Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Maze-Like Madness!
As many of you (hopefully) know, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Disney films post 90s. Beautiful art direction, stunning voice work, a thoroughly more mature and cerebral experience than other animated films of the era… Who am I kidding, in this day and age, Atlantis has received far more acclaim and appreciation, mostly from people of my generation. The film pops into my head every few months, mostly when I’m thinking of one of my favorite comic creators, Mike Mignola, who was one of the art directors on the film. Anyhoo, whilst I was brainstorming what games to play next for The Game Boy Abyss, I had one of these little reminders of Atlanis, and how goddamn cool that film is, and so of course, thanks to this stupid GBA headspace I’m now permnantly trapped in, I quickly looked up if there was an Atlantis GBA game… and, well, this isn’t a love post for the movie, so what do you think the answer to that was, then?
I’ll be honest; after how many not-so-winner licensed games I’ve played recently on the Game Boy Advance, I did not have high hopes for Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I played the Playstation 1 version of the game two decades ago, and whilst I have fond enough memories of it, I think the general consensus was that it was pretty subpar. And at first, I thought the GBA edition would follow suit with that consensus. I mean, it’s a side scrolling, platforming based romp like oh-so-many of these kinds of games, so already my hopes were on the floor. And whilst I could never see this game winning any awards, or really staying in any kind of gaming-based zeitgeist, Atlantis: The Lost Empire for the GBA manages to justify its own existence, with a genuinely strange but lovely visual and audio aesthetic, solid - if occasionally flawed - adventuring, whilst it’s delivery of story, and handing of difficulty are a different matter entirely.
Starting on one of those last points, one of my favorite things about tie-in games, -especially- for ones based on animated movies, is the varying ways they present their stories. You’ve got the tried-and-true subtitles on top of 240p screenshots of the film, in-engine text boxes, or rarely enough, super pixelated clips from the film itself. Somehow, Atlantis manages to drop beneath even those generous bars. Between each level, you’ll be treated to one, maaaaybe two static screenshots, usually a headshot of Milo, speaking extremely briefly about what’s going on. There is almost no context provided between levels, and if you’ve never watched Atlantis: The Lost Empire before, you are 100% going to have no idea what the hell is going on. Which, to be fair, isn’t really a problem. In fact, it got more laughs out of me than if they told the story of the movie straight. Having a sudden villain pop up, or for some reason having Milo scale a quartet of gigantic statues without any explanation is great.
In regards to the actual game itself, most of Atlantis: The Lost Empire’s gameplay takes place in ten maze-like, platforming-based levels. For the most part, Milo will be tasked in navigating these vast mazes just to reach an item at the end, but there’s actually quite a bit of diversity in regards to objectives. One level will have you rescuing crew members trapped in their quarters, whilst the final level has you exploring a relatively open-air environment, finding keys to place into a statue. It’s not anything dramatically different from level-to-level, but it’s nice to play a platformer where the -only- goal isn’t just to reach the end of the level.
And, as a platformer, I’m actually pretty surprised with how solid it is. Milo, whilst being a little slippery to control, has a lot of momentum behind himself, and thus deftly leaping from platform to platform, dodging foes (he’s a really weak little nerdlinger, ain’t he? No killing, for the most part, here.) and trying to avoid being roasted by the GODDAMN INSANELY PLACED LAVA that absolutely didn’t kill me at the end of level 8 over and over again. No, imagine that happening. Ha ha ha. But yeah, in the more explore-y stages of the game, you’ll get into a real sense of rhythm as you dive and leap across each level, though occasionally the maze-like nature of the game will loop itself around, and you’ll wonder how the hell you progress until you find the exit by luck. There’s even a thrown-together boss fight, that’s less a traditional encounter and more Milo attempting to flee the main villain of the film, whilst also attempting to free Kida at the same time. It’s a really tense encounter, and whilst I’m sure it doesn’t fit what it’s adapting, would’ve been a really cool way to give the game a little more variety across its scant playtime.
This game isn’t amazing, that’s for sure, but when it comes to traditionally crappy licensed games, I’d compare Atlantis to a nice helping of junk food; it’s not gonna fill you up, and you’re not gonna think on it much afterwards, but there is nothing wrong with indulging in a quick bit of junk food from time to time. I’m… not sure if that metaphor came out the way I wanted it to, but as it is, Atlantis is fine, mostly on the gameplay front. On the other hand, though, it’s in its more technical elements that this game really shines.
I was kinda surprised by how the game looks; I expected, especially after how bare bones the ‘cutscenes’ are, for this game to look kinda shite. And whilst it’s certainly not going to win any awards… this game genuinely looks way better than it has any right to be. The actual spritework of Milo and the various other characters you’ll occasionally run into is a little messy and undefined, but the animation work is genuinely really impressive, especially considering this is a handheld game from over twenty years ago. If I had to describe the animation style… Well, this is a bit of a call-back, but look up the original, 2D Prince of Persia game; honestly, a -lot- of elements in this game feel like a scaled down version of that original classic that I, admittedly, have never played. The backgrounds and platforms and whatnot aren’t quite as impressive as the character art, but it’d be more quickly to describe them as ‘generic’, rather than outright bad.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is superb. Much like with my comparison with the visuals to the original Prince of Persia, all I could think of when I was playing through Atlantis: The Lost Empire was that its entire soundtrack would be 100% be at home in any traditional Metroid game. Deep, moody beats that raise the tension incrementally from moment to moment, heightening already tense sequences that may drop you into GODDAMN LAVA AT ANY MOMENT AT NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN. I’m calm. It’s been so long since I’ve actually watched The Lost Empire that I’m not even sure if the tracks in the game are recreations or original, but either way, they’d totally fit on some sort of GBA-styled lo-fi YouTube playlist.
The elephant in the room is the fact that this game suffered the curse that was present in oh-so-many licensed games. This game is hard. Not as punishingly hard as, say, a classic NES game, but there is not much margin for error in Atlantis. Thankfully, it doesn’t come at you with the ‘BS’ style of difficulty - for the most part - but rather just having a genuine high sense of expectation from you. Time limits to rescue your friends, quick reactions to falling obstacles, little mini-puzzles that can turn you around quickly… there’s a whole host of things to really bar your path, and it’s mostly served to pad out the game’s rather short playtime. Yes, this is one of those kinds of licensed games - the ones thrown out as quickly as possible, but with only the bare necessity of a length. Atlantis can probably be completed in, say, two hours for the average player, and that’s probably with getting your head kicked in by all manner of obstacles. Thankfully, the levels aren’t too long that a Game Over will really set you back… EXCEPT FOR THE GODDAMN LAVA PITS AT THE END OF LEVEL EIGHT, MY G O D, THE AMOUNT OF TIMES I FAILED THE LAST FEW PLATFORMS RIGHT BEFORE THE END I-
In all honesty, it was the last level of the game that took me down; you’re thrown into a pseudo open-air environment where you’ll be slotting collectibles into statues that stretch across the level. Now, one of the biggest issues in this game for wider sections of platforming is how painfully zoomed in it is. Now, yes, you can slightly raise and lower the camera to look before you leap, but there are far, far too many situations in the last few levels of this game where you truly have to make a leap of faith. This, coupled with the fact that if you die, you’ll be starting the entire level over from the start… Well, I didn’t feel too bad about giving up on Atlantis. I’d played literally 95% of the game, I don’t think giving up right at the end makes me any less of a gamer.
Ugh. I hate the phrase gamer. It makes me feel… ick.
In a sea of mediocre-to-bad licensed titles, Atlantis: The Lost Empire shines not as a beacon of excellence, but as a wonderful snack that’s worth the hour or two it’ll take you to run through. It doesn’t quite live up the splendor of the original movie, or the other video game adaptations for that matter, but it still has enough of a sense of identity and style to stand out from the chaff. Beware though - this is a tough one.
Thank you so much for reading The Game Boy Abyss! I’m back after my tiny holiday, and hopefully we’ll be back onto some semblance of a schedule soon! Expect a few more reviews of shorter tie-in games, but we’ll be tackling some bigger games real soon! As always, you can find me on Twitter @Lemmy7003, or you can contact me on email@example.com if you have any questions or requests. Once more, thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.