Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
In 1991, Capcom developed a licensed video game based on Disney’s The Little Mermaid animated movie. Despite most license games being somewhat notorious for their poor quality, since the publisher wanted a cheap and quick turnaround from the developer in order to capitalize on the popularity of the property, Capcom was an exception to the rule and produced some of the highest quality license games in existence based on Disney characters such as from DuckTales and the Rescue Rangers. Was The Little Mermaid another hit?
The player controls Ariel, the titular Little Mermaid, in an underseas adventure spanning several levels, each ending in a boss fight. Since most of the gameplay takes place underwater, this is not quite a platform game, and scrolls in multiple directions. Holding the B button down enables Ariel to swim faster in any direction, while the A button fires bubbles that can immobilize enemy sea creatures or encase them in a bubble that can then be thrown at another enemy either straight forward, straight upward, or upward at an angle, an impressive array of firing directions considering the kiddie nature of this title.
Between levels are cutscenes depicting each of Ariel’s various oceanic friends like Flounder the fish warning her about upcoming stage dangers, whether it be a sunken ship, an ice area, or even the undersea volcano zone. Some of the bosses are recognizable as well, like Flotsam and Jetsam the giant moray eels, but others are completely new, like the walrus on the ice floes or the swordfish commanding the sunken ship fish cannons.
In addition to navigating the treacherous level designs and firing bubbles at her foes, Ariel will also be collecting items hidden in treasure chests that must be opened by hitting them with rocks and seashells, often taking the form of puzzles whereby she must creatively get a barrel rolling toward a chest or maneuver a shell over rough terrain. She may be rewarded by a blue or red pearl, collecting three of each of which will increase corresponding rating in her bubble-shot power and firing length. She goes from firing a batch of tiny bubbles, to a solid bubble, to a triple bubble array, to a weird red rotating rectangular bubble that is the most powerful.
There are other hidden items as well, worth massive bonus points, in addition to the occasional one-up or a heart to restore a portion of her health bar. Overall this is a well-designed game, but is somewhat notably more kid-friendly than even Capcom’s other Disney cartridges like Darkwing Duck, in that Little Mermaid is not only easy but also very short, and lacks the level-select options of their other popular titles like Mega Man, Bionic Commando, and even the other aforementioned Disney series.
This game looks great, as can be expected of the Capcom development team. Characters are recognizable, levels are distinctive, the animations are smooth, and there is little slowdown or flickering issues to be seen anywhere. Although it cannot be regarded as among the absolute most premiere visuals ever seen on the 8-bit NES, it is definitely a professional-looking game for its era.
Perhaps the highlight of the game’s audio is the background track for the title screen, which is a fairly impressive chiptune rendition of the movie’s “Under The Sea” song. Other solid music persists throughout the quest, including another impressive turn with the big-boss track of the final fight with an oversized Ursula. The sound effects are excellent, with every fine nuance touched up well, such as the various bubble effects.
Of all the Disney movies that could have been made into a Capcom video game, The Little Mermaid was perhaps an interesting choice, but with an undeniable popularity. Not many NES games took place almost entirely underwater without seeming like radical departures from the usual platformer fare, but Little Mermaid somehow manages to seem like it belongs amidst the usual Capcom library while also being innovative in how well it pulls off the underwater effects. Normally, swimming levels are among the most despised of NES video game stages (see: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but Little Mermaid turns this assumption on its head and spans a whole game from the water-bound environment.
Well-honed visuals, soundtrack, and gameplay combine to present a solid example of how a license game should feel on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but with a shortened playtime, limited replay value, and generous ease of difficulty, Capcom’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid will not prove to be a classic challenge, except perhaps as a speed run or score max-out. Still, it earns three out of five stars for its development quality, even for a kiddie Disney game.