By: Matthew Striplen
Remember this gem from the days of the Sega Genesis? Well, even if you don’t, you’re in for a treat. Not having played the original, I was skeptical simply because of the average reputation of current Disney games. I was expecting a watered-down, generic platformer, but I could not have been more wrong. Right from the start, Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse pulls the player straight into the Disney movie world of old that we all remember so well.
The controls are very simple and intuitive, utilizing only the analog stick and two buttons: jump and throw item. As an HD remake of a retro game more complex controls are not needed, nor are they missed. Movement can be a little sensitive but can be worked around with a little practice. The only function that is notably absent is a sprinting function. Mickey will move proportionately faster by tilting the analog stick, but his maximum speed is not very high. A function enabling him to sprint would make certain levels significantly easier.
Castle of Illusion is a gorgeous game. The graphics are crisp, clean and bright, which do the original Disney cartoon animations justice. Each environment is very visually stimulating and all character and enemy designs are terrific. While originally a 2D game, Castle of Illusion transitions to 2.5D, which is primarily in two dimensions but occasionally makes use of the third, flawlessly. Some remakes, when converted to 3D or 2.5D, feel forced, but this feels like a natural progression. No complaints here.
Like the old Disney movies, this game features a terrific and fully orchestrated soundtrack. Various leitmotifs represent different characters, enemies and situations, which is unusual for any video game. Although the soundtrack is engaging and memorable, I wish the developers used live musicians instead of synthesizers. While this will go unnoticed to most gamers, the usage of live musicians would have made the experience even better. The voice acting is superb, if not the best in recent memory. Castle of Illusion features a grandfatherly narrator who speaks in rhymes, which instantly brought back childhood memories of watching my favorite Disney movies.
Castle of Illusion proves the classic platforming genre is far from dead. Its basic mechanics of jumping and stomping are comparable to the Mario franchise, but the similarities end there. The atmosphere is unmistakably Disney, and I mean that in the best possible way. Most enemies are genuinely adorable and not contrived as many “cute” characters often are. The only enemy that could have been stolen from Mario are the mushrooms, but they are so huggably cute that I didn’t care one bit.
The story is the traditional “rescue the damsel in distress” stock plot, but it is presented in such a way that it feels more like a trip down memory lane rather than a tired theme. Minnie is the damsel, of course, and the main villain is lifted straight from Disney lore as well.
As with most games coming from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Castle of Illusion poses a challenge, even for experienced players. Damage is received easily and health is scarce. Traversing the terrain is difficult, as the player must navigate through tree tops, explore sunken temples and scale castle walls. Boss fights bring nothing new to the table but are excellent examples of the classic boss fight template. They do everything they’re supposed to do: provide an added but not impossible challenge and are incredibly rewarding to defeat. Even the defeat of common enemies yields a satisfying crunch or other sound. I was an especially big fan of the final boss for its difficulty, satisfaction level and voice acting.
One of my only problems with the game goes along with the difficulty. Although I have no problem playing a challenging game, it does mean cut scenes will be viewed multiple times. This would not be a problem if they were skippable, but they aren’t. Despite the undeniable quality of the cut scenes, watching the same thing 10 times in a row gets old.
While Castle of Illusion provides real entertainment, I wish the game was longer. In the beginning, Mickey is told he must collect the seven gems to reach Minnie’s kidnapper. Requiring more gems or making the process to get them longer could easily give the game the added duration. Despite this, I feel it’s better to have a short and sweet game rather than a padded and drawn out one.
Replay value is added by the challenge of collecting various items and the time attack feature. Items are used to unlock costumes but do not affect actual gameplay, and the time attack only bestows bragging rights.
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse surprised me in a very positive way. I expected something bland and generic, but instead I enjoyed a great blast from the past. This game reminds me of all the things classic games still offer while updating and improving the features limited by the inferior technology of the original. Regardless of whether you grew up with the Genesis version or not, Castle of Illusion is sure to provide a good time.