Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remaking an Icon, Maui Mallard, part 4

After everything that Maui had endured above, below and inside the heart of a tropical paradise he only had a few challenges remaining. Maui would have to return the remains of the great Muddrake shaman Quackoo to his final resting place. In order to do this Maui had to cross over and journey into "The Realm of the Dead." Disney Interactive had hoped that they had given players enough time to practice all of Maui and Cold Shadows moves because the final stage required gamers to switch between the personalities on the fly. Maui had to shoot ghosts, swing over bottomless chasms and even "swim" through green semi-transparent ectoplasm in order to navigate the complex stages.

Just about every element in this game was a fresh change of pace from Disney Interactive. The use of tiki imagery, the undead and occult elements might not have gone over well at just about any other era at the company, including today! Having the trust with the developers that this was what the community wanted in a game was unheard of. The decisions at most big game studios were based on research and marketing data instead of original ideas from the developers. The marketing person leading the research could skew the data to support his or her beliefs. This would lead to a mediocre game that failed to win over audiences and of course the developers would be blamed for that and be let go instead of the marketing "gurus." Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow was one of the rare games in the Disney game history that was almost completely unobstructed. I would dare say that not even Epic Mickey took as many chances with the IP.

The Realm of the Dead was one of the levels where the Super Nintendo version of the game looked amazing when compared to the Sega Genesis build. The colors and details really popped on the Nintendo console. Everything from the fire effects to the rippling ectoplasm to the enormous duck eye tracking our hero in the background were brilliant. 

This level also offered the one place in the game that gave me a genuine fright. Buried in several places throughout the stage were zombie ducks. The would reach out of the ground for our hero while letting out a loud yell. I was startled the first time I played through the level because I didn't know what to expect. Nothing had me prepared for that.

The zombie ducks were grotesque and required multiple shots to be killed. As players unloaded their bug gun the zombies would fall apart but continue advancing. It was probably the most gruesome thing ever featured in a Disney game but at the same time it was also one of the coolest. 

The final part of the Realm of the Dead stage was also one of the hardest portions of the entire title. Players had to escort the jar containing the remains of Quackoo to an altar. The jar rose steadily through the air and players had to use Maui and Cold Shadow to keep enemy spirits from stealing him away. Players could try to get ahead of the jar and shoot ghosts before they came around but they never wanted to be too far from Quackoo in case a ghost managed to sneak around them. 

Once Quackoo arrived at the altar the stage had finished. This was the only stage in the game that did not feature a boss battle but that was perhaps because the next level, the Mojo Stronghold, was one long boss battle.

It seemed that Maui was not a moment too soon. The evil Witch Doctor had the idol of Shabuhm Shabuhm in his clutches and was casting a spell on it. As the idol rose into the sky a storm broke out. The clouds turned an eerie shade of crimson, this supernatural power would surely destroy the island and its inhabitants unless Maui could do something about it. 

Before they could reach the Witch Doctor players had to disable his protection. Large glowing crystal balls created a shield around the villain. Players had to shatter those before they could advance. 

Once a player was able to get close enough they discovered that the bug bullets did nothing against the Witch Doctor. The final battle would have to be hand-to-hand combat using Cold Shadow. 

The Witch Doctor would shoot fire and teleport all over the platform, making it difficult to get more than one hit on him at a time. Even up close the Witch Doctor was not easy. He would kick and strike at Cold Shadow using his magic staff.

If a player managed to survive the conflict then the Witch Doctor would burst into flames. It was an awesome site in the Genesis and PC versions of the game.

Once the great evil had been defeated then the idol of Shabuhm Shabuhm was finally free to return to Earth. Maui fell from the sky and landed in a soft patch of grass. Unfortunately for him so too did the idol. Thankfully Maui cushioned the impact with his body and the Muddrakes were able to carry it off in one piece. There was a final gag that the team at Disney Interactive wrote for the idol but I'll let you play the game and find out what it was.

Hernea the High Mojo Sorceress returned to congratulate our hero. It turned out that she had misjudged him and owed him a debt of gratitude. Of course it was difficult for Maui to hear any of the apology considering he was buried upside down in the soft Earth.

Instead of telling Maui what reward he had earned she decided to show him instead. A calypso version of "Here Comes the Bride" was mixed in with the various Maui themes during the end credits. Were wedding bells in the future for Maui Mallard?

The audience was left with the satisfaction of completing a challenging platform game but also with the knowledge that Maui would return. The character and the universe that he inhabited was inspired. It would be a shame if this was the one and only chance for the character to shine. His destiny was written in the stars after all...

Disney Interactive was not content with delivering one completely original game. They had started work on a sequel. What became of it and what hampered the development of the original game will be covered in the next blog. I hope to see you  back for that.

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