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Beat the Backlog: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

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.

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

Castle of Illusion’s opening is reminiscent of a stage play, showing many familiar Disney characters sitting down as the curtain unfolds. (Image: Disney/SEGA)

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.

Mickey Mouse in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

As per a genre standard, you can bounce off enemies to reach greater heights. You may be rewarded for doing so with an extra life or a collectable. (Image: Disney/SEGA)

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.

Mickey Mouse in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

The sixth world and beyond were the most enjoyable parts to play because the ante was upped, demanding more of your platforming prowess. (Image: Disney/SEGA)

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.

Mickey Mouse in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

The seven bosses are on par with the level design, fighting Mickey with basic, easy-to-master and overly long patterns. But at least they, as with the rest of Castle of Illusion, are pleasant to admire. (Image: Disney/SEGA)

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.

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Cart Boy

Cart Boy wants to be the very best. Like no one ever was. He also occasionally contributes an article here when the stars align properly, and he helps out with editing and Source Gaming’s Facebook page.
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  1. Oh, I remember playing this game when I was a child. I think it came as a bundle of Genesis and the first Sonic game, but I can hardly remember since I both got it during uuuuuuuuuummmmmmmm my birthday or Christmas.

    Anyways, the story of this game looked quite simple, but does fit well as being a Disney game. Mickey and Minnie dating in some forest…Minnie being kidnapped by some weird witch…Mickey goes to castle to save his girlfriend…yup, its Disney. (lol) But the game was well made. While I wasn’t good at gaming when I was a child back then, playing this game was difficult than I thought. The first forest stage was easy to beat, the second toy stage was interesting thus the first area was struggling, but the third stage was nightmarish hell to me. I really hated the dungeon stage so badly because there’s too many death falls, and even the flood area gave me so much pressure as I had difficult time proceeding. I really don’t remember much about the library/candy stage and the castle stage, but the bosses were interesting as well. I actually liked the clown boss because of its design; while I know its a toy boss, it looked robotic to me, reminding me of Eggman’s Badniks. I even loved the boss battle music; while the music were mostly fantasy based, the boss battle was almost rock style, and it fit perfectly even the bosses were designed generically.

    Speaking of design, I kinda wondered about Mizrabel. I’ve always thought that she’s the Evil Queen from Sleeping Beauty due to similar model, but realized it was a different character. But if she was the Evil Queen…for a hag wanting Minnie’s youth and beauty…that’s almost like being jealous for both mice loving each other for eternity…and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how she felt when she became single again after accidentally falling off the cliff. Well enough with my foolish imagination…I mostly finished the game by playing easy mode for most of the time, since I really sucked at normal mode. It only lasted up to three stages with one area each, as the ending provides Mickey to give only three gems to the flying witch and retrieves Minnie back easily like she wasn’t interested with her at all. I wasn’t thinking a lot when I was a child back then, but as I think about it now…THAT’S THE MOST LAMEST ENDING I’VE EVER SEEN!! Well of course like duh…it’s easy mode, and its meant to be lame. So I was able to beat the normal mode for the first time, overcoming ever hellish obstacles, beating up every bosses with Mickey’s surprisingly big butt…I’ve sworn myself that I’ll never play normal mode again. (lol)

    Furthermore, I wouldn’t say the game was bad. I did like it as being nostalgically memorable, but still it was a stressful game to deal with. I may be wrong, but it did felt a bit difficult than Mario and Sonic’s. There were too many obstacles that were too risky, as the controlling was difficult and limited since Mickey cannot run. I just couldn’t handle games that’s easy to be panicking and stressful, which I mostly avoided higher difficulties when I was a child. But even then, it was at least a fun game to play, which I wouldn’t suggest myself to play normal mode again though. (lol)

    But then, even I have no plans to play the remake version of this game, it’s good to see you brought this game up as it made me go back to my long lost childhood. Along with Sonic, this was also my first game to play when I got Sega Genesis for the first time. Everything was so nostalgic, like it was yesterday. Although there may be no way to play the Genesis version anymore, you should try play it if there’s a chance. I would say it’ll be easy comparing with its remake as they simply added more there. But anyways, thanks for bringing up such nostalgic game for this article!

    zoniken on June 16 |
    • Hey, buddy!

      Yeah, the original Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a title a lot of people seem to have nostalgia for. It’s cool that it was among your first video games though! Monster Bash Part 1 for the DOS was my first game (or, at the very least, it’s the first game I can consciously remember playing), and I had a really tough time with it as well, forcing me to play through it – not to mention the two following episodes of Monster Bash – on easy mode. Still, it was satisfying when I eventually cleared it. I imagine you felt similarly when you beat Castle of Illusion!

      That said, I don’t know if I’ll ever replay Monster Bash. I have a lot of love and nostalgia for it, but I’m worried it won’t hold up to modern standards, especially as I’ve grown old and cynical. A lot of games I used to love, like Yoshi’s Story, don’t hold up all that well for me, so I’m content to leave some of my old favorites untarnished as fond memories.

      Sadly, I can’t chat much about the original Castle of Illusion, but I do like its character designs. I can assure you that I do want to play it, however, and I intend to someday. For what it’s worth, I can tell you the remake is a solid game, if a fairly basic one, even if there are many other platformers I’d rather play. Still, I do feel like maybe I was too hard on the remake in the article, as it is perfectly competent.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed a little trip down memory lane. I hope to see you again on my journey to Beat the Backlog!

      Cart Boy on June 18 |