It’s hard to play Castle of Illusion without a huge smile on your face. It feels as though you’re running around inside a Disney cartoon. It’s gorgeous to look at, the music’s great, and the gameplay holds up just fine.
A remake of a game by the same name released by Sega for the Sega Genesis in 1990 by Sega and Disney Interactive Studios, Castle of Illusion revolves around the jealous and evil witch Mizrabel, who has kidnapped Minnie Mouse and taken her to her castle so that she may steal her beauty. It’s up to Mickey to collect the seven rainbow gems to free his girl.
The story is simple. There’s nothing different here from the original game , but it’s fun and enjoyable thanks in part to the charming narration by Richard McGonagle, who’s voice credits include Lyndon B. Johnson in Metal Gear Solid 3 and Sully in the Uncharted series.
Gameplay takes the form of pretty straightforward platforming. Mickey jumps on enemies’ heads to defeat them and bounce to higher areas. He can also pick up various projectiles such as marbles and apples to hurl at his foes. The game doesn’t break any new ground here, but sticks to classic gameplay staples such as water levels, vanishing platforms and simple puzzles.
There are also some really great moments with interactive environments. There are a few 3D sections, including some boss battles, that provide a nice change of pace from the mostly 2D game. The castle itself is now a fully explorable hub. You can collect gems and look at information statues, whereas it was merely a transition between worlds in the original game.
There are five of those worlds, each with three levels, or Acts, as the game calls them. The worlds each have a distinct theme such as Toyland, where Mickey battles against toy soldiers and airplanes; and The Library, where Mickey has to scale bookshelves and watch out for bookworms. The levels are fun to look at and explore, but are all quite short. You can play any level again in time attack mode, but there is not much of a challenge once you know their ins-and-outs. Additionally, the enemies but don’t pose much of a challenge until the very end of the game, making this an ideal platformer for a beginner. Boss fights are fun and whimsical, but the bosses themselves are often extremely predictable, even for a game geared towards a younger audience.
Despite the simple gameplay, Castle of Illusion is never less than compelling, and this is due in large part to the presentation – the game looks amazing. Every color and texture pops in high-definition. The enemies are striking and the animation is fluid. Whether you’re swinging from rope to rope to avoid a crumbling platform, or running from your life as a giant apple rolls behind you, there’s a crispness to the action that punctuates each moment. It has a warm, inviting aesthetic that welcomes you in and begs you to stay a while.
It’s easy to get absorbed into the game’s fantasy world, especially with the fantastic score. The music is fun and enchanting, and is reminiscent of the old cartoons starring the legendary Mouse himself. Defeated suits of armor crumple with a satisfying metallic clank, and later levels are underscored by appropriately spooky music.
The controls are tight and responsive. Mickey’s jumps are precise, and he has enough hang-time in the air to correct some mistimed leaps. In the original game, it was often difficult to land your attacks because of the sluggish animation and stiff aerial maneuvering. The one downside is that having 3D boss battles can make it harder for the uninitiated to land their jumps.
A skilled player will be able to breeze through the game in a few short hours, but there’s plenty of hidden items to collect. Gems are scattered throughout every level, and collecting enough grants you access to the next world. If you want to collect all 800, you’ll have to go out of your way, but you can easily collect enough to beat the game just by completing the levels. There are also peppers, magic cards, and castle statues hidden throughout the game which unlock concept art, new costumes, and trophies. We’re not quite sure the game is worth the $14.99 asking price, but the wonderful presentation plus the nostalgia factor may be enough incentive to take out your wallet.
Castle of Illusion is a charming remastering of a classic game that does so much, so well. It looks beautiful, the music and overall whimsy of the game is a delight, and the controls have seen a huge improvement.If you’re looking to escape for a few hours into a game that demands very little of you and is overflowing with character, this one’s for you. However, the lack of any real difficulty coupled with the extremely short adventure suggest that it’s not a truly great game — just the illusion of one.