Platform-style games haven't been getting a whole lot of respect lately, and for good reason. Since they're the easiest kind of game to produce, and everybody and his brother thinks he can just whip out a good one overnight, the rather limited selection of platformers this last year has been staggeringly dull. A few million Mario Brothers fans can't be wrong, though. It's not really the genre that sucks - it's the individual games. And Disney Interactive's latest, Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow, proves that good platform games can and do exist. This is quite possibly the best low-tech title to come out this year. It doesn't have real-time 3-D environments or multiplayer network play or even mouse support. What it does have is about fifty hours of good ol' fashioned jump-and-punch action.
You are Maui Mallard, a hard-boiled, aloha-shirt-clad private dick...er...duck. You have been summoned to a tropical island to help the Muddrakes retrieve their stolen mojo idol, Shabuhm Shabuhm. On your journey, you must collect money to add to your score as well as bugs to put in your bug gun. Five different kinds of bugs are available, each with different attributes. (Lightning bugs go a long distance while homing bugs zero in on a target, and so on. Combine two different bugs and get combo results: long distance homing bugs, for instance.)
After making it through the first level and past the giant spider, you discover some mysterious coins imprinted with the yin/yang symbol. These enable you to magically transform into (dah-da-da-daaaaah!) Cold Shadow, legendary Ninja master. From there, things start to cook. As the Ninja, not only do you wield deadly nunchaku, but you are able to use them to climb up walls, and are also able to teleport (aka run very fast). Needless to say, this adds a lot to the game, but I still prefer shooting bugs at the bad guys. Between levels there is a unicycle-based bonus level and a handsome reward at the end for the lucky duck who completes the arduous task. With all these features, it's no wonder Disney's spent months and months working on this version and its 16-bit papa, Donald Duck in Maui Mallard.
Despite all that work there are still some rough edges. Although the game touts five different types of bugs, they are all revealed in the first level. That's no fun. For the big band soundtrack, which is remarkably good even by Disney standards, Disney Interactive chose to use Redbook CD audio. Unfortunately, this means that with most CD-ROM drives the action onscreen freezes for a bit every five minutes as the CD restarts the audio track - not a serious flaw, but pretty annoying. The graphics are basically a direct port from the 16-bit game, but are quite detailed nevertheless. (What else did you expect from Disney?) The full screen mode supported by the game, however, is prohibitively choppy, so most players will be forced to play in a 640x480 window. That, combined with the relatively poor keyboard control, makes for a somewhat aggravating time in parts. However, the sheer quality of the gameplay overshadows any minor frustration.
Cold Shadow's addictive action, combined with Disney's impeccable attention to detail, makes it one of the best entertainment values for Windows users. Yet another winner from the magical mouse.