The Little Mermaid is one in a long list of quality Disney games made by Capcom. With its sea-dwelling protagonist, it plays a bit differently than most NES platformers, and game offers a unique charm as a result.
You play as the mermaid Ariel, and gameplay takes place predominantly underwater. As a result, while this is a side-scrolling action game similar to many others on the NES, it is not really a “platformer” per se. Rather than jumping puzzles, The Little Mermaid focuses on item movement puzzles. This puzzle aspect is the backbone of the game’s play loop.
To start with, Ariel can turn most smaller enemies into bubbles with two swipes of her tail. Treasure chests around each stage might contain powerups for her attack, one of which increases its potency while the other increases its range. As the game progresses, there are more and more treasure chests that require powerups from previous areas or even stages to open. Many chests are also empty, and the magic shells you need to open them are limited, causing luck or memorization of what is found where to be an important part of the game.
The Little Mermaid’s biggest flaw is its brevity. The game has only five stages, none of which is particularly long. While some of the gameplay is fairly challenging, an experienced gamer can get through the whole thing quite quickly. The replay value largely lies in trying to get far without dying to maximize your powerups and find all the secrets. The game does have a score, giving high score runs some value.
The forgiving nature of the game plays well with its mechanics, though. You do lose your powerups when you die, but you also get a new chance to figure out which treasure chests have what and how to progress through each area of the stage. Mastering each section is satisfying and fun.
On the whole, The Little Mermaid is an innovative and rather fun game while it lasts. It doesn’t last long enough to fully explore its concepts, but its graphics and gameplay lift the experience.