It’s no secret that Capcom was a juggernaut on the Nintendo Entertainment System…. and a huge reason for this was the high-profile Disney license. Games like DuckTales and Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers were popular in their time, and are still highly regarded among gaming circles (as are their subsequent sequels). The Little Mermaid never seemed to garner any where near the same kind of attention that those games did; in fact, I hardly hear it mentioned in any NES-related discussions at all.
I must admit that I used to be part of that problem: the first time I picked up and played The Little Mermaid was only four months ago. As a consistently avid NES game collector, I now find that to be inexcusable. While perhaps note quite as note-worthy as it’s 8-bit contemporaries, it’s still quite worth my time and yours.
Simplistic control and engaging gameplay ruled the 8-bit era, and The Little Mermaid is no different in this regard. Controlling Ariel will immediately feel natural and fluid to anyone who has played other Capcom classics from the time period, such as Mega Man. Going from left to right, you navigate through each “screen” of gameplay, trying not to take damage and lose hearts from your health meter. You can shoot bubbles which can first stun, then trap an enemy into said bubble, that you can then grab and shoot at other enemies or throw into small areas that may contain items that can get you extra points (which lead to extra lives) such as the “Dinglehopper” (fork) or a “Snarfblatt” (pipe).
Expanding on that core gameplay, Ariel can find shells that she can grab and use to run into and kill enemies with, as well as the ability to shoot the shell into treasure chests, which often contain pearls. These pearls offer the RPG-like capacity to increase your character’s abilities up to three levels. The green pearl extends the range of Ariel’s bubble attack, while the red pearl increases the power and effectiveness of the bubbles. With more red pearl power, you can move rocks and barrels into treasure chests in order to further increase your power or get more secret items.
In general, while The Little Mermaid will be entertaining to anyone with an affinity for older games, it needs to be stressed that this game is not very challenging when compared to the majority of games from that time period. It has only five levels total, and can easily be beaten in under an hour. Although this may be disappointing for some, I find these qualities to be charming. It has replay value in uncovering more of the secrets scattered throughout the levels and finding faster ways to defeat the levels and bosses.
The Little Mermaid came out in July of ’91, almost a full 6 years after the release of the system it was designed for…and it certainly shows. This is a very pretty game for the NES, with consistently vivid colors throughout the levels, with accurate sprite depictions of several characters from the movie. The cut scenes, while perhaps un-necessary, are a nice addition and are also very detailed visually. If I needed to show a demo for some of the best graphical accomplishments on the NES, this would certainly be up for consideration.
The audio does its job reasonably well. The intro screen to the game presents you with a pretty excellent 8-bit rendition of “Under the Sea”, but it unfortunately stands out as out as the only true memorable track from the game. The music that plays behind each level’s boss has a bit of a Mega Man flare, so I’ll also give that credit, but at the same time the Mega Man comparison only really serves to disappoint when realizing that the same developer made both soundtracks.
While The Little Mermaid has its charms, the challenge factor is the ultimate detractor here. Other games from the time period, tended to be quite short but made up for this with difficulty. I realize that as a gamer for around 20 years, I’m not quite the target audience that Capcom was aiming for, but I’m still left wishing they could have put this game’s difficulty on par with those other Disney greats like DuckTales. With all of this said, The Little Mermaid is still far too overlooked, and for $5 (or under) it goes for now certainly deserves a spot in any old school gamer’s NES collection.
Overall Score: 5.9/10 (This consistently overlooked game, while quite easy and short, is still a fun and visually appealing title that will keep all types of old school gamers entertained while it lasts.)