Disney's The Little Mermaid movie came out in 1989 and it started a new era of modern Disney Princess/Prince movies. The movie was great and, of course, merchandise had to be made to go along with the movie. Disney already had a relationship with Capcom when it came to making games based on Disney properties (Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, Duck Tales, and Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers) so, naturally, they turned to Capcom to make the game based on this movie. The result is a solid, but very short game. Pretty good for its era but a bit lacking today.
The story for this game differs from the movie's time line. Ariel and Eric are getting married soon. Sebastian and Flounder visit Ariel (who is human and can speak) and explain that Ursula has cast a spell on the fish of the sea. The fish have become her pawns and Sebastian fears that she will soon take over the whole sea (they never explain which sea but, since the original story is Danish, let's assume it's the Baltic or the North Sea, or maybe they mean the entirety of the Oceans, who knows). She tells Eric that she is a Mermaid Princess and decides to go to Ursula's castle to save her friends. Eric tries to convince her not to go because, why should she care about all her family, friends, kingdom, and subjects, but she turns into a mermaid and leaves, anyway.
The graphics are pretty good for the time; they are cartoony and clean. Ariel looks like Ariel, albeit less defined, fish look like fish, and the bosses look pretty good, especially Ursula. You even get a few really short cutscenes, Ninja Gaiden style, throughout. A bit disappointing is the fact that the backgrounds are pretty static. You're not going to see any cool effects here, just basic backdrops.
The music, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. If you go in expecting "Duck Tales" or "Mega Man" quality music, you're going to be extremely disappointed. The music is not horrible. It's just extremely forgettable. The only song from the movie is an 8-bit rendition of Under the Sea, and it's a pretty bland rendition.
The gameplay itself is not very complicated but, it is solid. You can move Ariel around in 8 directions. When you're not controlling her, she floats exactly where you left her, as in she doesn't sink or float upwards. Pressing the 'b' button makes you swim faster, just like it makes you run faster in a Mario game. The 'a' button makes Ariel shoot bubbles (just like in the movie?). You can upgrade these bubbles in range and power by picking up blue and red orbs, respectively. Bubbles encase enemies that you can then grab to hurt other enemies. You can upgrade each up to three times. You can also pick up shells to hurt enemies, use them as shields, or to open chests to collect orbs. Hearts refill your heart meter, and other items give you points. It's all pretty basic but it feels solid.
The games is very short, only 5 levels. You can finish it in one sitting. It took me about 30 minutes. The game is not hard at all, once you understand all the mechanics. Each level ends with a boss fight. Three bosses are from the movie; the other two are original to the game. However, every time you die, you will lose all your upgrades which really sucks.
The Little Mermaid on the NES is a pretty solid, but very short experience. It's enjoyable for what it is but forgettable. While some people consider this a classic of the NES era, I find it to be just an average game.
Notes and Trivia
None of these levels, except for the Sunken Ship, and Ursula's Castle, appeared in the film. And even then, Ursula's castle is totally different from the design in the original film.
In this story, Ariel did not give up her voice to be human, and she is able to turn back into a mermaid at will, but not vice versa.
Ursula, in her gigantic form during the second battle against her stands atop a platform similar the one in her lair during the first battle against her. In the film, she stands taller than the depth of the ocean.
In the third and final scene of the ending which shows Ariel and Eric getting married, Ariel does not wear the veil like the film. Also, Ariel's tiara in the game's ending is mint green, as opposed to gold in the film.
The walrus and the soldierfish (the bosses of Sea of Ice and Undersea Volcano, respectively) are not canon to the film.
In this game, Ariel defeats Ursula in the final round. However, in the film, Ariel is helpless against Ursula's giant form, and it's up to Eric to save the day.
The layout of the fifth stage, Ursula's Castle is much different than the film. It is much larger and has doorways that resemble the face of a snake, and Ariel must travel up many stories to encounter Ursula (the boss). The lair in the film has only one story, and the distance from the entryway to the main hall is very short. Also, the level has water surfaces revealing the castles' walls to be red; yet in the film, Ursula's lair is completely submerged and several feet below the ocean's surface and its walls are in tones of purple. There are also icy sections and, finally, the polyps are much larger in the video game.
While Ariel never goes to an ice land during the original film, ice locals appear in the TV series, and is the location of the Morgana's lair in the sequel.
A walrus named Dash appears in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, similar to the boss of this game, but has only a few inches of tusks while the walrus in this game has full-length tusks, and is an ally instead of an enemy.
Flotsam and Jetsam, who are the bosses of Sunken Ship are colored green in the game, however they are typically blue in the film and in promotional artwork. The main reason is the 8-bit's color restrictions.
"Part-Time Mermaid" Tia Michelle Pesando recorded the highest-known score on The Little Mermaid, noting that there appears to be some randomization regarding the treasures found in nooks and crannies and her score thus might only be considered a possible maximum despite her apparently having found all of the treasure in the game. She also noted that the stages' treasure content was not based on difficulty or point in game, but rather upon the environment. Offering a more immersive experience than if each stage simply offered more points than the last, the most treasure-intensive areas are those that are (or were) inhabited by creatures that might logically keep treasure; the Sunken Ship and to a lesser extent Ursula's Castle are filled with treasure, while the Sea of Coral, Sea of Ice, and Undersea Volcano have more occasional or incidental treasure.
Before I go, one little personal tidbit regarding this game. I remember renting this game from a local video rental place back in 1991. When I returned the game, I forgot to return the photocopy of the game's manual. The guy at the store told me that they would charge my account $2 for every day that I did not return the photocopy of the manual. I never returned to that store. If I were to put a rough estimate on how much money I owed that video store, if it still existed to this day, it would be roughly over $17,000.
Haha. Nice review! It's nifty to see classic NES games reviewed. It is a bummer that the backgrounds are a bit boring, but I don't think the music is all that bad. Kind of catchy in that classic NES way. I also think this is the first time I've seen the game in action - it looks fun. I like the Bubble Bobble way of attacking enemies. I never got around to playing this game, despite the movie being my favorite Disney movie. I remember seeing it on the store shelves, but never thinking to give it a chance. I totally would now if such places still exist. And the reason they don't... Is all your fault! You bankrupted them all with your pamphlet stealing ways.
I went from reading your review to singing it when I clicked the link to that 8-bit version of Under the Sea.
This seems like something I might enjoy. Not too long ago I bought Aladdin on the Super Nintendo and some of my thoughts on that game are very similar to yours on The Little Mermaid. Seeing as how I haven't played any of Capcom's Disney games on the NES, I should probably start with DuckTales, though.
If you're expecting Duck Tales (or Aladdin) here, look elsewhere! I can echo everything that SMS said up there, though one thing he didn't hit upon which was kind of a nick to me was that a lot of the game was pretty monotone. Now I'm doubting myself; I thought there was a currency system or something, and everything was like "1", and there weren't any "5"s or something. I wish there were more collectables. I know that this is an NES game we're talking about, but there were PLENTY of different things to do/collect way back when, even in Duck Tales. Cakes, HUGE GEMS, little dolls, etc.
I don't want to fire it up again (I gave it a 6.0, for the above and how short it is), but I will if I have to!
@NoName I actually never found the pamphlet. Ever.
@Octorockin don't start with the best. Just work your way up to it.
@kriswright Scoop away! It's a fun little game, even if it is too short.
@Mr_Mustache They have items you can pick up just for points but they don't do anything. Maybe you get an extra life after collecting enough. I don't remember, but you can't buy anything in this game. I think you're thinking about Aladdin on the Genesis.
Ah, yes, the one NES Capcom/Disney game I didn't play. Good review! It's making me wonder, is fate telling me to play this one now? I mean...
- It's attack system is, what No name pointed out, like Bubble Bobble. Awesome. - The only Disney/Capcom game I haven't played. - I'm literally in Orlando, FL visiting Disney. The other day we took our little ones to the Magic Kingdom for the first time. My little girl had the choice to dress as any princess. Guess which red head she chose? - A short game is exactly what I need!