REVIEW: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

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Castle of Illusion | Digital Thumbnail Title Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Developer Sega Studios Australia
Publishers Sega
Disney Interactive Studios
Genre Platform Game
Platforms PlayStation Network (PS3)
Xbox Live Arcade
PC (Windows)
Release Dates
PS3: September 3rd, 2013
September 4th, 2013
Age Ratings E (ESRB), 3 (PEGI)
Official Websites NA

The many, many developers tasked with creating games featuring Disney characters and worlds offered up plenty of gaming goodness during the 8 and 16-bit eras. But Walt Disney’s shining star seemed to evoke some of the most talent-filled projects. Games like Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse and Mickey’s Magical Quest had so much polish to them and (dare I say) seemed to capture this sort of “Disney Magic.” The Kingdom Hearts franchise often tries to emulate it, and goodness knows the Epic Mickey series (especially “Power of Illusion”) tried to recapture that lightning in a bottle, but… there will never be another game starring Mickey Mouse quite like Castle of Illusion.

Castle of Illusion | Genesis Screenshot 001 Castle of Illusion | Genesis Screenshot 002

Originally released for the Sega Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion charmed the world enough to inspire an entire series of Illusion games (including the first one I ever played, World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck way back in the days of my youth). I have fond memories of playing through the original game over and over again, enjoying the story of how Mickey saves Minnie from the jealous witch Mizrabel. Truth be told, I was able to experience the original game mere days before playing through its remake courtesy of a nifty pre-order bonus.

Reviewing a remake is always a difficult endeavor. When writing, you always wonder how much of what you say about the game will be dictated by nostalgia. What has changed? Do the concepts present in the original game age well (assuming it’s been quite some time since the original release)? In the case of Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, there’s a fair bit to say about both past and present. I find it appropriate to touch on my past (and present) experiences with the Genesis classic before moving on.

Indeed, the original Castle of Illusion is certainly worthy of being called a “classic”—its levels are charming and fun, filled with many a unique design choice to keep seasoned platforming veterans coming back for more, especially with the ability to go back and play on tougher difficulties, aiming for high scores, etc. The soundtrack offered many a memorable tune. Its controls were a bit loose (Mickey always felt a little “floaty” to me, insofar as it was difficult to master his jumping without a bit of practice), but overall: if times were different and I were reviewing the original game, I could easily offer up a 3.5/5. Castle of Illusion deserves the love that it gets from Disney fans.

Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 001 Castle of Illusion | Genesis Screenshot 003

I imagine folks who didn’t run out and make an immediate purchase like me have this preconceived notion that Castle of Illusion’s remake will be less-than-stellar, thanks to the stigma associated with Epic Mickey as of late. I agree: Epic Mickey and its sequel weren’t very memorable in my opinion, and Power of Illusion was woefully short for the full-game asking price. But this review seeks out to challenge that stigma. Castle of Illusion truly envisions a remake to challenge WayForward’s Remastery of DuckTales. This is not the same game you played on the Genesis. It’s heavily inspired by it—but it brings so much more to the table.

Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 002

The story is still the same (and it doesn’t begin with “Once Upon a Mouse”, so let’s get that out of the way right now), but it’s drawn to life more. Artwork like what you see above accompanies opening scenes and various “rising action” moments throughout Mickey’s venture in the Castle of Illusion. The entire tale is given more context than the Genesis original—all of Mickey’s actions, the places he visits, and the Masters of Illusion he faces, are told to the player by an earnest-sounding narrator. He does a lot to signpost the adventure, for those of you who might consider experiencing this game alongside your children or significant other. It’s a real treat—it certainly made the several lines of text from the Genesis version seem worth expanding upon. It doesn’t add any unnecessary complexities or depth to the story; it just feels like Castle of Illusion with an earnest tour guide explaining your surroundings.

I can’t even begin to describe how fascinated I am with this game’s graphics. Good gravy are these visuals a treat. The already charming 16-bit visuals have been reimagined entirely—enemies, flora and fauna are all cohesive and seem to be in a living, breathing world. The amount of polish these visuals have is absolutely breathtaking. For example, in the Library level of the game, there are a ton of books and tables about that Mickey jumps and scampers across. While taking a moment to appreciate the scenery, I noticed a pair of glasses a little bit to my right, ones in the background closer to the player, while Mickey was on the foreground a little farther away. When Mickey walks through the glasses from behind, there’s a sort of fun house mirror effect that he undergoes that you can see when looking through the lenses. That kind of polish in a Disney game is something I haven’t seen in a long while. It was truly refreshing; these visuals are like candy.

Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 003 Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 004
Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 005 Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 006

I could say the same thing for the game’s soundtrack. The tunes of original composers Tokuhiko Uwabo & Shigenori Kamiya have been re-imagined by Grant Kirkhope. And goodness, does his personality shine through. Castle of Illusion’s soundtrack embodies Kirkhope’s history, which is to say it sounds like Banjo-Kazooie, sounds like a game made by Rare. Breathtaking visuals, and a soundtrack remastered by Grant Kirkhope—if I had to judge this game on its presentation alone, I would give it a perfect score, no questions asked.

Alas, the remake still suffers from some of the flaws of the original, most notably in its controls. I won’t say Mickey handles badly, because that’s not the case at all. He still feels kind of weighty, and his jumping exposes its somewhat flawed nature when tasked with some of the new level designs’ trickier platforming instances. I was never really frustrated with Mickey as I was playing through the game, but some of those levels were made a challenge for me simply because he didn’t jump how I expected him to (or something to that effect). In the platforming world, the most precise controls are king. And rather than be royalty, Castle of Illusion’s controls are a well-polished knight: certainly passable, perhaps even good, but far from perfect.

But gameplay itself is just like the original, except evolved. Indeed, you still move Mickey around the world with the D-pad, but since some of these new environments put Mickey on three-dimensional planes, the analog stick can also be used. Jump with X, throw collected projectiles with the circle button—very simple premise, executed well. Some of these environments are just crazy, though. I never imagined finding a secret path that took me up into the clouds while exploring the second level of the game. Various stages from the original game execute exactly as you remember them, but feature brand new segments, things to collect (hello, replay value), and a few surprises.

The linear progression of the original Castle of Illusion has been overhauled to make the Castle itself into a hub-world where various levels can be explored as you collect gems in stages. Levels are broken down into three Acts: an introductory segment, a more intermediate style filled with slightly more complex platforming, and the boss stage. Bosses have been retooled for added difficulty. Figuring out their patterns was very simple, but each Master of Illusion was, in my opinion, quite memorable.

Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 007 Castle of Illusion | Screenshot 008

I can’t accurately express how much this game impressed me. It still suffers from the noteworthy flaws of the original (controls, which I’ve elaborated upon, and the unfortunate fact that it’s a little too short for most people’s liking), but… this is what Epic Mickey should have been. I finished the game in under six hours, and it’ll probably take me just a couple hours more to finish collecting everything. But, for the first time since the 16-bit era, I feel this is a game starring Mickey Mouse that’s absolutely, positively worth owning. Whether you’re experiencing the Castle of Illusion adventure for the very first time, or going about this re-imagined romp for the scores, challenges, time-attacks, and trophies/achievements—you will not be disappointed.

Review Score

Review copy purchased by author.