There was a mouse dreamer named Mickey.
There’s a girl, but let’s make this a quicky.
With earthquakes that loomed,
A kingdom was doomed,
Yet the quest ain’t exactly that tricky.
Welcome to Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge, the puzzle platformer that can be completed without Mickey ever showing up at all. Yeah, kinda strange to name it that when you can play as Mickey OR Minnie. Other games have handled dual protagonists with names like “Disney’s Magical Quest 3 Starring Mickey & Donald,” but there was no such consideration here. The game’s apparent sexism continues multiple times, but we’ll get to them later. It was produced by Hi Tech Expressions, a company no longer around thanks to Thanos’ snap.
Movement, even during puzzles, is very fluid, and the sprite graphics are really crisp and detailed. Plus, the water in the background is actually animated, a really nice touch that helps make the atmosphere seem more alive. The mouths even move when they talk! Talk about going above and beyond for a Game Boy title. I also appreciate the clever foreshadowing caused by the protagonist actually looking upward whenever an earthquake interrupts gameplay. It was also surprising just how good some of the music tracks are. They were fairly elegant and really fit the medieval setting.
The controls felt just right, but they didn’t always perform in the same way. There was one platform where I would jump straight up to it over and over, and sometimes I’d land on it, sometimes not, and there was no difference in what I was doing with the button. Another weird aspect of the controls is the fact that you can duck. Why is this odd? Because you never once need to do so in the entire game. Furthermore, A is a high jump and B is a low one, but the entire game can be beaten using either one, so just like the ability to crouch, this inclusion was completely unnecessary.
The story is the same regardless of your avatar. Each mouse is reading a book about fairy tales, starts thinking about the world contained within, falls asleep, and dreams about being there. A clichéd transition without a doubt, but the twist ending wouldn’t have worked without it, so I guess it’s at least slightly above average. Upon arrival, you’re informed that this medieval land is doomed because of mysterious earthquakes. You’d expect the townspeople to be working on some solution, panicked, or trying to set their final affairs in order. However, they’re all quite chill about their apocalyptic future. Daisy Duck is actually more concerned that her paintings are dusty. Whatever these folks are on- please keep it away.
The dialogue options are quite plentiful. You have two choices at the start of the minigames which yield different responses, and some words also change depending on whether you picked Mickey or Minnie. The gameplay is nearly always unaffected though; regardless of how you answer, the minigames proceed in the exact same fashion. However, getting used to having no influence on events with your replies is all a buildup to a cruel trap which I’ll get to in a bit. On the flip side, my favorite thing about the speech here is that the weasel guard’s accent is left intact. Righto, gov’na.
You can choose your difficulty, but none are particularly challenging. The game tries to be hip by referring to easy mode as “cake,” but the medium and hard settings are untouched with creativity. They could have gone with something like “cake,” “bananas,” and “nuts,” but now I’m hungry. After the desired required effort for your experience has been chosen, you get a scene showing your character reading a fairy tale book then wondering about what life would be like there. He or she falls asleep, transitioning to the fantasy world, but not before you’re shown some satanic imagery. What devil worshippers won’t do to promote their brand…
You’re dropped off at a tower of a castle that serves as your central hub to reach the various levels. If you had fallen a little to the right, this adventure would have been over with pretty quickly.
Your movement is occasionally interrupted by the seismic activity as you explore the area known as- the Kingdom of Beanwick. This name is displayed with large capital B’s on tapestries that adorn the stone walls. What a brilliant way to save on paint! The state of Indiana should have just had a sign on the outskirts represented by an I.
As far as accessing the levels go, one is cut off until all the others are complete, and one can be unlocked after some progression; the drawbridge minigame with Huey, Dewey, and Louie opens a path to Goofy. However, there’s a secret route to him if you want to do his part early. Just head out to the docks and hold down left on the D-pad until a cutscene triggers which transports you over to who is now the kingdom’s blacksmith.
The game is comprised entirely of minigames hosted by familiar Disney characters, and most of them are just reskins of games you’ve likely played at some point in your life. You have Mastermind, Simon Says, Concentration (the same card game as Super Mario Bros. 3), a sliding puzzle, and two others I can’t generalize as easily. One is about pushing all the vials into a mirror, and if you get one stuck, you have to push B to reset. The other involves jumping back and forth on platforms to touch certain letters in order to spell a word.
The minigames fit into the setting via a small plot point you have to address. For example, the Simon Says game is used as an activation mechanism to start a flow of water to free Huey, Dewy, and Louie from a platform. However, you have to suspend your disbelief as to how the mechanics of some tasks actually accomplish your goal. I mean, who designed the pipe system to respond to a few rounds of Simon Says instead of a simple lever? It’s like rigging your toilet to only flush if you win a round of Monopoly. And they must love spicy food, as the buttons are all pepper shakers.
Not to mention, they’re a bit sexist too, suggesting that Minnie could find a use for the glass slipper just because she’s a female. What, boys couldn’t enjoy them and girls automatically would? You three get no ye olde marbles for two whole moons!
You have an inventory bar, and each completed puzzle awards you an object. Each item is then traded to a different NPC for a magic bean. The character that needs each item is handled very logically. For instance, Horace Horsecollar talks about having poor eyesight, so of course, he gets the spectacles. However, no thought or effort is needed for the swaps. If you just get the items then reenter the areas, the correct trade happens automatically after the conversation initiates.
Furthermore, the game breaks its own immersion with this trading system. Horace asked for your help because his eyesight was bad. So, if you go to his room after acquiring the spectacles for him, it no longer makes sense that you need to do the work for him anymore. Heck, even after you actually hand his glasses over, he still gives you the option of helping organize the books. If his bad vision was really the source of needing your help, this doesn’t make sense. Then there’s Goofy who gives you his blacksmithing tool. Um, how do you plan to carry out your duties without your hammer? It’s not like your life is about to en- ohhh…
Anyway, going back to Mr. Horsecollar’s area, it has the official what-the-heck imagery of the entire game. It’s not the nightmare-fuel level of the GBC Grinch game, but it will make your heart race when walking up basement stairs for a couple of weeks. His puzzle requires jumping on floating books in the correct order, and having tomes moving on their own is creepy enough. However, sometimes they tremble like there’s a lost soul inside trying to claw its way out.
Furthermore, in the center of his room is- a legless, female duck with sad, pupilless eyes rocking a D-cup. I mean, you could argue her eyes are just closed, but it’s more chilling to say otherwise, so I’m saying otherwise.
If you pause the game, the flying book you’re riding vanishes, making it look like you’re possessed.
And what lingers down below? Skulls. Lots of skulls. Gonna guess victims of the bisected duck lady above.
Lastly, all of this takes place amidst music that could fittingly accompany waking up in the middle of the night to chains that you struggle against which bind you to your bed as ghosts with glowing red eyes slowly rise before you and move closer with mouths that never stop opening wider containing uvulas that display images of you succumbing to your most feared way of dying, and every time you let out a scream, the sound of it comes from all the spirits’ mouths instead. Welcome, everyone, to Mickey’s Haunted Hellish Mansion.
After your inventory is filled with beans, the game does not give you any clue what you’re supposed to do next. Thankfully, the way to progress is pretty easy to stumble upon by accident. Once you approach the well, a cutscene triggers where you stupidly decide to throw all the magic beans you earned away without making any effort to figure out a use for them. I mean, Donald is a friggin’ magician. Your character could have simply asked him about them or something, but he or she just tosses them out mindlessly. Fortunately, they just happened to be hurled into the well which results in a giant beanstalk sprouting. Climb up it to confront the final “boss.”
Turns out that a giant was sleeping in the clouds, and his snoring was causing the quakes. You see a picture of an alarm clock that’s been scrambled and a magic wand that can shift the pieces around. If you enjoy sliding puzzles, you’ll have a good time. If you’re in the other 99.99% of the world’s population, you’ll- not- have a good time. It might have just been good fortune, but I managed to clear this on cake and medium rather quickly. On hard, however, I spent far more time on that part alone than the rest of the game combined. I recommend approaching the highest difficulty of this challenge with one of three things: knowledge of the mechanics of how to properly complete a sliding puzzle, a whole lot of luck, or aspirin.
One nifty thing that’s very easy to miss is that the programmers actually allow you to scale the various areas of the giant’s body. If you just walk over, the cutscene with the puzzle automatically triggers, so you have to jump over the wand to reach the climbing fun. Personally, out of grief for making me have to do a sliding puzzle of all things, I used my access to the giant’s face to make him kiss my tushie. Huh. I guess crouching actually was useful.
In the end, the giant rouses from his nap. Wait, waking someone up while you yourself are sleeping? Meta! Anyway, this is the only real part of the game where your dialogue choice actually changes what happens next. He asks if you woke him up, and if you say no, the puzzle actually partially undoes itself. The only time your choice ever gives you some kind of control over how you progress results in losing progress. Anyway, the kingdom is saved, and your character wakes up to reveal it was all a dream. …Or was it? Your character looks down into the book and sees the giant with the silhouette of a mouse. Coincidence, or did your character really travel to another dimension? The game uniquely leaves this open ended.
During the credits, you’ll get silhouettes of both characters, but regardless of who you play as, the final screen will always be of Mickey.
Yep. You can beat Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge without Mickey only for him to show up in the end anyway instead of Minnie. SEEEEEXIIIIIST! And speaking of the title, it really undermines all the other Mickey games, huh? As long as you beat this, any time anyone else ever completes a Mickey game, you can say, “Pfft, that’s nothin’. I beat Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge!” Should have been called “Mickey and Minnie’s Virtually-Nonexistent Challenge Until the Last Part but Only on the Hardest Difficulty.”
I think youngsters today who can appreciate a retro puzzle game will honestly have a very good time with this. Adults probably won’t find too much appeal with the extremely low challenge and lack of innovation or surprises, but I’d say it has enough charm to warrant a quick peak or return for all ages. It’s a pleasant, relaxing distraction that anyone can pick up and play through its very short runtime. I can’t say I recommend actually dropping money for this one, but if you see it lying around, I think I would at the very least- shake up some boredom.
Well, I gotta get going. I need to find my copy of Monopoly: The Walking Dead before my bathroom starts to stink. Thanks for reading, and God bless.
Graphics and Sound- 10/10
Difficulty Balance- 4.5/10
Very foxtastic indeed!
Next time on The Bad Wordplayer:
A dog embarks on an eggcellent, high-flying adventure just in time to aid the past in finding its future.