Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers
Historically, license video games have been an excuse to rapidly churn out a shoddy product after cutting development corners in order to push a title onto the market that only profits because of its name, without nary a care given to the player experience. In 1990, legendary developer Capcom provided the gaming world with a wonderful exception to the trend when they produced Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System home console system.
Controlling the player’s choice of either Chip or Dale chipmunk characters, the only pragmatic difference being their appearance, this is a classic two-dimensional platforming game that is tightly honed to near perfection. In addition to the usual left and right to run left and right, the down button crouches. The A button jumps (as it should), with variable height according to pressing length. The B button grabs objects, which can then usually be thrown in straight lines left, right, or directly upward. These grabbable items are key to the entire gameplay experience, and come in different forms; like the basic wooden box that can be hidden in with a crouch and result in defeating an enemy that bumps into it; the metal boxes, that are thrown in a curved trajectory and are reusable, able to stack up to reach otherwise inaccessible areas; and large objects, which cause the protagonist to move a little slower and jump slightly.
There is a loose storyline involved the literally named villain Fat Cat and his nefarious efforts at small-world domination, and eventual kidnapping of the chipmunks’ friend. As the player defeats levels, he or she can actually choose a course through different stages, with multiple paths available, similar to Bionic Commando. In addition to the Mega Man games, it seems that allowing the player to choose their own path was a Capcom design staple.
With brilliantly modeled environments, featuring some precision-jumping puzzles with pattern-based enemies and basic problem-solving, Rescue Rangers also has item-finding in the best fashion: Rather than absolutely require the player to search for certain hidden objects in order to advance, which is annoying, this game offers bonus stuff that provides benefits, which is great. There are flower tokens, collecting 50 of which grants a one-up; stars, collecting 10 of which grants a one-up; acorns, which restore a heart to the basic three-heart health bar; and even a friend, Zipper, who for a limited amount of time, zips around the screen destroying enemies while granting the player invincibility, a much-appreciated assistance when battling the animal and robot foes led by Fat Cat, including the appropriate boss characters.
Given an understanding of the context of the time period, this is a perfect example of a 1990 NES video game, since 1990 is roughly right in the middle of the American support run career of the Nintendo Entertainment System (which, itself, was roughly 1986-1993). Rescue Rangers lacks the flaw of early cartridges, like washed-out characters and screen elements without border lines, but retains some of the foibles of the system like flickering and slowdown problems if there are too many sprites on the screen (try the treetop level, in the portion where there are three relatively large flying squirrels on the same screen as your chipmunk, an inchworm or two, and the box you’re throwing).
Overall, though, this is a game that provides a distinctive experience with its own Disney style. The animation is pretty slick, and the action comes at the player fast. Many have fond sentimental feelings for this game, and its visuals are certainly a part of that nostalgia.
The background tracks are good, featuring the usual impressive array of Capcom composing, if not a tad repetitive and too upbeat at times. That could, though, just be the opinion of the reviewer. Regardless, it is certainly fitting, and plainly shows that effort was put into it.
This sweet video game from Capcom definitely displayed some innovative gameplay characteristics that set it a step above and apart from the usual formulaic platformer. For example, the ability to crouch in a wooden box and use it as a protective barrier was ingenious, along with the fact that there were multiple types of holdable objects that each presented a different play function. Additionally, Chip and Dale have a relatively small on-screen presence, which is perfect considering the fact that they are chipmunks, and lends a whole new perspective element in light of the pursuit by big robot dogs, screen-gobbling bosses, and the enormous Fat Cat himself in the final confrontation.
For turning a Disney license into a very enjoyable video game, for a difficulty level that was neither too easy nor too difficult, for putting actual thought into its mechanics, and for genuinely just being a solid example of a two-dimensional platformer in a genre that could have continued to be stale, Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers rescues four stars out of five from the clutches of Fat Cat.
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.