamboat Willie level in Mickey Mania helped set the tone in a way that would make the game one of the most popular Disney video games ever.

Years later, during the PlayStation 2 era, Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts, a game so popular I am devoting a whole year of Gamer Tuesday articles to its inception (Seriously go check it out on the first Tuesday of every month in 2012! ;) ). The sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, promised to be more creative in its Disney world selection. Not only did we get The Lion King fully represented outside of the Simba summon from the first game, we also got a world based on Pirates of the Caribbean and TRON. Mickey and friends didn't get left behind as they got not one but two worlds to call their own. Disney Castle was originally introduced in the first game, though we couldn't visit it. It was only seen through cut scenes involving Donald and Goofy prior to their big adventure. Kingdom Hearts II solved that little problem and made it a world you could visit. Not only that, a good chunk of the story was developed there.

So how does Disney Castle tie to Steamboat Willie? Outside of being Mickey Mouse's home world, there is a moment in the story in which Maleficent steals an orb of light that protects the world from the invasion of the Heartless. Sora, Donald, and Goofy get Merlin the Magician's aid in order to retrieve it. They do so by traveling back in time, to a time before Disney Castle was ever built. Just how back in time they go? The whole world was in black and white. This segment of the game was dubbed Timeless River, dedicated to Steamboat Willie. Square Enix are geniuses when it comes to presentation, and they went all out with this world. Not only was it in black and white, the characters, including Sora, resembled their 1920s counterparts, right down to Mickey Mouse being silent. You would also get to hear the film strip going on in the background as you played the world.

One of the most unique aspects of Timeless River is that it is composed of various areas based on other Mickey Mouse shorts. Some of these segments include Building a Building, Mickey's Fire Brigade, Gulliver Mickey, and Mickey's Orphans. It even had appearances by characters like Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and Clara Cluck. Timeless River may not have been strictly dedicated to Steamboat Willie, but it certainly makes it known that it was one of the first of Mickey's grand adventures, and Mickey would go on to star in some of the best animated shorts ever produced. Not to mention that it is one of the most creative worlds presented in ALL of the Kingdom Hearts franchise.

In 2010, Disney set out to once again make Mickey Mouse relevant in the video game world. They hired the talents of Warren Spector, best known for his work on Deus Ex and a major Disney fanatic (Watch out, Brent Dodge, you have stiff competition...) to create a game that would be more than just a typical licensed game and make it exclusive to the system that at the time was one of the most popular with families: the Wii. Junction Point (Spector's studio) took the assignment to heart, and worked hard to create a game that would celebrate not just everything Mickey Mouse, but the entire Disney legacy as a whole. The end result was Epic Mickey, a 3D platformer in which Mickey Mouse is sucked into the Wasteland, a world dedicated to Disney characters that have been forgotten and ignored, and needs the aid of his older brother, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in order to set things right.

In between the platforming (which was based on making the right and wrong decision, eventually affecting the course of the story), Mickey Mouse could get sucked into mini-movies based on Mickey's short movies. You know the drill by now, if Mickey's filmography is referenced, then Steamboat Willie is not far behind. The best way to describe how Steamboat Willie is designed in the game is that it is a 3D version of the Steamboat Willie level in Mickey Mania. The world goes through the big locales in the short, and features Sailor Pete near the end. It is very short because it was presented as a brief diversion inside a much bigger game, but it does its job well and nails the look of the original film well.

There we have it. Three different games developed by three different companies on different video game systems. And they all did a fantastic job at bringing us Steamboat Willie to the video game masses. Even if you were born in the mid-to-late 90s there is a very good chance that you know all about Steamboat Willie, and these video games helped you appreciate better just how far Mickey Mouse has come as both an iconic cartoon character to an image of the whole Disney company.


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