When you think of the idea of translating Disney's 2001 animated feature Lilo & Stitch into a video game, the chances are SNK's military-themed run-and-gun series Metal Slug isn't the first reference point that springs to mind. However, in 2002, that was exactly what happened within Digital Eclipse, when Disney Interactive tasked them with creating a Game Boy Advance tie-in to the Oscar-nominated film.
According to Digital Eclipse president Mike Mika, in a recent conversation with Time Extension, he spoke about how this ended up happening and the resulting panic that immediately shot through Disney when it realized what the team was making.
Speaking to Time Extension, he told us:
"At the time, we’d done so many Disney games, they just stopped paying attention to us. They were like, ‘Do something for Lilo & Stitch’ and our team really loved Metal Slug, so it was like, ‘We’re going to make Metal Slug, but with Lilo & Stitch’."
Disney Interactive seemed fine with what Digital Eclipse was building, trusting them to do a good job, but eventually, the publisher had to show its catalog of games to Disney CEO Michael Eisner. And at this point, panic set in. Looking at the game, it was much more violent than the publisher had anticipated, with Stitch run-and-gunning his way through swarms of aliens to save a kidnapped Lilo from harm:
"The team [at Disney] finally looked at the game and said, ‘We can’t show him this, it’s too violent.’ But it was like whatever, there was no time. It was the next day they had to show it to him and he wanted to see the game.
"So we got this whole panic call from Disney and they are like, 'This is going to get cancelled'. And the next day, they called us back after the meeting and they were like, ‘He LOVES it! He thinks it’s the best product we’re doing for Lilo & Stitch and he’s really mad the other games aren’t doing this.’ It was really great and everyone was relieved. The heads of the movie, the directors, even sent us a signed poster thanking us about the game."
Interestingly, Metal Slug isn't the only video game referenced in Lilo & Stitch on the GBA. As you can see from the video above, there are also some references to Konami's space shooter Gyruss, as well as Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. It's not exactly what you might expect from a Lilo & Stitch aimed at children, but that's arguably why it's gone on to have a bit of a cult following among gamers of a certain age, who still occasionally bring it up to Mika at conventions and in interviews. Even the reviews at the time were mostly positive, with both IGN and Game Informer giving it an 8 out of 10, cementing its status as one of the better licensed games available.