Remembering Robin Williams in Video Game form
On Monday, we lost a comedic legend. Robin Williams died and left behind an amazing legacy in film. I grew up admiring his comedic talents, getting my first taste of his manic style of comedy in Disney’s Aladdin, where he voiced the role of The Genie (explaining why my mother was so excited to see this film). I’d go on to enjoy more of his work, particularly Good Morning Vietnam and his stand-up comedy specials. And while it isn’t the greatest, Robin Williams left behind a video game legacy as well. His children, Zelda and Cody, are named after well-known video game characters (Zelda from The Legend of Zelda series, and Cody from the Final Fight series), and his likeness appears in a handful of games as well. Let’s take a look at some of those.
Popeye (1982 Arcade Game)
OK, so this isn’t Robin Williams per say, but he did appear in the 1980 film released just two years before this game. In this title, you clear stages by collecting things like musical notes, falling hearts and letters, while avoiding Brutus. The animation quality on this game is fantastic, and is one of the best looking titles of the early 1980s. The character sprites still hold up really well, and look like they’re straight out of the cartoon (which means Popeye looks nothing like Robin Williams). There are fantastic little animation touches, such as Brutus reaching down and swiping his hand back and forth to hit you.
The game isn’t perfect, but it’s easy to forgive this early platformer for those shortcomings. For instance, Popeye can’t jump, which is kind of a nuisance but not a game-breaker. My biggest gripe: when you eat the Spinach (this game’s version of Pac-Man’s power pellet, as you can only attack Brutus after eating spinach), Popeye poses for a 2-3 seconds. You can’t interrupt this pose, which gives Brutus time to run away from you. This game does Popeye justice. It was released on multiple platforms. I’m pretty sure my babysitter had it for the Colecovision and told me it wasn’t fun. Lies.
Hook (1992, multiple platforms)
Ever have that moment where nostalgia and facts collide head-on? Hook does it for me. Our own Joe Walker has a fantastic video review of the Sega CD version which you can find here. The game is not great by any stretch, but it was the first SNES game I played outside of Super Mario World.
Peter Pan doesn’t even look like Robin Williams in this one. I’m not sure if it was an image rights issue, or just incompetent art direction, but Peter looks like a stereotypical misunderstood angsty anime hero. While not perfect, the game is still playable, with solid controls and great looking graphics for it’s time.
Toys (1993 SNES, Genesis)
OK, so the character sprite looks a little more like Williams than he does in Hook, but much like the movie, the game is abyssmal. Williams doesn’t even appear on the game box. It’s like he was photoshopped out of it.
The gameplay itself isn’t anything fun, and doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Hook. It’s top-down, and you throw water baloons at bombs, with an annoying high-pitched sound accompanying each throw.
Aladdin (1993, multiple platforms)
Lately, I’ve heard some whispers in the gaming community that the SNES Aladdin is better than the Genesis version. Are you mad? The SNES version is no slouch, and is still a fantastic game, but the Genesis version is an iconic title, and might actually be the best platformer on the system, although I haven’t done enough testing to verify that claim. And I’m not alone in that belief. Shinji Mikami, the creator of the SNES version, said he’d prefer the Genesis version because of the animation quality and the fact that Aladdin had a sword (let’s gloss over the fact that the the Genesis programmer, Dave Perry, said the opposite). Williams, as you might recall, was the voice of the Genie in the movie. It would have been nice to be able to play as the Genie. That was my biggest gripe as a kid about these Disney games. While they’re fantastic, my favorite characters from the films were always the supporting characters (Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, Genie, Pumba and Timon from The Lion King), and you never got to play as them aside from a mini game or two. Still, the character’s presence is felt throughout the games, and even features voice samples of Williams (or a really good clone, not entirely sure). I ask though, would an Aladdin game starring the Genie really have been too much to ask for? In closing, while there aren’t that many games based on Robin Williams movies, two (yes I’m including Popeye) are fantastic titles that still hold up this day, while one (Hook) is still playable, and the other (Toys) won’t be missed. Unlike Williams. Rest In Peace.