Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

250px-CastleofillusionremakeWhen I was a kid Mickey Mouse was a pretty big video game star. He was always known first and foremost as the official mascot for Disney and its theme parks and for the many cartoons featuring his likeness but he was a frequent star in several video games across multiple consoles. As was often the case back then, Mickey had a different franchise for each of the major consoles. The Sega consoles featured the Illusion series while the Super Nintendo had the Magical Quest games as well as some adventure games for the NES. As the 90’s wound along Mickey started appearing in the same game on both consoles before moving onto the newer machines. Since then his appearances have been cut down, with the Epic Mickey franchise sort of representing a return for Mickey. Even though Mickey was in many games, he never did acquire the reputation of Mario or Sonic (before his reputation was ruined, anyways) and one would be hard-pressed to argue that any of his games were among the best of the era. What they were was usually entertaining and pretty solid.

Mickey was basically a B+ video game star with his hits and misses but his best franchise was probably the Illusion series which appeared on Sega consoles. Developed by Sega, these games were often featured on the Genesis and Game Gear retail boxes as signature games for the consoles. The first was Castle of Illusion and was released for the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990 with a Game Gear and Master System version to follow in 1991. It starred Mickey as he tried to navigate his way through a castle in order to save his beloved Minnie from the witch, Mizrabel, who was basically the witch/queen from Snow White. A sequel titled Land of Illusion was released for the Game Gear and Master System in 1992 with another sequel to follow on the Genesis titled World of Illusion later that same year. World of Illusion was unique because it starred both Mickey and Donald and featured two-player simultaneous play. Its controls and visuals also represented a noticeable upgrade over the original title and its often viewed as the best of the series.

Castle of Illusion, being an early Genesis title, is somewhat crude by today’s standards. The game’s visuals were never stellar and today they’re almost downright ugly. Mickey has a very jagged, squished look and there isn’t much being animated on him. He’s very sluggish to control and the whole game has kind of a sleepy feel. Still, as an early platformer for the Genesis, it was mostly well received because there wasn’t an obvious Mario clone at the time for the Genesis. Last year Sega released a remake for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and that’s really what this review is about.

The original game was okay looking at the time, but its grainy visuals and squished Mickey haven't aged well.

The original game was okay looking at the time, but its grainy visuals and squished Mickey haven’t aged well.

The 2013 version of Castle of Illusion obviously features greatly enhanced visuals when compared with the original. Mickey looks pretty great and the game is an above average looking title for its respective consoles. It isn’t mind-blowing, but is pleasant. The game mostly follows the same path as the original though it does introduce a castle hub world from which Mickey can access the various levels in the game. It’s a little longer than the original, and the levels are a bit different in spots, but for the most part it’s a pretty faithful remake with better graphics. Sega opted to confine Mickey to a 2D plane when navigating the levels but the boss fights usually occur in a 3D environment, which gives them a different feel when compared to the original game. For the most part, I found the boss fights harder in this game than I did on the original cart while the actual stages might have been a tad easier, with some exceptions.

Unfortunately, Sega did not opt to address what is probably the original game’s biggest short-coming and thats the controls. Mickey is still very floaty and very slow. It took me awhile to get used to Mickey’s timing and early on I had difficulty navigating the easiest jumps as a result. Eventually I got used to it but that doesn’t mean I ever fell in love with it. And these floaty controls get to suck more this time around because Mickey has a third dimension to contend with. Easily the most frustrating point of the game for me was the candy level where Mickey has to jump across floating cookies in a milk river. I felt like I was really fighting with the game to get Mickey onto those cookies and I came close to shutting the game off, but managed to persevere. Some of the collision detection is also confounding, particularly with the game’s second boss the Jack-in-the-Box. I found his boxing glove attack was inconsistent. I basically did the same thing for each attack to avoid it, only sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. I could never tell what was different as every time it looked like Mickey was basically jumping on top of the glove. The final boss is a little annoying too as she attacks with these ghost things that have a green aura around them making it tough to distinguish between the aura and the ghost (which is also green).

The remake mostly goes for a 2.5D approach and looks well enough for a download only release.

The remake mostly goes for a 2.5D approach and looks nice enough for a download only release.

Castle of Illusion is currently free for Playstation Plus subscribers, which is how I experienced it. My free membership expires this week hence why I didn’t shut it off as I wanted to beat it. I downloaded it mostly because it was free, but also because I had some nice memories of the original and wanted to see what Sega did with it. The original game comes with the download and I can safely say that the remake is probably the better game, though it’s also more frustrating. I can’t really recommend it unless you really loved the original game or have a Playstation Plus membership and can check it out for free. It’s a short game and I managed to beat it in an afternoon. The production values are actually pretty nice and the game’s soundtrack is actually better than I remembered (though I kind of prefer the original game’s old school score). The plot basically exists just because it has to and you’re not going to play this to see what happens to Mickey and Minnie, but I suppose that’s better than nothing. Hopefully Sega and Disney made some money off of this remake and a World of Illusion remake is in the cards. That’s a game I’d pay money to play again.

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