TaleSpin (PC) Review – Friends for life through thick and thin

Wait a minute, you’re the pilot who lost the box

(Note: This article is part of the Disney Afternoon Collection review set, in which all games included in the package, as well as the package itself, get a review of their own.)

With the two smash hits DuckTales (1989) and Chip ‘n Dale (1990) for the NES in the bag, other Disney licensed games were sure to follow. 1991 was particularly full with licensed games as Capcom released Mickey’s Dangerous Chase in May, followed in July by The Little Mermaid, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in November. Finally in December, players first laid eyes on the third Disney Afternoon based game: TaleSpin.

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Baloo must use his wit and reflexes to defeat the air pirates

The cartoon series of the same name (1990-1991) was a reimagining/ spin-off of Walt Disney’s animated feature film The Jungle Book (1967) with the bear Baloo, the orang-utan Louie, and the tiger Shere Khan as the only recurring characters. (As a side note, it always bothered me that the story plays in India but has an orang-utan as a character. The species is endemic to Borneo and Sumatra which are not even close to the Indian forest.)

TaleSpin takes place in the post-World-War-I-like fictional harbor city of Cape Suzette in the nation of Usland. The entrepreneur Rebecca Cunningham runs a delivery service called Higher for Hire for which Baloo is the airplane captain, the bear cub Kit Cloudkicker is the navigator, and the lion Wildcat is the mechanic. The orang-utan Louie runs a tiki bar called Louie’s Place and Shere Khan takes on the role of arguably one of the most interesting characters in the series and behind-the-scenes-antagonist of this game.

Shere Khan is portrayed as a sophisticated, yet snobbish business mogul who cares about nothing but money and power (cf. Citizen Kahn [S01E41]), is relatively neutral, but occasionally tries to put other enterprises out of business. Despite that, he has no reservations to work with Baloo (cf. From Here to Machinery [S01E05]) and during some rare occasions even shows the bear his gratitude (cf. Baloo Thunder [S01E53]). Finally, although he can work with Baloo and was robbed by the air pirates in the series’ premier Plunder And Lightning (S01E01 – E04), he nevertheless colluded with them in On a Wing and a Bear (S01E22) to create an artificial oil shortage and raise prices. It should be quite obvious at this point that his personality is somewhat three-dimensional; so it is really weird to see him revealed to be the evil mastermind behind the curtains in the final cutscene in the TaleSpin video game and thinks about nothing but obtaining Higher for Hire.

The Design

Unlike the other titles in The Disney Afternoon Collection (2017), TaleSpin isn’t a platformer but a shoot ’em up and for one reason or another seems partially disconnected from the show.

001
The haunted mansion Baloo finds himself in is massive

For starters, the developers seemed to have attempted to show Baloo’s face while also having him in an airplane as well, and so the bear pilot doesn’t fly his iconic, modified Conwing L-16, which he calls the Sea Duck, but instead sits in a completely different, small propeller plane called the Mini Sea Duck that was specifically designed for this title. Several liberties were also taken with the game’s bosses and levels overall.

At first, the game starts off pretty low-key  when Rebecca Cunningham tells Baloo to “[f]ly over the sea and you should find your destination.” (Okay?) which leads the bear directly into the arms of air pirates with their CT-37 triplanes as well as their submarine which first appeared in It Came From Beneath The Sea Duck (S01E06). Immediately after that though, things start to get weird as the second stage sees Baloo caught in a dogfight against a giant robot baseball inside a fully filled baseball stadium. And then in stage 4, he is suddenly in a haunted mansion where he fights a giant, invisible man, which never happened in the show.

Overall, it seems that the game is a mashup of Baloo material and random stuff Capcom’s designers had in stock. Of course, some elements of the show are still there, like the pygmies from Itsy-Bitsia, whom viewers probably best remember from the episode The Bigger They Are, The Louder They Oink (S01E25). (As a sidenote, the portrayal of obviously non-Westerners in this cartoon and others isn’t flattering. Look at how Southeast Asia is depicted in the DuckTales episode Spies in Their Eyes [S01E62], for example). The side steps from the source material are less of an issue though, so long as the game itself is enjoyable to play, which it weirdly is.

The Gameplay

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Wrecking Ball is one of the hardest bosses in the game until players learn that they can destroy the ball and then simply shoot down diagonally

Capcom knows how to make good shoot ’em ups, as the NES port of their game 1943 (1987) clearly shows. TaleSpin on the other hand, is a game that’s not bad, in fact, I really liked it after some time, but it definitely needs to grow on the players. At the start of this adventure, the Mini Sea Duck moves very slowly and Baloo can only have one bullet on-screen at a time. Of course it is possible to buy upgrades from Wildcat for the plane to have up to four bullets on-screen at once together with a greater flying speed, but to get those, it’s important to find as many of the visible and hidden treasures as possible. While that sounds fun in theory, it can be quite a chore to newcomers who probably won’t catch them all. Weren’t it for the YouTube guide Talespin – NES – 100% (All Cargo collected)1 by the user freezingicekirby, I wouldn’t have found them. And even though it is always a fine idea to include upgrades for playable characters, it is also important to not have them be as underpowered as here. Instead of reducing the amount of bullets to one, for example, the developers could have opted to increase the damage caused by them over time, for example.

Nevertheless, most fights aren’t too hard to handle as there are always only less than a handful of enemies on-screen at any given point in time. Younger players should be able to get through the levels with some patience. Steering and attacking in TaleSpin also have a twist to them as Baloo shoots with Ⓑ and turns his plane vertically by 180° when pressing Ⓐ. This will then also reverse the camera’s autoscroll. Turning, however, can only be done when players aren’t pressing ↑ or ↓ on their gamepad, which is quite the bother in tight situations and makes engaging multiple enemies or tough bosses a bit of a drag.

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The pygmies from the show make an appearance in the game

Additionally, when pressing ↑+Ⓑ, Baloo shoots diagonally up while flying straight up and when going ↓+Ⓑ he logically shots diagonally down while going straight down. These diagonal shots even become relevant in the boss fights against the creatively named Wrecking Ball and against the Iron Vulture. Once players get the hang of that and know where to find the treasures, the game really picks up in the fun department. Sadly, the game doesn’t always telegraph how to defeat the boss enemies, so it is highly suggested to check videos on Youtube whenever players feel that they are stuck. During my playthrough, Baloo also sometimes just stopped midtrack, which might be because of the age of the computer the game was played on (an old a 32-bit Windows Vista toaster with an Intel Core 2 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT graphics card, 3070 MB RAM and DirectX 11).

Conclusion

Overall, TaleSpin is sadly one of those licensed games that feels rushed (maybe they tried to push it out by Christmas of 1991 since it came out in December of that year) and could have used some more time in development. Nevertheless, as weird as it may sound, once players give the title a real chance and once they know what to do in the game, it can be a lot of fun to play and replay. The soundtrack by Minae Fujii (藤井美苗, now Minae Saito, 斎藤美苗) is also a blast and it is really appreciated that they decided to turn the game into a shoot ’em up instead of a jump ‘n run, seeing how flying given was so integral to the show. It does have one tiny downside to it though: it is regretfully impossible to play as Ace London, who some people would have really loved to see included here2. TaleSpin is an appreciated addition to The Disney Afternoon Collection together with another five other titles for the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and Steam. The bundle itself costs U.S. $ 19.99 or your regional equivalent.

The After-Review Party

Thank you for reading my article. If you like, please do feel free to leave a comment. There’s no need to register or login. Also, all screenshots shown here were taken by me during my playthrough. You can also follow my reviews on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/curator/8839524-Gaos-Corner/ Have a nice day.

Links to the other Disney Afternoon Reviews

Reference

  1. freezingicekirby, Talespin – NES – 100% (All Cargo collected), posted 2011, September 25, accessed 2017, March 6, retrieved from https://youtu.be/_uZKsfebFFk
  2. freezingicekirby, Ace London – NES Talespin game, 2011, August, 25, accessed 2017, March 8, retrieved from https://youtu.be/0UZnyMmi_RM
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