In this third part of our retrospective on Capcom’s team-up with Disney during the NES years, we take a look at the oddball shooter/adventure game TaleSpin.
One of the most unique releases of Capcom’s NES games even outside of the Disney licenses, TaleSpin stands out amongst the Disney licensed titles on the NES for its unique perspective on the popular shooter genre.
Part of the reason platformers were so prevalent on the NES is due to how easy it was to adapt the genre into many themes. Serious licensed property? Batman: The Video Game. Light-hearted original material meant for any age group? Super Mario Bros. 3. Dream team developed adaptation of mythology somewhere between serious and playful? Little Samson. Truly, the genre could do just about anything. Taking this into account, it’s little surprise that Capcom turned a bevy of Disney properties into platformers. We’ve covered Duck Tales and Darkwing Duck already, and we’ll be looking at Mickey Mousecapade and the Chip & Dale games in the future, but TaleSpin today is the first to break away from the platformer genre, and instead tackle the scrolling shooter genre, with a dash of adventure for good measure.
Originally released in 1991, TaleSpin on the NES sees players controlling Baloo in his signature fighter jet the Seaduck, looking to transport cargo across the world while taking down sky pirates in the process. In bonus stages, you’ll play as Baloo’s pal Kit and try to score as many points as you can without taking damage. The bonus stage is pretty simple, and not really a great inclusion but it is what it is. Where TaleSpin shines however, is the way in which it approaches the genre.
Most shooters force the player in one direction, bombarding them with enemies and obstacles until they reach an end boss and then move on to the next level. TaleSpin gives the player far more control, allowing them to travel in several directions in a given level, and even go back to collect more treasure. In this way, the game resembles a slightly more focused Fantasy Zone, encouraging item pickups and treasure hunting over the classic left-to-right style gameplay the genre is known for. Additionally, levels are laid out like you’d expect an adventure-platformer to be laid out, offering different paths and power-up nooks for the player to explore.
Unlike the other games we’ve looked at thus far, TaleSpin doesn’t allow the game to be played in an order chosen by the player. Instead, it follows a linear set of levels allowing for airplane upgrades inbetween each stage. The upgrade station — a Capcom staple by this point — adds some flair to the game allowing for speed boosts and extra lives, amongst other things all at the choice of the player. The upgrades come with much joy, as initially Baloo is slow and cannot fire more than a single round at a time. Unfortunately this is an upgrade system that serves to bring the player up to a reasonable level, instead of making them incredibly powerful, causing the early portions of the game to be somewhat uneventful and sluggish.
The graphics and sound don’t fare too much better, with small low-detail sprites and tinny uninspired music. While the game gets points for its unique, genre-bending ideas, it falls short on actual gameplay or presentation quality. Exploration isn’t something you often see in shooters of this nature, and while TaleSpin allows for some, it rarely leads to much, giving the feeling of a rushed product filled with unreached potential. The music evokes themes from the television show, but lacks the love put into something like Darkwing Duck or Duck Tales. A playthrough will take no more than 30 minutes, making it a rather brief experience.
In the end, TaleSpin is a unique romp, but nothing you’d necessarily need to see to complete the NES experience. However, there are some interesting ideas set in motion, and a remake or sequel today could be incredibly entertaining. TaleSpin HD Remix, Capcom? Please?