If you had a Sega Genesis back in 1990, chances are, you played Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse . If you missed out, though – or you simply want to relieve the good ol’ days where innocence and charm reigned – you’ll want to check out the high-definition update that’s currently available in digital format. While the adventure is short and the game is admittedly “kiddie” (if you have a problem with enjoying video games designed expressly for children), it’s still artistically impressive and a lot of fun to play.
These upgraded high-def visuals benefit greatly from the original concept. Thing is, the imagination on prominent display in Castle of Illusion was always impressive; when you apply a gorgeous HD sheen, they really shine. It was merely a matter of allowing that boundless creativity to take center-stage. The animations are excellent, the backdrops are meticulously crafted, and the diversity of the engaging environments is appreciated. This is an older game that looks eons better with a graphical overhaul simply due to a wonderfully inspired design palette that was already in existence.
The audio is another highlight, as the well-constructed soundtrack accompanies every lighthearted bounce. The narrator properly fits the style and theme, and the effects are crisp and nicely choreographed. There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about the music selection or the special effects, but they do their jobs. That’s what’s most important, especially with retro experiences such as Castle of Illusion : You’re not expecting next-gen-level technical elements, but you do want the upgraded elements to complement the gameplay. In this way, the sound is worthy of mild recognition.
This is one of those classic platformers that relies heavily upon your reactions and dexterity. Mickey can also throw projectiles when necessary, as these are used to defeat enemies and open presents and treasure. However, for the most part, you spend the majority of your time negotiating a wonderland filled with obstacles and dangers. There are some beautifully drawn and presented environments, and you’ll smile as you tackle each new area. There isn’t much to slow your progress – even though a few of the boss fights are moderately challenging – and you’re always given more chances. That’s key because this is supposed to be a breezy little romp.
And breezy it is. You hop along, bouncing off the heads of enemies that hardly seem like dangerous foes (marching toy soldiers, toy planes, ghosts that aren’t exactly menacing, etc.), gathering diamond-shaped gems and discovering treasure. The narrative, while basically just a footnote, involves the evil Mizrabel and Mickey’s romantic interest, Minnie. Mizrabel has kidnapped Minnie and to rescue his sweetheart, Mickey must brave the Castle of Illusion and snag all seven magic crystals. Only then will a pathway open for the stalwart hero. Like I say, it’s not overly compelling but then again, it doesn’t need to be.
The control is paramount, obviously. My only issue here is that despite responsive control, the game does feel just a tad loose at times. It can be difficult to land exactly on narrow strips of land, as Mickey has the tendency to slip off. If you do land just on the edge, there’s an animation where Mickey teeters but doesn’t fall. The only problem is that you start to see this a lot and in some of the later levels, the platforming can become somewhat frustrating. At the same time, I have to recognize that in fact, this was indicative of most platforming games of that era. Yeah, they were a tad frustrating and no, they weren’t technically perfect.
I also have to say that some of those boss fights aren’t consistent with the rest of the game. Even the slightly more irritating worlds aren’t anywhere near as challenging as some of the boss encounters, which I think might annoy the young’uns out there. I mean, you’re going along just fine, having a merry old time, and suddenly you’re desperately trying to avoid a boss that’s fast and deadly. You’ve got to eliminate all his life gems before he eliminates yours and most later bosses have a lot more life gems than you… Considering the intended age group for this game, I think that’s a development mistake. Seven-year-olds might have some difficulty.
Outside of that, this is a fun-filled quest that keeps you coming back for more. You’ll want to grab every gem and treasure chest you see, and you can always return to previously completed areas if you desire. Capturing gems opens up more doors in the Castle, which is why you’ll want to snag as many as possible. The best part is that each world – consisting of two full levels and a boss level – is beautiful and highly imaginative; you’re like a kid in a candy store. And oh yeah, sometimes there is candy. Just about everything you encounter and everything you do will result in a smile on your face, and that’s worth noting.
The only other downside is that it’s pretty short. You won’t amass a ton of hours, even if you decide to collect everything in sight. But that’s often the way it is with solid experiences: They’re over too quickly. Some of the later levels might pose a problem, too, but not to seasoned gamers. As for that story, there’s not much else to say…you can probably guess what happens in the end. The bottom line is that playing through the game is worthwhile, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for old-school platforming titles. It also helps if you remember what gaming was like back in the good ol’ days, because you’ll better appreciate this HD upgrade.
Disney’s Castle of Illusion has been given new life. It’s not as advanced as games of today, it has a few of those obnoxious quirks that were so prevalent in past eras, and the engaging quest doesn’t last long enough. It also might miss its targeted demographic, as younger kids might not like the difficulty. Still, if you’re tired of playing games that take the world too seriously, and you want to relive a simpler time, you should give it a try. It’s not a bad way to pass a rainy day, and it’s useful if you just need a few hours to unwind. Don’t worry about focusing too hard; just sit back, relax, and take a nostalgic journey.
The Good: Great high-def upgrade and a decent, fitting soundtrack. Well-designed levels that are always interesting. A boatload of imagination and creativity. Accessible, lighthearted, and easy to play.
The Bad: Control is a tad loose. Difficulty swings might turn off the younger gamers. A little on the short side.
The Ugly: "Oh come on, how could anything involving Mickey Mouse be 'ugly?'"