Special thanks to Wolfman for offering edits and commentary.
I imagine most people are unfamiliar with Hitoshi Susumu, but I’m sure you all know who Mickey Mouse is. While I was playing Konami’s bizarre sidescroller, I was also exploring SEGA Studio Australia’s swan song, their HD remake of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.
SEGA’s original Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse graced the SEGA Genesis in 1990, becoming one of the most cherished titles Disney’s corporate mascot featured in. Two direct sequels followed on SEGA’s 16-bit platform, not to mention the iterations of Castle of Illusion that hit the SEGA Master System, Game Gear, and Saturn. The Epic Mickey-branded Nintendo 3DS title Power of Illusion followed in 2012, painting itself as a spiritual sequel to Castle of Illusion. Unfortunately, I have not played any of these titles, so I will be unable to draw any comparisons to them.
As for SEGA Studio Australia’s 2013 Castle of Illusion reimagining, I had high hopes for it. I was also relieved when I procured my digital copy, as the game was slated to be delisted from consoles and Steam at the time. It has, thankfully, been reinstated on all three platforms since then.
Upon booting up the game, you’re treated to an opening cinematic – which, annoyingly, is the only skippable cutscene in the game – depicting our namesake rodent and his sweetheart enjoying each other’s company before Minnie Mouse is abducted by the vindictive Mizrabel. Minnie’s alleged beauty is a source of envy for the hag, and she plans to drain Minnie’s youth to restore her own.
Castle of Illusion’s events are affixed with commentary; the narrator and Mickey both chime in during the stages and cinematics to react to the on-screen happenings, benefiting the cartoon-esque presentation. Richard McGonagle voices the narrator, the dialects for Mickey and Minnie are respectively provided by Bret Iwan and Russi Taylor, and Nika Futterman stepped in to portray Mizrabel. All in all, the cast did a nice job.
Graphically, the team graciously reimagined the sprites of the Genesis game. While the backdrops aren’t enormously intricate (likely as a consequence of being a smaller-scale downloadable title), the environments are nevertheless detailed. Importantly, the foregrounds aren’t too busy and are generally disgustable from the backgrounds. There’s a solid variety of biomes – the first stages exist in a forest interpolated by castle ruins, but you’ll also visit giant libraries, candy lands, dungeons and more in your quest – and the environments’ aesthetics do predictably influence the stage hazards, such as how moving books function as unreliable platforms in the library or how haunted suits of armor attempt to strike Mickey in the dungeon. Moreover, composer Grant Kirkhope of Banjo-Kazooie fame put the score together. This isn’t the apex of his work, but it nonetheless is a nice score, with his whimsical style accentuating the game’s tone.
However, while Castle of Illusion‘s presentation is aces, the gameplay is disappointingly mundane. Hallmark genre fundamentals – running, jumping, swimming and throwing projectiles – are accounted for, but they never interact with each other, the levels, or enemies in any novel, imaginative ways. Additionally, although Mickey’s physics certainly cooperate with the level design, he lacks a sense of weight and momentum, making him feel sluggish and unintuitive to maneuver.
Collecting golden balloons awards you another life, yet there’s no pressing need to accumulate a wealth of them given how simple the obstacle courses are, even when accounting for the difficulty ramping up in the sixth world. Searching for the hidden trinkets in each stage can increase the enjoyment factor, but it wasn’t rewarding enough to motivate me to obtain the collectables I missed. One interesting adjustment made for this take on Castle of Illusion, however, is the incorporation of the third dimension; the namesake castle operates as a 3D hub, and segments in the levels periodically flip between 2D and 3D perspectives. Honestly, the 3D platforming sections are as by-the-numbers as those in 2D, but the effort to add variety using technology that wasn’t available in 1990 is appreciated.
Ultimately, I left the castle feeling unsatisfied. Not that this is a bad game; it’s unquestionably a competently made title worth a romp, and I did have fun in the four or five hours I spent playing it. However, its pleasant presentation aside, Castle of Illusion fails to offer anything I haven’t seen elsewhere. I would sooner revisit other, more vibrant platformers – such as the dynamic Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze or even the eccentric Tomena Sanner – before returning to complete this one.