Anyone who grew up a gamer knows that there are few evils in the industry more persistent and more detrimental than the entity known as licensed games. For years, games adapted from popular properties were known for their tendency to be unplayable experiences engineered by the cheapest developers available at speeds not typically indicative of well-made digital adventures. At some point, nearly every gamer has had their heart broken by a licensed game that not only failed to meet their expectations, but quite possibly ranks among the very worst games ever made.
Disney games have traditionally been different. Granted, there have been bad games based on Disney properties. Quite a few of them, actually. Yet, Disney has long focused on working with top-tier developers in order to ensure that every piece of content associated with their biggest films retains the artistic merit that makes Disney movies as special as they are. While this culture of quality had led to generations worth of worthy Disney games, it does create a bit of a conundrum when one tries to answer the question, “Which one is the greatest of them all?” There are many right answers to that question, but there are a handful of games which have to be in the conversation.
These are the 20 Best Disney Video Games Of All-Time, Ranked.
20 Disney's Hercules (PlayStation)
Disney’s Hercules is a strange game. It follows the events of the film fairly closely and does so in a manner that feels consistent with the spirit of the movie, but it's uneven in terms of overall quality. Honestly, much of the game is a somewhat mundane side-scrolling action game that suffers from a general lack of creativity. You collect coins, destroy some monsters, and do other fairly standard genre things.
What makes Hercules stand out all these years later is the quality of its animation. While Hercules’ graphics sometimes pushes the PlayStation to its limits and the console responds with some lag, there really is no other game on the system that looks like this one does. It replicates the Disney animation style pretty well and really stands out during the Crash Bandicoot-esque run sections that exhibit the game’s 3D potential. Those unique visuals help Hercules overcome some of its dullest moments and bookend the pantheon of all-time great Disney games.
19 Toy Story (Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis)
Toy Story seems like the perfect concept for a game to film adaptation. Who wouldn’t want the chance to take their favorite toys on an adventure? Toy Story for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis offers that experience, but -- unlike Hercules -- the developer’s efforts are hindered somewhat by the game’s visuals. Developer Traveller’s Tales should be commended for the way that they tried to replicate Toy Story’s CG visuals with the limited power of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, but their efforts certainly haven’t aged well in terms of the overall visual quality.
However, Toy Story’s gameplay is the exact kind of side-scrolling action that just never seems to age. Toy Story follows the events of the film while ensuring that all of the key moments in the movies are translated into a digital realm, and developer Traveller’s Tales really implements some rather creative gameplay segments (such as a first-person shooter level) in order to avoid any possible instances of gameplay monotony.
18 The Black Cauldron (PC)
Here’s a somewhat obscure game based on a Disney film that doesn’t regularly rank among people's picks for the studio’s best. The Black Cauldron was released in 1986 by Sierra Entertainment, at a time when Sierra was known as arguably the finest point and click adventure developer in the world. As such, it should come as no surprise to hear that Black Cauldron is yet another point and click adventure game from the fabled studio. What may surprise you is that Black Cauldron is actually one of the developer’s finest titles.
In fact, Black Cauldron is essentially the lost game in the King’s Quest franchise. Just as in that series, Black Cauldron offers you the chance to navigate a large fantasy kingdom, solve some puzzles, and battle evil forces. Unlike the King’s Quest games, Black Cauldron draws heavily from Disney’s trademark animation style. The result is a compelling adventure that occasionally features fairly impressive -- for the time -- pieces of visual design.
17 The Little Mermaid (NES)
The Little Mermaid tends to be the overlooked Disney NES game developed by Capcom. To be entirely fair, part of the reason why that’s the case probably has something to do with the fact that some of the other Disney games developed by Capcom are among the greatest NES side-scrolling titles there are. However, it’s entirely possible that some people overlooked The Little Mermaid because it exhibited qualities that suggested it was aimed at a young, female demographic.
Whatever the reason, The Little Mermaid benefited from its somewhat late 1991 release date, which allowed Capcom to really nail down their formula for these types of games and take advantage of the console’s full capabilities. The result is a game that often feels like the developer’s most ambitious Disney adaptation. The Little Mermaid is loaded with clever puzzle sequences, fantastic uses of underwater environments, and tremendous -- if somewhat repetitive -- boss fights. It’s a hidden gem in the NES library.
16 Disney Infinity (Various)
Disney Infinity was the flagship project in Disney’s ambitious plan to take a more hands-on approach to game development. Infinity’s gimmick revolved around the sale of physical figures based on some popular Disney characters, which could then be used within the Infinity software to unlock new characters and features. History will tell you that the project was a massive failure that cost Disney millions of dollars and eventually had to be abandoned. While that’s not an entirely inaccurate take on the game’s legacy, the truth is that Infinity was actually a pretty great game.
Sure, it was incredibly expensive for anyone who wanted the full Infinity experience to actually get to play every character and level, but Infinity was basically a Disney take on Minecraft that let you freely explore some of your favorite fictional worlds. Had Disney lowered their prices at the start and allowed the game to find its audience, Infinity might still be receiving regular updates to this day.
15 World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (Sega Genesis)
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck -- which will be shortened to World of Illusion from now on for sanity’s sake -- is the third entrant in Sega’s Illusion franchise. As the game’s full title suggests, it allows you to play as both Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as they make their way through various Disney environments in order to defeat an evil magician. It sounds like such a simple premise, but World of Illusion remains one of the cleverest uses of the two character concept you’ll find in any game.
See, Mickey and Donald each have very different skill sets, which allow for each character having to take very different routes through the game. While some levels can be played as both characters, this approach essentially leads to two different games, based on the character you choose. Of course, the best way to play the game is still to find a friend and enjoy its incredible co-op mode.
14 Goof Troop (SNES)
Goof Troop was one of the first Disney games Capcom developed for the SNES, which is somewhat surprising when you consider what a radical departure it is from their established NES formula. Goof Troop is not a side-scrolling action game, but rather a puzzle adventure. Each sees Goofy and Max thrust into a puzzle room that can only be solved when the player utilizes each character's skills in order to complete a series of challenges.
While Goof Troop never quite reaches the clever cooperative heights of a game like The Lost Vikings, it is undoubtedly one of Capcom’s most intriguing uses of a Disney property. The game’s biggest problem is that it’s fairly easy, which isn’t an issue that really detracts from the thrill of discovery that comes when you identify each room’s solution. Much like World of Illusion, you have to play this with a friend to get the full effect.
13 Castle of Illusion (Sega Genesis)
You would think that the first game in Sega’s Illusion series might suffer when compared to later franchise entrants. After all, don’t good video game franchises tend to improve and evolve as time goes on? While Castle of Illusion doesn’t feature World of Illusion’s incredible co-op system, it more than makes up for it in style.
Castle of Illusion is one of Sega’s best attempts at recreating the thrill of a Mario game. Each of the game’s levels offers a classic Disney environment, even if all of them are not strictly based on established Disney properties. You know that feeling of childish whimsy that you get when you watch a classic Disney movie? That’s the same feeling that Castle of Illusion inspires. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game is based on a very solid 2D platformer formula that really hasn’t gone out of fashion since Castle was released in 1990.
12 Gargoyles (Sega Genesis)
Who doesn’t love Gargoyles? Released in 1994, the Gargoyles animated series seemed to be Disney’s response to the success of Batman: The Animated Series. It was a slightly darker, far more mature take on children’s entertainment that still never pushed its subject matter far enough to alienate its primary demographic. It didn’t treat kids like they were complete idiots, and the little ones responded to that respect by religiously watching the series.
Gargoyles for the Sega Genesis takes a similar approach to the show in that the game relies on some darker design elements -- the opening level sees you assault a besieged gothic castle -- but is still accessible enough to ensure that younger gamers won’t feel left out. The game makes tremendous use of the show’s visual style and adds some fantastic platforming action to the gothic world. It’s just a hair removed from the incredible Lion King and Aladdin games of the same era, but it's still a great title in its own right.
11 Darkwing Duck (NES)
Let’s get dangerous, shall we? Darkwing Duck was developed by Disney during that time in the studio’s history when they were obsessed with properties based on ducks for reasons that have little to do with logic. It was basically a Batman parody featuring a lot of ducks. The show was amusing enough for the time, but the Darkwing Duck game has actually aged surprisingly well.
Chalk that up to the fact that it takes cues from the Batman NES games as well as shooters like Mega Man. Thanks largely to Darkwing’s expanded arsenal of gadgets, Darkwing Duck is one of the most action-heavy games in the Capcom/Disney NES collection. The game never quite reaches the heights enjoyed by the best Mega Man games despite the fact that Darkwing Duck is essentially a Mega Man game in many respects, but again, it’s an example of how that trademark Disney style can help elevate a game through the sheer force of charm.
10 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue: Rangers (NES)
Good luck reading the title to this game without immediately humming the show’s theme song. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers achieved Saturday morning stardom during the fable animated television era known as the ‘80s. The show followed the adventures of two chipmunks who defied the laws of reason and started a detective agency. The game of the same name -- once again developed by Capcom -- holds to that same basic premise. Would you like to know a secret? The major difference between the two is that you’ll actually enjoy the game even to this day.
Like many of Capcom’s other Disney games, Chip ‘n Dale is based on existing experiences. In this case, Capcom elected to essentially turn Bionic Commando into a cartoon adventure. Just as in that game, players will be able to take advantage of a non-linear progression path that helps add a respectable amount of replay value to the experience. Chip ‘n Dale for the NES is also a surprisingly challenging game that will test your old-school platforming skills.
9 QuackShot (Sega Genesis)
Maybe it’s not entirely fair to boil QuackShot down to "Donald Duck with a gun in an Indiana Jones adventure," but that simple premise does serve as the source of most of the game’s action. QuackShot sees Donald Duck participate in a globe-trotting treasure hunt with a little help from his nephews, who have much more spin-off experience with such things. As you might imagine, Donald Duck encounters some hurdles along the way and must use his trusty gun to best them.
No, this isn’t a Disney game sponsored by the NRA. Actually, Donald Duck’s gun is used to shoot pretty much everything but bullets. The addition of this weapon and the various special ammunition Donald can load into it lends the action in QuackShot a pleasant degree of strategy that few similar games of the era possess. QuackShot is also notable for being one of the best looking games for the Genesis/Mega Drive, and it retains many of its visual charms to this day.
8 Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse (SNES/Sega Genesis)
The Super Nintendo may have missed out on some great Disney games over the years, but those who owned Nintendo’s famous console did get to experience arguably the finest Mickey Mouse game ever made. Developed by Traveller’s Tales, Mickey Mania is notable for being one of the rare games that utilizes Mickey Mouse’s animated adventures as source material. What that means is that most of the visual elements are lifted directly from old Mickey Mouse cartoons rather than a more modern Disney property.
The decision to directly base the game on Mickey’s adventures lends the game a truly unique visual style that still has the power to impress to this day. Levels like the black and white Steamboat Mickey stage are clear highlights, but even subdued areas like the haunted castle are notable for the otherworldly quality of their animations. It’s hard not to be impressed with how well-designed this game is and how much fun it is to play.
7 Aladdin (SNES)
While the other games on this list are great, this is certainly where we start getting to the cream of the crop. As you may know, there were actually two different versions of Aladdin developed; one for the Super Nintendo and one for the Sega Genesis (more on the latter in a bit). For now, we focus on the Super Nintendo version of the game. Developed once again by Capcom -- who really have a monopoly on this list -- Aladdin for the SNES remains one of the most beloved adapted games of all-time because of the way that it stays so faithful to its source material.
Pretty much every level in this game is taken from a moment in the movie, and most of the levels look like they were ripped straight from the film. Capcom did an amazing job with translating the key moments of the movie into memorable action sequences made all that much better by the game’s silky smooth controls and clever mechanics.
6 The Lion King (SNES/Sega Genesis)
While Aladdin deserves credit for staying so faithful to its source material, you have to praise The Lion King for deviating from that source material where appropriate. The Lion King movie is many things -- including one of the greatest animated films ever made -- but it’s not necessarily an action heavy movie. The Lion King game utilizes the film's action sequences (like the stampede) to great effect, but developer Westwood Studios also found ways to bridge the gap between those sequences with levels that feel faithful to the movie, even if they weren’t necessarily featured in the film.
Honestly, though, much of Lion King’s greatness stems from its beautiful levels, shockingly good rendition of the original film soundtrack, and genuinely challenging difficulty level. Lion King is no Dark Souls, but you may be surprised how tough this game really is especially when compared to other Disney games of the era. Tough or not, The Lion King still feels like a truly special game.
5 DuckTales (NES)
Look, we all love the DuckTales cartoon. Well, maybe not that guy -- you know who we mean -- but most people love the DuckTales cartoon. Who can’t get behind a family of ducks who hunt treasure and seek adventure? As great as the cartoon is, though, the truth of the matter is that DuckTales' real contribution to the world isn’t the original cartoon show, but rather the NES game of the same name.
What makes DuckTales truly great is that its one of the few Disney NES games that doesn’t feel like it's strictly cribbing another title. It pays heed to other 2D side-scrollers, but the game establishes certain mechanics -- most notably the weaponized cane bounces -- that other games would go on to steal for decades to come. However, the true trump card in DuckTales arsenal is its soundtrack. This is one of the best soundtracks of the NES era, with the game’s infamous Moon Theme ranking among the best video game songs ever.
4 Epic Mickey (Wii)
If feels weird to go from a game so easy to praise for its innovations to a game that just borrows much of what makes it great from another title, but sometimes, the final product is so great that the methods used to get there are really irrelevant. People weren’t expecting much from Epic Mickey when it was released for the Wii in 2010, which is why it was so easy for one of the greatest Disney games ever made to steal the hearts of gamers everywhere.
Epic Mickey borrows so heavily from Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy that Mickey really should buy Mario dinner from time to time just to help pay the debt. Of course, Mario games never had a plot anywhere near as great as the one featured in Epic Mickey. Yes, this tale of evil unleashed onto a helpless Disney world is truly gripping, and it will provide ample motivation for you to see the end of the adventure. The imaginative magic paintbrush-based gameplay alone provides more than enough reasons to hunt this gem down and experience it for yourself.
3 Aladdin (Sega Genesis)
Remember earlier when we mentioned that other Aladdin game? Well, it turns out that it’s even better than the Super Nintendo version. Yes, Genesis owners everywhere can always hang their hat on the fact that they got what many people consider to be the superior Aladdin experience. While both games follow a relatively similar plot path, the Genesis version features two distinct differences; the addition of a sword to the game’s combat, and the quality of the game’s animation.
Those may sound like trivial distinctions, but they are not. The sword combat in the Genesis version of the game is miles ahead of the “bop them on the head” approach the SNES game employs. As for the animation, it is so good that some have gone so far as to cite it as a milestone in the art of video game graphics design. This is an incredible game that's merit will be obvious to both Disney superfans and gamers in general.
2 Tron 2.0 (PC/Xbox)
If you take nothing else from this list, make sure that it is our plea to give Tron 2.0 a chance. Developed by Monolith Productions (F.E.A.R., Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor), Tron 2.0 takes place some years after the film’s plot. Actually, to be honest, one of the game’s biggest strengths/weaknesses is that it draws from the mythology of the movie pretty heavily. If you are not very familiar with the Tron universe, you might feel a little lost during the story’s subtle moments.
The gameplay, however, can be universally appreciated. The basic first-person shooter combat in this game is good, but it’s not really the star of the show. That honor goes to the game’s RPG elements, incredible light bike sequences, and visual design that somehow takes the oddly plain look of the movie and explores the look for everything that it’s worth. This is an incredibly smart game that has unfairly been tossed aside by history.
1 Kingdom Hearts Franchise (Various)
This selection is actually harder than you think it might be. On the surface, Kingdom Hearts should automatically be the definitive Disney gaming experience. Who can’t get behind an epic RPG starring the major players and worlds from the Disney films mixed with some of the Final Fantasy series’ biggest stars? Truth be told, the Kingdom Hearts franchise is deeply flawed. Its combat is sometimes half-baked, its story is downright confounding, and the overall pacing of the individual games can be uneven.
None of that really matters though as you find yourself bouncing between incredible digital renditions of Disney’s greatest creations while partaking in the kind of grand RPG experience that only Square Enix can deliver. Kingdom Hearts isn’t perfect, which is really something you should never hold against a game for too long. What it is, though, is a dream video game concept that works in ways that no other Disney game can come close to equaling.
Did your favorite Disney game make the cut? Let us know in the comments!
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