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The RetroBeat: Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is my NES guilty pleasure

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I love video games based on real theme parks. Heck, I even have a soft spot for that awful Universal Studios title for GameCube. Look, I just like theme parks, and any experience that makes me feel like I’m in one makes me happy.

As a kid, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom was the first game of this kind I ever played. It came out for the NES back in 1990, when I was just 4 years old. Even then, two of my favorite hobbies were already ingrained into my being: video games and Disney.

Capcom made Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. If you are an NES fan, you know that Capcom made a bunch of amazing Disney-based 8-bit games for the console, like DuckTales and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Adventures in the Magic Kingdom isn’t as good as those classics. But I still adore it.

Keys to the kingdom

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom has a plot, if you can believe it. You have to help Mickey Mouse find six keys so that he can start the park’s parade on time. You collect those keys by walking around the Magic Kingdom and partaking in various ride-based minigames.

A lot of the fun comes from just walking around an official 8-bit version of the iconic park. Sure, it’s small and lacks detail. You aren’t going to find every ride from the actual Magic Kingdom represented here. Also, despite the name of the game and Orlando’s Cinderella’s Castle prominent placement on the box, the layout more closely resembles California’s Disneyland. But I still enjoy taking a stroll through this pixelized interpretation of one my favorite places in the world.

Many of the park’s most popular rides host a minigame. For Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, you get 2D sidescroller sections. For Autotopia, you’re in a car race. Space Mountain is a sort of quick time event sequence, making you hit button prompts as you zoom through the galaxy. You even have to walk around the park and answer trivia questions to unlock one of Mickey’s keys.

None of these minigames are amazing. Even the best of them, those 2D Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, can’t match the quality of the best NES sidescrollers like Capcom’s own Mega Man. But something about the variety of it all does replicate that theme park experience. Each ride-based minigame is different.

Also, the game’s structure means that I get to see every level even if I can’t actually beat any of them, which was definitely the case back when I was a kid.

More theme park video games, please

Disney would actually release something of a spiritual successor to Adventures in the Magic Kingdom with Kinect: Disneyland Adventures for the Xbox 360 in 2011. Really, it’s the same idea. You walk around a virtual Disney park where rides host different minigames. And while the original version required Microsoft’s motion-tracking camera, the game is now available on Xbox One and PC with controller and keyboard support.

I hope that this is a formula Disney will return to again, maybe for a different park. I’d love to have a virtual Epcot to explore. Heck, now I’m sad that we never got an Adventures in the Magic Kingdom sequel back on the NES that used Epcot for its template.

While Disney is king in most entertainment fields, consistent success in gaming has eluded the Mouse House. Maybe it would do better if it tried harder to capture more of that theme park magic in video game form.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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