Look, I’m getting to be an old man these days so after getting my arse kicked repeatedly in VR Troopers and playing Dark Souls 2 again in my free time, I’ve decided I need a bit of a break. It’s time for something simple, something gentle, something that doesn’t throw my declining reaction times and mental acuity into sharp, grim relief. So, a kid’s game, then. Considering the last time I played an edutainment game starring Mickey Mouse it turned out to be surprisingly not-terrible, I’ve decided to return once again to the House of Mouse with Novotrade’s 1991 Amiga (also available on PC) rainy-afternoon-em-up Mickey’s Jigsaw Puzzles!
With a cheery blast of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” issuing from the speakers, Mickey himself appears to greet us. Jigsaw puzzles! With Mickey Mouse! What more do you need to know? I hope the background is not representative of the actual puzzles contained within the game. I was hoping for an easy ride, after all.
With no other preamble, it’s straight into the puzzle-building action. I suppose I’d better show you the first puzzle then, huh? Yeah, I should, but I’m building anticipation. Get a good, clear picture in your mind of Mickey Mouse’s face. You may need to refer to it later.
So you start the game and you’re immediately presented with this. My decision to play Mickey’s Jigsaw Puzzles has paid off in spades, because Mickey’s facial expression gave me the kind of genuine, chest-rattling, wipe-away-a-tear belly laugh that no piece of intentional comedy has in months. It’s just too, too perfect, and represents the closest I’ve ever come to replacing long-time VGJunk mascot Satan Goat in the site’s header. There’s much fun to be had trying to figure out exactly what could cause such an expression, but my two main candidates are that Mickey gambled on a fart and lost, or Donald Duck’s wearing that faux-innocent look because he’s just whacked Mickey square in his mouse-hole with a pipe wrench. Oh yeah, Donald and Goofy are here too, and they haven’t fared much better, art wise. Goofy’s hat now looks makes him look like he should be dealing ecstasy at Glastonbury circa 1998, and given Donald’s bulging eyes I suspect he’s been buying whatever Goofy’s selling. As for the ghost on the right, well, that thing’s just neat. I don’t know if this is the intent, but I can only see it as being swaddled like a baby. A spooky, floating baby.
Okay, fine, the actual jigsawing. You select which picture you want to puzzle out, then you can choose how many pieces the resulting jigsaw will have, from sixty-four all the way down to a mere four. It’s nice to have the option to make things easier for very young children, but as a grown man who has just about managed to stop laughing at Mickey Mouse’s face I’m sure I can handle a sixty-four piece jigsaw.
Nope, I placed Mickey’s eyes down on the puzzle and now I’m laughing again. This might take longer than I had anticipated.
As you can see, it works much as you’d expect it to. Place the piece in the appropriate segment, and if you click in the wrong place the screen will flash so you know to try again. The cursor feels a bit jerky, but other than that I suppose I can’t fault the mechanics.
Because the jigsaw takes up the whole screen, you do have to go to a separate screen to select your piece. That slows things down a little, but I suppose it’s the best compromise available. Could you imagine how much we’d be missing out on if Mickey’s face had been made smaller to accommodate the jigsaw pieces? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
The most interesting feature of MJP is that once you’ve completed a puzzle, you can press the camera button on the right to play a short animation of the displayed scene. For instance, here Mickey opens the chest and bat flies out, the ghost wobbles ominously and the Disney friends talk about how spooky it all is. And I do mean talk, because there are voice samples for the dialogue and it sounds pretty decent for the most part, although Donald’s rasping quacks were always going to be a challenge for a low bitrate sample and as a result he sounds even more like he’s gargling with broken glass than usual.
It’s a shame that this was the very first puzzle that the game shows you, because nothing else in this game is going to live up to it and we’ve already seen most of the gameplay – but I’ve played through it all now, so for the rest of the article we might as well look at all the other puzzles.
Mickey chills out on Mars while a robot servant brings him drinks – drinks that he’s too lazy to even lift his arms to hold, the robot just pops the straw right in his mouth. If I were a political cartoonist I’m sure I could turn this into a panel highlighting the Disney Corporation’s eventual desire to spread their tendrils beyond the Earth itself, but alas I lack the laser-sharp wit and clear thinking of most political cartoonists.
I know his name’s in the title and everything, but a lot of the puzzles seem to go out of their way to remind you that Mickey Mouse is the coolest dude ever and you cannot hope to ever approach even one percent of his incandescent magnitude. Mickey is the alpha and the omega, the standard against which all others are judged and found wanting. That’s why he gets to be the guitarist in the “MM Band” - and you can guess what “MM” stands for. His coolness is rather undercut by the fact he fashioned his guitar from the anchor of Barbie’s Dream Yacht, but he pulls it back with a rather snazzy shirt.
As expected, viewing the animation for this puzzle plays a brief snippet of the band. Mickey and Goofy want to rock, but Donald uses his curiously massive hands to throttle his saxophone into playing a completely unrelated jazz riff. Ever the rebel, is Donald.
Mickey’s also a sports star, naturally – here we seem him on the gridiron, showing some rare fallibility as he fumbles a pass before eventually recovering the ball and presumably scoring both a touchdown and all the mousey cheerleaders. The thing is, these scenes aren’t fully animated, so Mickey’s body stays in place while his limbs awkwardly rotate. Disney is a company that specialises in imagination, which is handy because you’ll need a lot of imagination to believe that Mickey’s actually playing American football.
Mickey’s also good at football, although scoring goals is much easier when there are no other players on the pitch. Unfortunately, no football team in the world (that I know of) wears a kit of pink shirt with a blue band, pink socks and yellow-and-green shorts – I imagine there’s some kind of rule against it to protect the opposition’s eyes – so I can’t pin Mickey down to a particular club.
Oh, and here’s where I realised there’s a different style of puzzle available to you, one where you get items rather than traditional jigsaw pieces and have to place them in the correct blanked-out areas. Obviously this does little to enliven the gameplay, but if you ever wanted to create an image where Mickey Mouse is kicking his own severed head around in from of a crowd of horrified onlookers, now’s your chance.
Mickey Mouse: Radical Skate Dude now, with a deck that’s so intensely of its time that people who are into the whole retro-80s-synthwave aesthetic could only dream of recreating a fraction of its power. Mickey’s also sporting a palm-tree-patterned shirt that I’m sure set him back about two hundred bucks at a fancy boutique.
Yet more sports with a bit of baseball, although once again the focus is on Mickey’s rampant narcissism. Notice how he wrote “I love Minnie” on the fence back there but then wrote his own name at three times the size? And a scrawled self-portrait, too. A show-off and a vandal, that’s Mickey, although thinking back to the places I used to hang out playing football when I was a kid there are a lot worse things he could have graffitied up there. It might still have involved Minnie, but not the word “love.”
Speaking of Minnie Mouse, she’s been notable by her absence so far, but all that will change now that I’m ready to insert disc two and access the second lot of puzzles. I have no shame in admitting that by this point I had resorted to setting all the puzzles to four pieces each, allowing me to complete each jigsaw in an average of eleven seconds. Hey, it means less time waiting around to see fantastic images such as…
...Minnie doing some exercises in a way that cannot be good for her spine. Mind you, she is a rodent and therefore much more skeletally flexible than any human. “Oh, I just love Gymnastics!” says Minnie in a voice so high-pitched that all my neighbours dogs started barking. Given that all she did was flap her hands around a bit, Minnie’s routine is as much gymnastics as me walking over to the kettle and ducking down to get the teabags out of the cupboard is a biathlon.
Minnie plays tennis. Not much else to this one, folks, beside that stray observation that given his proven track record of narcissism, Mickey clearly only loves Minnie because she looks exactly like him.
Back to the exercising – or “mousercising,” as Minnie calls it. The real star in this image is the radio on the shelf. At first you’re like, “how cute, a Mickey-shaped radio” but then you look more closely at those eyes – pink-rimmed, fleshy and wet with tears – and you start to wonder if that radio is entirely mechanical. It also looks more like a koala than a mouse.
Now we’re in Minnie’s boudoir, in a scene that immediately brought back surprisingly strong memories of the Dream Phone board game. By now Mickey’s constant presence should come as no surprise, but if you’re like me you’ll spend a good few minutes trying to figure out the perspective here that allows Minnie to look at the picture of Mickey even though it’s hanging on the wall behind her.
Don’t you bloody well threaten me, Mickey. I don’t care if you are dressed as a skinhead, I won’t be intimidated by a mouse even if said mouse does look like the kid from This is England.
Oh, and I see Goofy’s got his usual hat back. The big hat is just for spooky castles, I guess.
Yep, those are horses. I think. Okay, so I’m not so sure about the one on the right because it’s only got three legs and glowing demonic eyes. Protoplasmic elder beasts that have temporarily assumed a vaguely equine shape, at the very least. As they ride through the desert on a horse with no soul, look at Mickey and remember that in cowboy movies “black hat” is a term for a bad guy because they, well, wear black hats. I rest my case.
I hadn’t really noticed before, but while I’d say the graphics in MJP are mostly okay (although the Amiga could do a lot better) everything does look very rubbery, as though all the characters are encased in PVC. I mean, look at Minnie’s skirt, that’s definitely not fabric.
And finally, just as we’re getting into “Krusty Visits Relatives in Annapolis, Maryland” territory, we reach the final scene. Mickey goes for a swim. For some unknown reason I was expecting something a bit more… climactic. A group shot of all the characters, Mickey ascending to his eternal throne as the Earth’s new ruler, something like that. Instead we get tiny sharks and a weird-looking starfish. The starfish flops around listlessly, and so I feel a certain kinship with it as Mickey’s Jigsaw Puzzles limps over the finishing line.
Well, those were definitely some jigsaw puzzles. No doubt about that, and as such it’s difficult to judge the game as a whole. I suppose it partly comes down to price: if this was sold as a full-price retail game back in the day, a parent would probably feel a bit ripped off even if it did come with a real 24-piece jigsaw (or at least the PC version did). I reckon kids would enjoy it, though. It’s simple enough to be perfectly suitable for very young children, the selectable piece counts and alternate “shadow” mode give it a bit of extra longevity and the sounds and animation are pretty fun. Put it this way: if this game had featured He-Man or The Real Ghostbusters rather than Mickey Mouse, the six-year-old VGJunk would have been all over it. So, I suppose that’s a tentative thumbs up on MJP, although frankly the game could have caused my monitor to squirt skunk spray into my eyes at regular intervals and that Mickey face in the first puzzle would have made it all worthwhile.
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