A cleverly named Disney cartoon becomes an intriguing NES shooter.
To Beat: Reach the end credits
Played: 1/22/16 – 1/23/16
My Difficulty: 3/10
Well that didn’t take long to reach another Disney-to-NES conversion courtesy of Capcom! Based on the animated Disney television series of the same name as part of The Disney Afternoon, TaleSpin is unique among its NES counterparts in that it’s not a platformer but an aerial adventure true to the cartoon series.
TaleSpin, the Disney animated series, had a 65-episode run all within a span of a year running from September 7, 1990 to August 8th, 1991. It tells the story of Baloo, a pilot for his freight service, and his navigator Kit as they aim to deliver goods while avoiding and fighting air pirates lead by Don Karnage and other foes that attempt to steal their cargo. I’m simplifying this as it’s a show I didn’t watch and I’m not familiar with it. The NES game was likely developed during the show’s initial run on TV since it was released in December 1991 after the final episode had already aired.
TaleSpin on NES is a horizontal scrolling shooter with a few interesting mechanics. You can fly Baloo in eight directions and fire bullets with the B button to attack enemies. If you press the A button, Baloo flips around and flies both backwards and upside-down causing the screen to scroll left instead of right. Not many autoscrolling shooters allow you to scroll both left and right at will – this is the only one that I’m aware of. Your only attack is the default shot but you can aim your shots diagonally if you shoot while moving up and down, so altogether you can fire in six directions. It’s an interesting mechanic and it makes sense since the plane banks up and down pretty severely as you fly. However it takes some getting used to and it will cause misfires. This mostly occurs because to fire straight you must not be moving vertically, so to properly aim at something straight ahead you must line yourself up and stop completely before shooting. The game will occasionally scroll vertically and in these parts the scrolling is forced with no backtracking like in the horizontal scrolling areas.
Along the way you will pick up money bags and cargo containers that look like little briefcases. Collecting these will give you money at the end of the stage that can be spent on upgrades for your plane, the Sea Duck. You can buy extra shots for your plane as well as a permanent speed increase and some armor to increase your total health. You can also buy extra lives and even extra continues if you need some additional tries. You start the game with three hearts for health but only one bullet on the screen at a time causing the game to be fairly challenging at the start as every shot counts. Buying an extra shot right away is crucial to help ease the later levels.
Enemies when destroyed will occasionally drop fruit on a parachute and this is the only way to earn points during the levels. Some parts of the levels hide pickups and they are revealed if you shoot their hiding spots. These often appears in nooks in the stages or in corners and thankfully you don’t take damage from touching the walls so feel free to look to your heart’s content. Just make sure not to get pinched by the scrolling screen as that will cost you a life. The entrances to the bonus stage are also hidden and revealed when shot. In these areas you switch to Kit who rides on this air surfboard called an airfoil. You can pop balloons that reveal fruit and extra lives and you can really stock up on lives by hitting every bonus area.
There are eight levels in total and each level ends in a boss encounter. There are a variety of locales to journey through and some of them are interesting for a shooter such as a haunted house and a baseball stadium. The bosses tend to be fairly challenging particularly since the Sea Duck is a pretty big sprite with equally large hitbox, the bosses spray a fair amount of bullets and other moving parts around, and also because each boss has an invincibility period after taking a hit.
Like I mentioned before I had not watched the cartoon basically at all, and in the same way I did not play TaleSpin on NES until adulthood. I think I bought my copy for $8 as part of a buy two get one free sale at my local game store. The game came up awhile back as part of the NA weekly contest as a high score challenge and I’m pretty sure I beat the game on either my first or second try at that time. I also got acquainted with the locations of the bonus areas back then because they are very point-heavy with all the fruit you can collect, so that experience helped me here too.
My playthrough of the game was fairly ordinary and unremarkable. I was very rusty at the start and I lost all my lives on the first level, but once I started it up again I was cruising through the levels with little trouble until I ran out of time that night and had to turn the game off. Starting over the next evening I beat the game with at least a dozen lives to spare and I didn’t need any continues to get the job done. There was one boss at the end of the fifth stage that gave me some trouble. It’s a crane with a wrecking ball that drops down on you and the boss shoots these bouncing shots so you are being attacked from above and below. It’s just about impossible to not take damage here. The only way I could beat it was to get there with full health and just sit in the middle constantly shooting it while avoiding attacks as best I could and taking advantage of my invincibility period to move to safety. I was able to beat it that way by attrition. With that in mind, here’s a hot tip for this boss! When doing some research for this post I found out that you can destroy the wrecking ball which completely takes out the attack from above. Look at me, I did it the hard way!
I had some trouble coming up with a difficulty for TaleSpin. The game isn’t exactly a cakewalk and it takes a few levels for the difficulty to ease up once you get some powerups under your belt. That was the way it went for me but once I got over that hurdle I thought the game was pretty easy. There are so many extra lives available not to mention continues I never had to touch. I decided to place the game just below average difficulty although I could be persuaded to slide the game up or down a notch.
TaleSpin is a solid experience from a good developer based on a quality Disney property, so it’s hard not to recommend the game. The mechanics are neat but they do require some practice and thoughtfulness that takes some time to get used to. Boss fights aside, TaleSpin isn’t all that memorable to me, but that’s not really a negative thing. With Capcom on NES you are pretty much assured of getting a good game no matter what and that is definitely the case here. My advice is if you decide to play TaleSpin, stick it out past the first level and buy that extra shot. I think you’ll have fun with it!