Thursday, April 27, 2017

Disney's Mulan (GB) Review

Written: April 22nd-27th, 2017
(As played on Super Game Boy)
Year: 1998 | Developed by: Tiertex | Published by: THQ
Distributed by: Disney Interactive

Disclaimer: Might contain spoilers
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and... anything goes.  I may mostly cover Nintendo 16-bit games, but that's not all I cover as I do occasionally cover games that don't fall in that trajectory--should really consider updating my opening line... or maybe take it out altogether.

Image from Wikipedia
The Ballad of Mulan is a Chinese ballad that centered around a legendary woman warrior from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420 to 589 AD) named Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan as it's been transliterated to reflect its pronunciation at the time) who took her father's place in the army on account of his delicate old age and due to her younger brother being far too young to go into combat.  Mulan was a strong and beautiful woman who became known for practicing martial arts and was a highly skilled sword-wielder; after twelve years of battling and being lauded for her achievements she decided to retire to her homeland and did not wish for any reward (at least that's how the pre-Sui Tang Romance interpretation ended a millennia earlier anyway).

Over the centuries the Chinese legend has become a folktale in the country on par with The Butterfly Lovers and has for the past century served as inspiration for two plays (the oldest made in 1917 via Mulan Joins the Army) and numerous movie adaptations (most of which were live action),
Image from Wikipedia; excellent John Alvin poster art, by the way
among them the most popular and well-known of the bunch in the Disney animated adaptation by first-time directors Barry Cook (who would also co-direct Arthur Christmas and 2013's Walking with Dinosaurs feature film) and Tony Bancroft (who would also direct Lenny & Sid and this September's, um,...  Animal Crackers?), Disney's 36th feature-length animated film used the basic story from the ballad but added some lighter elements so that it would be not just accessible towards adults but to children as well making for family viewing.  Arriving in the Summer of '98 it was greatly received by critics and audiences, received many Annie Awards and earning Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and grossed $304 million at the box office on a $90 million budget, making it a good success.

I was seven when it came out and saw it in theatres at the time during my visit with relatives, and I really liked it; it was different than the other Disney animated movies I saw up to that point in terms of traditional hand-drawn animation which had a Chinese aesthetic touch to it and I liked the characters and song numbers (years later I would recognize its good storytelling prowess), plus Mulan was a great and engaginly well-developed character.  =)
Image from Wikipedia
During the Michael Eisner era of Disney (up until he was booted from the company roughly a decade ago) there were a string of made for TV sequels made to make a quick profit off of Disney's beloved animated properties, for which the movement on the whole received a mixed reception despite DisneyToon Studios' game efforts to try to recapture the spirit and charm of the movie in question (albeit on a limited budget).  In November 2004 arrived Mulan II (directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland, with most of the voice actors reprising their roles) on TV which took place after the events of the first movie where this time China's heroine Fa Mulan and her boyfriend Li Shang (promoted from Captain to General) are tasked to escort the three daughters of the Emperor of China to meet their future husbands whom they are arranged to marry for the sake of forming an alliance to save China from an imminent threat, also accompanied during this trip by fan-favorites Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po who the three daughters may or may not fall in love with before they reach their destination; meanwhile Mulan's guardian dragon Mushu, out of fear of no longer being needed since Shang has just proposed to marry the woman warrior, uncharacteristically plots to sabotage the two's relationship so that he would keep his job (yeah, that's a plot).  This follow-up got thrashed by both critics and fans of the first movie not to mention the legend it's based on and is considered by some as one of the most dishonorable Disney DTV sequels ever made; there were plans for a Mulan III but the idea was scrapped shortly before the release of Mulan II.

I only ever saw the sequel on TV one or two times over a decade ago and even saw a commercial for it, but I don't remember too much from it aside from Mulan observing men's propensity to not ask for directions after an argument ensues between her and Shang upon losing their path (a cliché) and Shang impossibly surviving a thousand-foot drop into the river where he's washed ashore after the group is attacked by Mongols, at which point Mulan is dejected (believing Shang to be dead) and decides to take the place of one of the Emperor's daughters for the arranged marriage to save China (that is, until Shang shows up and publicly proclaims his love just as it's about to happen).  =/

In the Sui Tang Romance version of the legendary woman warrior Mulan is saddened to find upon returning to her home that her father had long since died and her mother has been remarried, at which point Mulan's been summoned to become a concubine under Heshana Khan's rule; her final words were "I'm a girl.  I have been through war and have done enough.  I now want to be with my father," at which point she committed suicide to escape the fate (her motivation to do so stemmed from the observation that "even a Chinese woman would prefer death by her own hand to serving a foreign ruler").  I apologize in advance for upsetting those who've only learned of this the first time.
Disney's version of Fa Mulan would inspire a live-action portrayal by Jamie Chung in three of the seasons for the fairytale TV series Once Upon a Time, and next November we'll be seeing a live-action edition of this animated feature (by which point I'll be twenty-seven, where does time go?), plus Mulan and Mushu have appeared in a few of Square's Disney-themed Kingdom Hearts RPG series.  On October 1998 America received the highly obscure monochromatic Game Boy edition of Disney's Mulan (developed by Tiertex) which shortly followed suit later in the year for Europe, but is expanded a bit when played on the Nintendo 16-bit console's Super Game Boy peripheral cartridge.  So, want to know how Tiertex did with this license?  You know you want to!  =3

With Han China having been invaded by the Huns led by Shan Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer), the Emperor of China (Pat Morita) orders a general mobilization of the country in preparation for the next invasion; the conscription notices ask for one man from each family to serve in the army.  The army veteran Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), despite his old age and weakened state, decides to undertake this task, which makes his daughter Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) anxious; caring about her father so much she takes his armor while her parents are asleep and in this version specifically impersonates as a man so that she would enlist in place of Fa Zhou.
Once she reports to camp Mulan passes off to Captain Li Shang (B.D. Wong) as a man called "Ping", at which he's surprised that Fa Zhou has a son; but in spite of that Mulan is now part of the training camp. where she must train in preparation for the battle against the Huns.
Shang will have to make men out of his recruits if they are to become trained warriors.

Target practice
As Fa Mulan you can move left and right, duck down (in certain cases enabling you to look below you), climb up ledges after jumping upward, and climb ropes or poles up and down.  The only way to attack enemies is to throw projectiles ahead of you with the A button (B on the Super Game Boy; you can hold it down to fire consecutively), running is accomplished by holding down the A button whilst moving to the left and right, and jumping (upward or ahead of you) is done with the B button (Y on the Super Game Boy) which can be controlled in midair slightly, and when it comes to bouncy surfaces you can hold the button down to bounce off of them until you bounce higher.  Yeah, this is yet another one of those games with backwards controls as was the case with Tiertex's Game Boy version of Hercules the year prior, and just like that game there's no changing it.  =(  It wouldn't really be an issue if the button's actions were relegated the other way around, but as it stands it's awkward for you have to be accustomed to them so as to not to mix the two up (which can happen); but once you get past that you should be fine.
Disney's Mulan for the Game Boy is largely a 2D sidescrolling platformer with one exception.  You know that segment in the movie where Mulan is bathing naked at a pond but is almost exposed to be a woman by Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe), and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo) because they want to bathe in the same pond?  Well the second stage uses that exact plot element only here she escapes under different circumstances.  Heheh, I love that Tiertex felt the need to include that...  =\  at least we're only seeing her from her backside.  In this automatic vertical scrolling stage you must guide Mulan to the farthest end of the pond as you must avoid contact with multiple Yaos, Lings, and Chien-Pos; you can either swim fast by holding up or go slowly by holding down, also you can submerge yourself underwater for a short time by holding down the button until you either let go of the button midway or until the gauge completely runs out.
In the third stage, after the avalanche has been caused, Mulan is riding her way through the snow (and ice) with a shield which she uses as a makeshift board; this is another automatic scrolling stage, but this time you can push left to slow down and push right to advance forward as well as up and down to turn diagonally.  You can also jump over gaps and obstacles with proper timing, but be very careful not to collide with logs or snowy hills or be tripped by one of the Huns hidden in the snow otherwise you have to restart from a nearby checkpoint; this culminates in her rescuing Shang and grabbing the rope to safety.  Umm, where exactly is that emanating from?  o_O
 
"That's not a snowball!"
The movie's score was composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith (yes, the Jerry Goldsmith who provided his musical talents on Ridley Scott's Alien, Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, and Stephen Sommers' The Mummy; I was surprised when I found out) which is unique in his impressive discography in that it's inherently Chinese flavored in terms of instrumentation and augmented the movie's sense of atmosphere, but none of his cues were replicated in game format with the exception of "A Girl Worth Fighting For" (sans the lyrics by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel) which is played during the combined epilogue and ending credits.  Curious choice; you'd think that "Reflection" or "I'll Make a Man Out of You", the most popular songs from the movie, would be more qualified or utilized at a certain point, but that's not the case (not even during the title, where you normally hear one of the main themes from the movie).

Takes three hits to take that Hun down momentarily
The game's soundtrack is small, but the compositions are solid and are highly improved with the Super Game Boy's enhancements.  =)  The game's soundtrack was done by Tiertex musician Mark Ortiz (who previously worked on Toy Story and Hercules for the Game Boy, the Game Boy version of Olympic Summer Games, as well as the SNES edition of Timon & Pumbaa's Jungle Games), and while the songs might sound tinny when heard on the original handheld (or when played on a Game Boy Advance or the GameCube's Game Boy Player) there is a welcome oriental quality to the music when playing it on the Super Game Boy.  The title theme is inviting, the three diverse area themes complement the appropriate settings (they're all used two separate times), and Ortiz's take on "A Girl Worth Fighting For" is well-done; just don't disable the music when accessing the options screen.

I'm having Game Boy Pocahontas flashbacks here
The visuals in this game for late Game Boy standards are really solid in spite of its monochromatic color scheme, for the areas are neatly detailed in places and feel like they were lifted from the movie.  =)  The training stage has got a nicely shaded mountain backdrop, the snowy mountain stages have got a poofy look to them with some occasional avalanche debris around, and the Imperial City is filled with legions of inanimate people and have got a marketplace-like setting.  Mulan is simply designed and is easily recognizable, plus her walking and running animations are fluid, especially as she turns around while running and when she's moving her arms while swimming with the water trail behind her.  Shang, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po look decent but are underutilized, and there are three Huns you have to contend with in-game (as well as Shan Yu's hawk) but when you face Shan Yu in the end he's a modified palette swap of the swordsman Hun but his demise animation is different.

Occasionally in the game are in-between still designs but the styles are inconsistent throughout.
Some of them look faithful in design to the movie (right down to the perspective),
Yes, I deliberately took out most of the passwords
but others are a bit different, whether it be to overreliance on contrast (like the first still design you see) or looking like a sketch with lines to emphasize extra shading or looking as if it came from a Chinese comic but with roughly unpolished edges (I think).
Considering the game is aimed for kids though, the imagery for when you get a game over is rather intense given the composition and usage of black in spite of the less than detailed background (not to mention those eyes just scream of death).
Oh, what is up with Mulan's eyes right there?  X{
Oh, by the by, neither Mushu (Eddie Murphy) nor Cri-Kee (Frank Welker) make any appearances in this game nor are they ever referenced,
but Mulan is shown riding back to her homeland on her family horse Khan (Welker) after the defeat of Shan Yu--never mind that in the movie she doesn't wear her armor at the end.

Ice sliding
There are two difficulty settings in this game, Easy and Hard, but the differences are minimal at best.  You start off with a health of five but should you lose a heart (whether it be by falling off the bottom edge or falling too long or by being attacked) there is a chance to replenish it if you find a heart icon, but those are few and far between; regardless of how full or dangerously low on health you are by the time you reach the end of the stage the moment you begin the next one it'll be full once again.  Losing all your hearts will result in a game over as you're essentially doing this in one life, at which point your choice is to either start over or resume your progress via a friendly five-character password provided to you the moment you reach the subsequent stage.  But hey, at least there's no timer to fixate on so you can take as long as you'd like, though you will have to adjust to this game's backwards controls if you are to make it.

I see a heart behind you
I remember my parents having gotten the game for me sometime in 1999, given I really liked the movie and had a strong affinity for all things Disney growing up (I still do as I look forward to most of their new releases); I was surprised there was a Game Boy version of Mulan, but I liked the handheld adaptation when I was little (even though at the time my gaming skills weren't quite great) and I played it a lot.  =)  Playing it on the Game Boy Color and eventually the Game Boy Advance was fun, but I remember the first time I plugged it into a Super Game Boy cartridge on the SNES when visiting my relatives that Summer what a huge difference it made in terms of expanded sound, set color scheme, and border (much in the way that it happened for other Tiertex adaptations of Disney licenses like Pocahontas, Toy Story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games, and Hercules).  I do consider playing it on the Super Game Boy to be the proper way to experience this game, and I actually got up to the part where I faced Shan Yu in the end when I was younger but I didn't quite know how to take him down until several years later when I revisited it again during my teen years.

Running to warn Shang of the Hun invasion
What I like about this game was how each stage always had a unique element to make it fresh during the proceedings: the first stage had you learn the basics of the controls (obviously), the second stage had Mulan traversing the pond by swimming to the end, the third stage entailed riding through the snow straight away or diagonally, the fourth stage while it resumes your normal gameplay also had moments where you slid down vertical slopes as well as sliding down the ice (especially diagonally), the fifth stage had you bounce up from the marketplace tents, and in the sixth and final stage you could amass a limited amount of firecrackers which acts as a more potent version of the normal projectile weapon Mulan throws.
But the best thing was that in this game you could actually face off against Shan Yu; the most disappointing thing about Tiertex's Hercules the previous year was that you never once got to fight Hades (you know, the reason Hercules became mortal in the first place?) let alone see him, he only got referenced a couple times and the best that game could do to bookend the experience was "tornado gods" (never mind that it was a Titan and not a god) at Mount Olympus--you never got the satisfaction to venture to the Underworld and confront Hades (do yourself a favor, stick with Eurocom's PlayStation One video game adaptation of the 1997 film, it's so much better and is good fun, trust me).  I'm glad that Tiertex got Disney's Mulan right in this regard.  =)

Swinging on over to the next pole
Another thing I appreciate about this game was that it's surprisingly faithful to the movie; okay, some liberties are taken (e.g. when did Mulan fight Huns on the way to the Imperial City?) as is commonplace with licensed titles (but if it's in line with the character or doesn't serve as a detriment I'll give it a pass), but the settings are exactly like in the movie and some key moments are lifted (like Mulan climbing up to grab the arrow during training and the aforementioned evasion of almost being exposed as a woman), not to mention the character you're playing looks exactly like the titular character in question (not the case with Hercules for the Game Boy).  All this makes today's game feel like a Mulan game (the opposite of how Tiertex's Hercules felt), which is good.  Unfortunately several elements drag it down a bit: there's a serious lack of challenge and depth, the controls don't feel natural due the backwards nature, the fight against Shan Yu is sorely anticlimactic once you figure out the pattern to make him a sitting duck and throw just enough firecrackers at him until he
gets pushed back to fireworks around him that'll end up being his end, and it's a really short game for it can be beaten in about fifteen to twenty minutes at least.  But if you can look past that Disney's Mulan for the Game Boy is a decent if rather unspectacular license of the movie, and as far as movie-based Disney games on the original Game Boy are concerned this is in my opinion one of the better ones... and hey, you're not going to find another legitimate action game exclusively starring Fa Mulan out there.

*crackle crackle BOOM*
Considering this game came out around the same time as the then new Game Boy Color handheld Tiertex could've easily made it for that format; I guess they wanted to give the preceding system more chance to breathe shortly before its expiration date, so good on them for doing that.  If you liked the movie and wish to play a video game adaptation of it or if you just want to play a decent Disney game for the Game Boy original, you should check out this game (for the best experience, play it on the Super Game Boy peripheral cartridge for the SNES if you own it and the console)--just don't expect there to be much challenge or depth out of it or for it to be fantastic, or you will wind up disappointed.  Tiertex isn't known for crafting high quality titles, but it's good to know that overall despite its shortcomings they did not dishonor the name of Mulan.  =)

My Personal Score: 6.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. It's funny how the ending of this game mentions Mulan restoring honor to her family, even though the otherwise very detailed opening text neglects to mention that her family was even dishonored or what caused it.  Must've been an afterthought.

P.S. 2 These past few weeks I watched the latest comedy Trial & Error on NBC and I enjoyed it a lot.  =)  It was charming lighthearted fun with its tongue in cheek humor in the vein of Parks and Recreation, John Lithgow and the rest of the cast was great, and it was so creatively inventive.  I look forward to the next season!

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think; hope you have a great day, take care!  =)

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