On Her Majesty’s Sega Mega Drive

Donald in Maui Mallard Review

The weather, as you all might know, is notoriously bad here in the UK. Sleet in Sheffield, rain in Renfrewshire, lightning in Londonderry, and hail in Holyhead – all very underwhelming. So, you could understand my excitement when I was offered the chance to gad around Maui with one of my favourite cartoon characters of all time; Donald Duck. After all, I was dying for some sun, and to spend some time with my favourite TV mallard without a spiky-haired adolescent and a talking dog in tow sounded like a dream come true. It is with this sunny disposition that I entered Donald in Maui Mallard.

Now, before you get all up in arms at me – yes, I know this game made it onto American shores via an SNES release, but this was a European exclusive on Mega Drive, meaning we got it here in the UK while America didn’t, so you can stop your letter-writing campaign right now, boyo. Again, this goes back to the immense popularity of Sega over here – an investment on a European/UK release of a Mega Drive game was always safe as houses for a developer, but an American release was not guaranteed to do the same numbers. Not that Sega or Disney should have been worried – Donald Duck is always a licence to print money.

I'm not normally impressed by title screens, and this time is no exception.

I’m not normally impressed by title screens, and this time is no exception.

The premise of this game is that Donald’s off to Maui due to some trouble with spirits and a paranormal mask of some type. That’s right, fire up those vaguely racist stereotypes about islanders being practitioners of voodoo, we’re going to be neck deep here. It seems, in the stingy amount of exposition we’re given, that an island leader called Shabuhm Shabuhm (kill me now) has protected the ‘island’ (doesn’t take a degree from The University of Cambridge to work out that the island is Maui) for a number of years with a sacred idol which has now gone missing. The last place it’s been reported in was the Mojo Mansion. Whoa, whoa, something stinks here, and it’s not the vague xenophobia – I went into this thinking we’d be exploring the lush scenery of Maui, and the first place you stick me in is a mansion? Something tells me that the developers wanted to set this in Maui, then realised they didn’t know a bloody thing about Maui. I feel somewhat misled here…

One merit of the game is that it at least looks pretty. That goes without saying for a Disney production, but I seriously marvelled at the graphical quality they got out of the Genesis. The colourful graphics bring the game to life and helps it look like the cartoons that the game’s been inspired by. As Donald wandered about the game, I always found myself taken aback at how stunning it all looked. The fluidity of it all, too! Donald moves around without the standard jerkiness of a normal video game protagonist; his movements are silky smooth, as are the enemy sprites. Everything just feels so slick here, like we’re watching it come out of the animator’s pencil in real time.

However, the platforming is honestly rather sloppy, which makes for an underwhelming gameplay experience. Donald’s jump is difficult to control and makes hopping from platform to platform more challenging than it should have been – much like the voices of the Spice Girls, he goes all over the place. Also – and this is a point I can’t stress enough, because it’s not limited to this game – the game is made trickier (and not ‘difficult’, because this is nauseating fake difficulty) by poorly implemented platforming sections that take 100 or so tries to complete because the game just won’t co-operate. One particularly noxious example of this comes in the first level, when you’re confronted with a series of four slowly rotating platforms. Sounds like standard platform fare, right? Right, except the platforms are horribly out of sync with one another, and leaping across all four to the other side will rely on nothing more than sheer dumb luck. Oh, and all of this is made much worse thanks to Donald’s awful jump. Honestly, this is just embarrassing; the developers really should have taken better care here.

Smooth as the game looks, Donald still jumps around like House of Pain on too much sugar.

Smooth as the game looks, Donald still jumps around like House of Pain on too much sugar.

Normally, one of the go-to places I look to in a game is music, and the sound department have pulled it off like the BBC handle sitcoms. That is to say, it’s incredibly average. The opening theme is fine. The theme accompanying the cutscenes is fine. The level music is fine. Everything is just ‘fine’; the music only tends to do its job, no more, no less. That may be a good goal to work to if you worked for LJN, but after how sparkling the graphical quality was, I admittedly hoped for more with sound. Unfortunately, what he have left here is a very forgettable, but certainly passable, mishmash of tracks that fails to live up to what it honestly could have been. I mean, A Goofy Movie was a mediocre flick, and we still ended up with that amazing track Eye to Eye, right?

Don’t come into Donald in Maui Mallard expecting much of a challenge, by the way. I’m terrible at 2D platformers that aren’t called Mega Man, and I was able to bowl through this game fairly painlessly. Don’t get me wrong here: this game is by no means boring, and when the hit-and-miss platforming is on your side, you’ll enjoy gambolling through Maui with Donald. Just keep it at the forefront of your mind, though: this game was aimed at kids when it came out in 1995. It is now 20 years on and I’d say the majority of people here are much better at games than they were two decades ago. If you do play this game, go into it with the purpose of enjoying the ride, not being tested to the limits.

Donald in Maui Mallard is absolutely, overwhelmingly okay. Everything about it (bar the superb visuals) is just okay. I know I shouldn’t have had such high expectations of a Disney game, but so much more could have been done here. With all things said and done here, I think you can enjoy this game for what it is if you view it as shallow fun, and not the second coming of Mario.

I wasn't joking. Could you imagine a plot, even an excuse plot, like this flying today?

I wasn’t joking. Could you imagine a plot, even an excuse plot, like this flying today?