Capcom and Disney were a powerful video game duo in the 90s but Disney had another partner in gaming with a knack for creating some pretty amazing-looking games during the 16-bit era as well and that was Virgin Interactive. Capcom certainly made a few games based on Disney films but Virgin Interactive specifically got noticed for efforts like Aladdin and The Lion King. These games featured incredibly impressive sprites and animation that still look pretty cool today and back in the 90s, really felt like you were playing the movies they were based on rather than some video game approximation that kinda sorta looked like it.
However, it could certainly be argued that the Virgin Interactive games went for style more than substance and it brought diminishing returns. People were understandably wowed by Aladdin, but I’d argue it’s a merely decent game buoyed by some really impressive animation. The Lion King was insanely hard, and The Jungle Book was just kind of shallow.
And so we come to a 16-bit adaptation of one of Disney’s most beloved animated films, Pinocchio. The adventures of a living puppet desperately yearning to be a real boy certainly make perfectly good fodder for a video game, but how Virgin Interactive chose to interpret it in video game form is uh… interesting to say the least.
The vast majority of Pinocchio is you playing as the living marionette through 2D side-scrolling levels. These levels are bright and colorful and look like they were very closely based on the film however the levels can be confusing as exactly where to go or what even to do. You have to find an exit but you aren’t given much direction as to where. Sometimes you’ll be exploring and just hit it and move on when you were trying to collect more stuff around the level which can be a little annoying.
Enemies are actually kind of few and far between but also what passes for an “attack” is Pinocchio just literally doing some sort of imprecise spin maneuver that in my experience wasn’t super responsive. It’s really best to just jump past most enemies. The game makes up for this a bit by having a decent health bar and being generous with handing out extra lives but that only alleviates the frustration just a little.
When Pinocchio does stray from the 2D platforming stages, it’s with mostly mixed results. There’s a stage where you play as Jiminy Cricket, but literally all you do is jump around a single big lamp and kill some moths. Why? There’s a stage where you memorize button sequences to match perfomances on a stage which is kind of fun and simple but also drags on a little bit. But the worse offender is stuff like the mine cart level where it’s basically impossible to even tell when you are supposed to something like duck or jump and you really just have to memorize the timing through trial and error.
Pinocchio was the last game Virgin Interactive made based on a Disney property and it kind of signaled the end of the trend of these kind of games (there was Hercules like a year later but that was pre. Not licensed games by any means of course, those continue to this day (though ones directly based on movies are pretty rare), but ones that really featured beatiful animation and really did bear a pretty good resemblance to the movie they were based on. But then again none of these games by Virgin Interactive were great, they merely looked great so it’s probably for the best this trend came and went rather quickly in the course of a few years.
Pinocchio isn’t terribly expensive to grab on eBay so if you do have fond memories of playing it in your youth and easily have the means through the various retro consoles out there it might be worth revisting for that nostalgia hit but otherwise it’s better off left as a forgotten relic of the 16-bit 2D platforming licensed game era.
That’s all for now but I do plan to squeeze in a couple more pieces by the end of the month so see ya real soon!