Before today, I had never played The Jungle Book on NES. Like a lot of games in my NES collection, I picked it up at Goodwill for no other reason than it was an NES game that I didn’t own and it was very cheap. According to the pricetag on the protective sleeve, I only paid $2.99 for it. But that was $2.99 too much. This game is awful.As I’m sure you’d expect, you control the movie’s main character, Mowgli. Unfortunately, controlling him is an absolute nightmare. If you aren’t holding down the B button, Mowgli will walk extremely slow, while holding the B button will make him sprint. This is a very common control scheme, dating back at least as far as the original Super Mario Bros. But here, Mowgli’s slow walk is entirely useless and his sprint is so fast that you’ll have a hard doing just about anything while moving.
The platforming doesn’t fair much better. You jump with the A button, which is pretty typical. What isn’t though, is that you actually jump significantly higher when you’re standing in place. There’s a lot of platforms that seem just barely out of reach, and getting a running start before jumping, like you would do in basically any other platformer, doesn’t seem to help. But by coming to a complete stop and then jumping, for some reason you’ll be able to make the jump. This goes against everything you expect from the genre, and while I like the idea of doing something different, this doesn’t make a change that helps in any way.
One of the more irritating parts of the platforming is having to grab onto vines. Grabbing them will allow you to either swing or climb. Unfortunately, actually grabbing them can seem a bit random. Most of the vines I was able to get just fine, but there was one set in particular that you needed to use to get over a large gap in the first level, that for whatever reason, Mowgli would just refuse to grab. I eventually got it, but I’m not actually sure what I did that was any different.
The graphics are very muddy and hard to make out. I’m a little colorblind, so I might be judging this too harshly, but I often found that Mowgli would completely blend in with the background in the first level. Mowgli himself is surprisingly low on detail, with almost nothing that really stood out as a defining characteristic. If I didn’t know that I was playing a Jungle Book game, I never would have even guessed that this was Mowgli, dispite being the main character of a famous Disney movie.
On the plus side, the animations are surprisingly strong. The way Mowgli moves as he ascends a vine or swings from one to another is very impressive for the NES. Enemies also look very good, such as porcupines that curl up and roll at you or monkeys that throw stuff at you. Everything has a real nice animated look to it.
You have a few options in combating your enemies, which is nice. Most enemies can be beaten by jumping on their heads. You also have some weapons. You have an unlimited supply of bananas, which is a little confusing since the ammo counter says “99”, but it just never goes down. Hitting select will change your weapon to a consumable one. During my time playing, I found double bananas, boomerangs, and a mask that made you invincible.
So, you’ve suffered through the bad control and the muddy visuals, but finally find your way to the end of the stage, but it just kind of dead-ends. There’s no where else to go, so what do you do? It turns out that there are ten diamonds hidden in each level, and you must find all of them to move on to the next one. At the end of level one, I could not find anyway to backtrack and look for any diamonds I missed, resulting in me killing myself until I got a game over. My next attempt, I managed to find all of them and move on the second level. Unfortunately, I could only find nine of the diamonds on level two, and eventually ran out of time. That’s where I stopped playing.
The Jungle Book on NES is a really bad game, and that’s a shame. Between DuckTales, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, and Darkwing Duck, there’s a long history of really good Disney games on the NES, but The Jungle Book just isn’t one of them. And with that, The Jungle Book returns to my shelf, likely never to be played again.