In the 8- and 16-bit eras, Disney developed a bit of a reputation for rock hard video games. Not that Disney developed many video games itself – they tended to get farmed out to third parties, to Atari, to Kemco, to Sega, to Ubisoft, to Capcom – but it was the movie tie-ins, developed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Interactive, that held the well-earned reputation for being fiendish.
Among Virgin’s Disney video games, The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Jungle Book are legendary for their challenge. And not in the good, fair way in which something like Celeste is revered today. Sega’s Mickey Mouse games, like Castle and Land of Illusion, were also pretty tricky.
Capcom’s tie-ins, on the other hand, based on Disney Afternoon properties like DuckTales and TaleSpin, tended to be much friendlier. Case in point, the subject of today’s retrospective: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, released for the NES in 1990.
For one thing, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers was better played (and perhaps a little easier) with a friend. Two years before Tails made his co-op debut in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, to strains of “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”, Capcom’s NES platformer featured simultaneous, two-player co-op, with one player controlling Chip, the other, Dale.
This was a big step up from the level of co-op in, say, Super Mario Bros 3, where Mario and Luigi took it in turns having a crack at the level. And what’s more, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers borrowed heavily from side-scrolling arcade beat ‘em ups, with the titular heroes not just appearing on the same screen, but able to interact directly with each other. The ability to pick your buddy up allowed you to bring new approaches to solving puzzles, to send them clattering through a group of enemies, or to help out in tricky platforming sections. Or in my case, to annoy your sister by carrying her around then chucking her off a ledge. (Chip and Dale are siblings, they get it.)
It’s a trick so good that Nintendo eventually cribbed it themselves, two decades later, in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Released in 2009, its co-op mechanics were hailed as a revolutionary step in rebooting Mario’s 2D adventures; just don’t forget that Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers got there first.
In other respects, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers was less remarkable. The story, if you can call it that, was more basic even than the TV series. Distracted by a mission to rescue a lost kitten – it’s high stakes stuff, folks – Gadget is kidnapped by a Kingpin-like villain called Fat Cat. Who is a fat cat. (And in case you forgot, Gadget is the girl mouse from the Rescue Rangers team. Fridging was alive, well, and positively booming in the early 90s, even in children’s video games based on Saturday afternoon cartoons.)
Players could call upon the other members of the Rescue Rangers like power ups. Monterey Jack could smash through obstacles like a cheese-addicted Kool-Aid man, while Zipper the fly could grant temporary invulnerability for some reason. Otherwise, the game progressed as a fairly standard 2D platformer, chucking barrels, crates, and enormous pieces of fruit at your enemies.
And your chipmunk brother. Don’t forget you could also chuck your chipmunk brother. Because that one little distinction, that silly little ahead-of-its-time mechanic, that allowed friend to interact with friend, sibling to interact with sibling, parent to interact with child? That was the thing that made Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers so memorable.