Disney's The Little Mermaid is a 1991 video game was developed by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy. It is a single player side-scrolling action game where the player controls Ariel on a quest to defeat Ursula.
The game's plot is an alternate retelling of the original film's third act, and begins as follows.
- “Ariel, princess of the sea, fell in love with Eric at first sight. She asked Ursula to make her human so she could meet him. He fell in love with her too and planned to marry her. Then one day, Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle came to see Ariel, in a big hurry. They explained that Ursula had cast a spell over the fish of the sea so they would have to do what she wanted. If she wasn't stopped, she would probably take over the whole sea. Ariel decided to go to Ursula's castle to try and release the fish from Ursula's spell. She explained to Eric that she was a mermaid and a princess of the sea, and that she must try to save her friends. Eric tried to convince her not to go, but she turned back into a mermaid, dove into the sea, and began to swim towards Ursula's castle.”
- ―Game Introduction
The game takes place from a side view and Ariel (swimming most of the time, but hopping around on the land occasionally) can shoot bubbles to trap her foes and can then throw them at each other. She can also dig through sand to find treasure and pick up sea shells to break chests open with. The treasure she finds in the sand is usually just bonus points, but the treasure you find in chests will increase your bubble's power and range. The gameplay is similar to other Capcom games such as Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers and DuckTales in that Ariel shoots air bubbles from her tail that when they hit certain enemies, can be picked up and thrown at other enemies or bosses. Ariel can also collect icons scattered throughout the levels to restore health, gain extra lives, or increase the range/power of her air bubbles.
The Little Mermaid was somewhat groundbreaking for two reasons. The first is that it was one of the few games at the time to utilize an aquatic environment in which the playable character was an aquatic creature, and by these standards the gameplay was both more effective than that of such games as Jaws and more permanent than that of Super Mario Bros. 3.
Sea of Coral
The first level of the game, when Ariel has just turned herself back into a mermaid. It is literally a large coral reef, with many human objects scattered about in treasure chests and some human ruins. The level is fairly short and easy, being the first level of the game, and only contains three types of enemies (evil fish, sea stars, and octopi). The boss of this level is Glut.
This level takes place inside a sunken ship, as the title suggests. It is a fairly straightforward level with some new ghost enemies, and the occasional sea urchin. This level also introduces the mechanic of using a barrel to open treasure chests, and the playstyle of having Ariel hop on land. Flotsam and Jetsam are the bosses of this level.
Sea of Ice
In this level, Ursula has frozen a portion of the sea, and Ariel must traverse this frozen wasteland. This level introduces several new enemies, and gives Ariel ice physics on land (it is in fact the only stage in which she surfaces, as in the other stages with land components Ariel is merely in air pockets rather than at the surface of the ocean). The Walrus is the boss of this level.
This level introduces many new enemies into the fray, such as enemies that bury themselves and prawn enemies that attack swift. Since the area is also set in an active volcano, this is the first level with environmental obstacles.
This level begins as a maze. The key to solving this maze is to find the door with flashing red eyes. Go through that door multiple times, until Ariel appears in a long room. From there the level becomes standard.
There are some differences between the NES and the Game Boy versions. When a stage begins, Ariel descends from the top of the screen to the recommended starting point in the NES version, but just starts out in the recommended position in the Game Boy version. The featured sound effects are different in both versions. The start of the stage's BGM can be heard only once in the NES version; although the whole BGM can be repeated in the Game Boy version. The stage backgrounds were more restricted in the Game Boy version than in the NES version. When you lose a heart, the heart turns into a heart frame in the NES version, but disappears in the Game Boy version. The key scales of the Boss BGM are different in both versions. The BGM speed in the NES version is much faster than in the Game Boy version.
- Glut The Shark
Glut is the boss of the Sea of Coral, and his method of attack is to charge Ariel constantly. Occasionally a fish will swim by for Ariel to use as a weapon. Just four hits and he'll go down.
- Flotsam and Jetsam
These two are the bosses of the Sunken ship level. They pop in and out of portholes and attempt to attack Ariel by charging her. Ariel must attack by using incoming enemies when one or the other pops out of their hiding place. A solid three hits to each, and they go down.
- The Walrus
The boss of the sea of ice, and the only land based boss in the game. His strategy is to launch shells at you from above the ice, and you have the option of either grabbing the shells and throwing them back, or using the random fish as your arsenal. Four hits to do him in.
- Commander Fish
This fellow is the boss of the underwater volcano. He orders the cannons of a ship to take fire at Ariel and kill her with spikes and evil fish. The spikes will burst any bubbles Ariel makes, and harm her dearly. Four hits and he will go down.
The final boss of the game, with two forms to defeat. The first phase of the battle has Ursula looking over her cauldron, and firing lightning bolts at Ariel which then transform into blue fish, starfish, seahorses, or sea urchins. Use these to deal your blows; six are needed to bring down this form.
Phase two has Ursula become her giant form and she now must be beaten by fast swiming fish. Where the fish come from are dependant on how Ursula controls the tide. There's seaweed in the room; watch which direction the seawitch blows and use that to determine where to grab the fish. Seven hits will finish her off for good.
Notable differences from Film
- None of these levels, except for the Sunken Ship, and Ursula's Castle, appeared in the film. And even then, Ursula's castle is totally different from the design in the original film.
- In this story, Ariel did not give up her voice to be human, and she is able to turn back into a mermaid at will, but not vice versa.
- Ursula, in her gigantic form during the second battle against her stands atop a platform similar the one in her lair during the first battle against her. In the film, she stands taller than the depth of the ocean.
- In the third and final scene of the ending which shows Ariel and Eric getting married, Ariel does not wear the veil like the film. Also, Ariel's tiara in the game's ending is mint green, as opposed to gold in the film.
- The walrus and the soldierfish (the bosses of Sea of Ice and Undersea Volcano, respectively) are not canon to the film.
- In this game, Ariel defeats Ursula in the final round. However, in the film, Ariel is helpless against Ursula's giant form, and it's up to Eric to save the day.
- The layout of the fifth stage, Ursula's Castle is much different than the film. It is much larger and has doorways that resemble the face of a snake, and Ariel must travel up many stories to encounter Ursula (the boss). The lair in the film has only one story, and the distance from the entryway to the main hall is very short. Also, the level has water surfaces revealing the castles' walls to be red; yet in the film, Ursula's lair is completely submerged and several feet below the ocean's surface and its walls are in tones of purple. There are also icy sections and, finally, the polyps are much larger in the video game.
The Little Mermaid's groundbreaking quality was that it was among the very few games marketed to girls. According to Consumer Guide's Super Strategies for Nintendo (1991), it was "the sort of game that girls who play Nintendo have been looking for; [with beautiful graphics but] nothing too scary." The advertisement campaign for the handheld version actually crossed out the "boy" in Gameboy to instead read, "For Gamegirls everywhere." Though the game may have been criticised for its brevity and ease, Game Player's Strategy Guide to Nintendo Games stated that "the action is occasionally enough to challenge experienced players."
- While Ariel never goes to an ice land during the original film, ice locals appear in the TV series, and is the location of the Morgana's lair in the sequel.
- A walrus named Dash appears in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, similar to the boss of this game, but has only a few inches of tusks while the walrus in this game has full-length tusks, and is an ally instead of an enemy.
- Flotsam and Jetsam, who are the bosses of Sunken Ship are colored green in the game, however they are typically blue in the film and in promotional artwork. The main reason is the 8-bit's color restrictions.
- "Part-Time Mermaid" Tia Michelle Pesando recorded the highest-known score on The Little Mermaid, noting that there appears to be some randomization regarding the treasures found in nooks and crannies and her score thus might only be considered a possible maximum despite her apparently having found all of the treasure in the game. She also noted that the stages' treasure content was not based on difficulty or point in game, but rather upon the environment. Offering a more immersive experience than if each stage simply offered more points than the last, the most treasure-intensive areas are those that are (or were) inhabited by creatures that might logically keep treasure; the Sunken Ship and to a lesser extent Ursula's Castle are filled with treasure, while the Sea of Coral, Sea of Ice, and Undersea Volcano have more occasional or incidental treasure.