Reviewed: October 22, 2005
Released: September 20, 2005
Disney's Cinderella, the animated movie, isn't so much a simple corporate property in America as it is a part of the fabric of American culture. It was one of the company's first animated feature films, and it remains to this day one of the most beloved and widely-known family movies of all time. It was made at a time when Disney's animation was done entirely by hand and on the explicit approval of Walt Disney himself, when there wasn't a corporate schedule of one "Disney Classic" per summer like clockwork. The warmth and detail that went into the animators' handicraft has seen the film through to the present day, and it will probably always be beloved, despite how politically incorrect the notion of true love at first sight of a handsome prince is.
So here we have this gem of an old movie. It's flawed, yes, but it's flawed in the way that anything hand-made is flawed when compared to machine-tooled precision. And underneath this movie, we have a company that's learned to turn a hefty corporate profit on its slowly decaying image, a company that's basically become a movie mill as well as a brand name that's as recognizable as Nike. No, Disney is not what it used to be. It's what it has had to become to remain relevant in today's world - a business first and foremost. But something has been lost in the transition: the feeling of hand-made warmth and personal attention that used to be there is now largely gone.
The question is this: if you put a greedy man in charge of a precious gem, do you think he'll want to keep it safe? Me, neither. And the end result of that very situation is this game, Cinderella: Magical Dreams. Before I reviewed it, I found myself wondering how they could ever possibly make a video game out of a movie like Cinderella. Now that I've finished the game and am writing the review, I'm still wondering, because what they did make was downright awful.
Let's start by clearing one thing up right away: Cinderella: Magical Dreams is not about fun. It's about chores. That's right, the first fifth of the game (that is, the first twelve or fifteen minutes - see Value for more on that fun little aside) is nothing but repetitive, thankless chores. Of course, this is in keeping with the tale of Cinderella herself, but really. Chores? This stage of development should have been the point at which Disney took a step back and said, "You know what? This game wasn't such a great idea, after all. Let's just scrap it, guys." Alas, market research won another victory over common sense instead, and little children everywhere have been left with a game that has them doing chores at a madman's pace for a good chunk of its play time.
Now I know what some of you parents might be thinking. "Chores in a game? Brilliant!" But before you get ahead of the facts, bear in mind that if your chores don't involve a lot of horse feeding, flower watering and nimbly avoiding murderous hens, this positive reinforcement of hard work isn't going to do you or your kids much good. Right from the starting block, Cinderella's gameplay stumbles. Cinderella herself starts on the left side of a scrolling screen with a foreground and middle ground, and hazards like mud puddles and innocent lambs strewn all over. Players control the princess-in-training, maneuvering her over and around these obstacles and taking the occasional detour to complete a chore, which in turn opens the gate to the next remarkably similar area.
I'd like to stop right here for a moment and take a look at what's going on in the game. First, we've got "hazards" like gophers, hens and baby lambs. I used to own a few chickens, and I'll grant that they're ornery little puffballs. But I can't recall ever having felt that my life energy was in danger because one of them bumped into my leg. And while I know that it's very un-ladylike to step in a mud puddle, it also seems likely to happen a lot to a servant maid working on a farm. Again, the danger of dying because one steps in a puddle of water is slim at best (the doctor from Gloucester notwithstanding).
The situation is all the more frustrating because some of the hazards, most notably those hens, don't move and look so much like innocent rocks that there were a number of times I took a hit because I bumped into one of them thinking it was a boulder blocking my path. It doesn't help matters that object detection is some of the worst I've ever seen in a game, either. Cinderella can jump, and at times it might seem like the best option to avoid, say, a crazed rodent charging back and forth. But with object detection this inaccurate, you'll usually end up getting hit anyway, even if it doesn't look like you touched anything onscreen.
After this annoying first chapter, various other segments follow, including a couple of turns controlling Cinderella's mouse friends, Gus and Jaq, as well as an utterly bizarre "Space Invaders"-esque Fairy Godmother sequence involving the popping of magic bubbles. I'll grant that there's a decent amount of variety in the gameplay with five different types altogether. And the chores are definitely the worst part. But none of the others is really much fun, either.
There's the aforementioned Fairy Godmother mini-game, which lets players slide her back and forth across the bottom of the screen firing bolts of magic from an upraised wand at bubbles of magic which are floating across the screen above her. While mildly enjoyable at first, the lack of any real challenge makes this game a big yawn after a few minutes.
Two of the other mini-games are similarly dull. One is a dancing game with Prince Blockjaw (or whatever) that really doesn't require even a whit of rhythm, only the ability to stay inside a circle of light as it meanders about and occasionally press A. The other is a mad dash from the palace guards as the reverted Cinderella, a sequence similar to the chores part of the game, made a bit more enjoyable by the urgency of being followed.
By far the best part of this game, and the only part really worth playing, is the stuff with Gus and Jaq in between the walls of the manor as they scramble to fetch materials for a ball dress, avoid Lucifer the cat and generally save the day any way they can. These sequences are plain old 2D platform fun, and though not even a bit original, they're laid out decently enough to provide a bit of a challenge and, relative to the rest of the game, a heck of a good time. For those few of you who might have played the old Tom and Jerry game for the NES, these parts of Cinderella: Magical Dreams are very similar.
The difficulty level of the game overall is low, making it suitable for the young audience for which it is intended. However, the game itself is so boring and the controls are so clunky, even at the best of times, that I find it hard to recommend it for anyone, really. And the threshold of difficulty is really almost too low in some places, while those awkward controls make some sequences that should have been extra easy a fair amount more difficult than the rest of the game. This game is all over the board, and it still can't quite manage to hit the target.
If there's one nice thing to say about Cinderella: Magical Dreams, it would have to be that the game does have very solid graphics. The animations for Cinderella are most lifelike, and other animations range from convincing to downright cute. All of the motion in this game is smooth and fluid as well.
There are snippets of the actual animated movie Cinderella interposed between the various parts of the game, which is a nice touch even if the framerate is jarringly low. Colors are bright in general, although (as previously mentioned) I had some difficulty on a non-lit GBA telling some hazards apart from the landscape. I also appreciated the surprising amount of detail that went into all of the sprites and backgrounds in the game. It's not perhaps the most graphically advanced game on its system, but it manages to really look good and be fun to look at, even if it isn't much fun to play.
Three songs. Well, okay... maybe four. At my unofficial count, that's how much music there is in Cinderella. Unless you're a fan of classical music or Norse death metal, you probably aren't accustomed to listening to music for an hour and only hearing three songs. Even if you do listen to those types of music, though, there's no way you'll enjoy the bland, generic soundtrack to Cinderella: Magical Dreams.
The tracks range from "background noise" to "downright annoying." I occasionally turned the music down while I was playing, but every time I turned it back up, one of those same songs was still playing, from the beginning to the very end. And I couldn't even rely on sound effects to mix things up a little: they're so sparse and stock that I barely noticed there were any at all.
I've played some terribly short games in my time, but none of them comes close to the shining example of brevity that is Cinderella: Magical Dreams. My first playthrough clocked in at just over an hour of game time, and that included about ten minutes of feeding the horse over and over again because I wasn't paying attention to the game's instructions to feed the horse ONCE to open the gate to the next area. I thought that when I'd fed the horse enough hay there'd be an animation of it kicking down the gate for me or something like that. Silly me - only the Invisible Hand of Stilted Gameplay Mechanics can open that gate!
As if an hour long game weren't bad enough in and of itself, it should also be noted that Cinderella is one of the most repetitive games I've ever played as well. Everything comes in threes: feed three horses, water three plots of garden, defeat three slavering zombies with only the power of the Fairy Godmother's semi-automatic assault wand to protect you. I was just kidding about that last part - sorry to get your hopes up.
Which also reminds me: this game is boring. Doing chores? Boring. Popping bubbles? Briefly entertaining, but it becomes boring long before the mini-game ends. Even the royal ball dancing game, which could have been fun, was a simple matter of following a slow-moving spotlight and occasionally pressing the A button. About the only really fun parts of Cinderella were the sections with the mice. It's hard to screw up good old-fashioned platforming.
So, let's recap: short, repetitive, and boring. That about sums up Cinderella: Magical Dreams. But what else should anyone have really expected? It doesn't make sense to turn a movie like Cinderella into a game like this. There isn't much action (I could see a game based entirely around the mice of Cinderella maybe being fun, but outside of that...), the themes don't lend themselves to gameplay (how do you make True Love into a gameplay mechanic?) and let's face it: Cinderella is as white as a saltine cracker and she can't dance worth beans.
Disney is trying to capitalize on the recent preteen girl "princess" craze, which it largely helped create. But making a game around a princess who got that way because she worked hard and had tiny little feet was a bad idea. Ariell from The Little Mermaid, Jasmine from Aladdin, even Belle from Beauty and the Beast (she was a plucky one, that Belle) - games based around these characters are at least somewhat feasible.
But about the only worse choice for Disney to make would be a game based around the princess from Sleeping Beauty, in which you stare at the screen for two hours until she is awoken from her slumber and the end credits roll. At least it would have been a longer game than Cinderella, I suppose.