Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
Castle of Illusion
This game...I, um...
This game is a little weird to talk about from where I'm sitting. You see, I'm old enough to remember the games this thing claims to have taken inspiration from. Disney branded 90's Platformers were a small goldmine for both parties involved. Generally, they were pretty good games. There's a few clunkier additions here and there but when your repertoire includes applebuckin' Ducktails you know you have a brand you can have some faith in.
And of course, Disney Interactive could slap Mickey on anything and make a buck quick. So, it was nice of them to include some fun in the bundle too.
While I've never played the original Castle of Illusion, I have played some of the other things they've made with the Mouse. Mickey Mania was a staple of the times I spent with my next door neighbour's Mega Drive/Genesis. That was a fun, challenging run-and-jump fest with levels inspired by different eras of Mickey's career. The 'Steamboat Willie' level is now burned into my psyche as a result. World of Illusion was something I picked up for curiosity's sake more recently along with a bunch of other games to fill out my collection of stuff I'll play when the servers for Splatoon are down. It's not actually a sequel to this. Weirdly, it's the only Co-Op 2D Platformer I know of on the console. Which is noteworthy at least.
I would not necessarily recommend World of Illusion. It's slower than a glacier and the Co-Op is straight up awkward. Not recommended. Play Golden Axe or Smash TV.
But the remake of Castle of Illusion has more than just the redundancy factor that most remakes face, which is: 'We have the old one, why are you doing it again?'. Oh no! The version I got was on Android despite being on PSN and Xbox and all that other stuff too. Greeeaaat...Touch Screen controls...
OK, let's deal with that first. They're fine. They work OK but I did have to fiddle with them. The standard control scheme will create a 'Virtual Stick' that acts as a flat analogue stick that appears on screen, wherever you put your thumb down on the left hand side of the screen. You then slide your thumb around to move Mickey, lifting off to stop giving input.
I hated this control set up. I don't like having to drag my thumb across my screen as the friction my skin will inevitably create as it squeaks over the glass makes my actions more sluggish than I'd like. Instead, I prefer my on-screen controls to work via tapping, like I'm using a D-Pad I can't feel. That let's be stay frosty and change directions on the fly as much as I'd like. So, with a change, I made the virtual stick become omnipresent while playing. Otherwise, you touch the right hand side for jumping. You have a button for throwing stuff. That's it. It works perfectly fine.
Though, it wouldn't hurt to have a joypad to play with.
Or maybe these stupid looking things...
So, Gameplay. It's pretty fun.
Not mind blowing or even that challenging in spots. It's just hard enough that it doesn't feel like a walking simulator but easy enough for Junior to feel just comfortable enough with his less developed skills. It really is more of a kid's game than anything else I've ever really played that wasn't educational. That does explain it's incredibly basic strategy in regards to mechanics.
After all, at this point I had to mess around with time manipulation in Braid. In VVVVVV, I had no jump button, only the ability to flip gravity back and forth. Rayman Origins is built around running at a constant, steady speed then trying to bounce through the levels without any trouble. New Super Mario World had the design philosophy of making a 3D game play with the feel of a 2D game. Super Meat Boy was hard as a rock. Even Shovel Knight, a throwback inspired game from the same era Castle of Illusion was born into, had shovel moves, side-grade armour to collect and exploration aplomb! Lastly, the closest modern game to this in terms of mechanics is probably Time Surfer as bouncing around on things is a necessary and rewarding part of the game. And even that throws in a time rewind button to allow the player to correct mistakes.
Up until this point, I've been drawn towards games that try and have a gimmick. They try and throw in a really cool idea that makes them stand out.
It's bizarre for me to pick up a game from 2013 then get told that my big new mechanic to grapple with today is 'Jump on Enemies to gain height'.
"Kids Game? Why don't we try chasing the Tweenage Demo like everyone else?"
- Said By Hopefully No-One Making This
...Everyone else has long since mastered that. And yet, this is the crux of the gameplay here.
I do say this as a curiosity, not necessarily a criticism. The Castle of Illusion Remake is still pretty fun. Sure, releasing a game this simplistic in at a time that everything else I just mentioned exists is kinda bonkers but then you realise they're kinda banking on Nostalgia here. Well, for anyone that remembers the Genesis/Mega Drive original, they are. For everyone else, there's Mickey's grinning frizzog beaming that the potential player to lure them in.
In fact, I would say the recreation is pretty faithful to the old platformers Mickey starred in. Sega, the developers on this one, are pushing that Nostalgia button pretty strongly. Thankfully, this means they copied the controls of those games pretty well. Mickey does feel like he has weight, but I wouldn't say it was very much. The Mouse is not stocky in anyway, so his floaty and forgiving jumping arc feels justified. The thing isn't always utilised to it's fullest but fine because jumping on heads is still satisfying. Way more satisfying than it should be. Bouncing around is easy and straightforward as enemies puff out of existence, launching you skyward. Stringing goomba-stomps like this nets you extra bonus points which are very important because...
Because...um...OK, that could have been left out and nothing would have been lost. But, jumping on things for height is mainly there for finding collectables. Diamonds are everywhere and are essentially coins. I guess when your Mickey 'I-Eat-My-Cheese-Off-Of-Platters-Made-Of-Dodo-Feathers-Because-Of-All-The-Money-I-Make-So-Why-Not?' Mouse, collecting coins doesn't seem worth your time when precious stones the size of your head are an option.
So much money, he's cloning himself because he can. Meet his 'Mini-Me'.
Anyway, they open up levels. You get so many of them that it's barely worth worrying about your diamond total because if you just finish the level, the next one will have a cost so low, you'd have to actively attempt to avoid the pick-ups just to find you haven't enough. Why the doors to each area couldn't unlock in sequence, I'll never know. The other use for them is concept art. Yay? I guess? I mean, it's pretty and all but...Finding them all is actually kinda taxing if your not careful so the reward is for completionist loonies only.
For other stuff to collect, there's Playing Cards and Chilli Peppers. Yeah! Some Banjo Kazooie in here now. These...just unlock alternate costumes. Cool, I guess? They aren't bad. I like the Magician one but that's sort of it. It's a little underwhelming. Like, how about some extra levels or a harder Boss Rush mode or something! Maybe some unlockable 'cheats'? Like a Moon Jump or something?
And this brings me back to Mickey's control himself. He, himself, is underwhelming in his abilities which gives a strange feel to how you play. Unlike Mario or Sonic or Rayman or whoever, Mickey is kinda defenceless. Yes, you have three hits you can take but due to Mickey's rather light feel, you get the impression he ought to be wheezing after one punch. This is also ties into Mickey's alternative method of attack: throwing stuff. Depending on where you are in the game, there will be throw-able items that you can toss to defeat enemies or break things. They're usually pretty small and, as such, have little apparent impact feedback. The enemies fall backwards then burst into sparkles. Some enemies do have decent animations for when they're hit like this and appear to take an apple or a marble to the face like it was a cannonball, but most just poof.
"Oh shucks! Maybe I should have held onto that Keyblade..."
Now, as a design choice, I find this underwhelming but that doesn't mean I want all enemies to explode when they're hit with a boiled sweet. Just, if another Mickey Mega Drive/Genesis game does get remade, make the effect of being hit punchier.
Or maybe take out the abundance of ammo available. I was tripping over the stuff, even in later levels. Most obstacles are one hit kills so it's not like there's anything you need copious numbers of throwing fodder to attack with. So, almost every enemy is dealt with in seconds. They're rarely a problem and only awkward placement lands you any damage. Perhaps a limit could have made this game a little more exciting, as now I'd need to pick and choose my targets, rather than pelt anything that moves.
THAT BEING SAID!
The presentation is gorgeous and boss battles is an area where the game finally get's some life.
First off, there's a nice variety of how you tackle a boss on top of their designs being pretty lively and expressive. Not to mention imaginative. Want to fight a Candy-Floss Coloured Milk River Dragon? I didn't even know that could be a thing! How about an evil Jack-In-The-Box? Sure, kinda done before but this thing is actually a pretty decent fight. What about a Tree Stump that's come to life and looks like what would happen in The Lorax had a child with an Ent? Actually pretty awesome looking.
"I speak for the trees. And your life depends on their good word, boy!"
Now that I mention it, the Jack-In-The-Box fight is an interesting case because it's where one of Castle of Illusion's main tricks comes into play. You see, the game is only 2.5D when it feels like it. This is generally most of the time. But, when it feels the game would be better off with more than two directions for movement, it'll open itself up into a 3D game. This where it begins to feel the most like Crash Banidcoot in my mind but the areas are generally pretty brief. A spot here, a jumping challenge there and the hub world make up the 3D parts. I will commend the level design to ease the player from one perspective to the other then back again almost every time so a player doesn't get disoriented while playing. It's a neat trick that makes what could be a very flat game feel more dynamic.
One place where this doesn't work is the Jack-In-The-Box fight though but it’s good that they tried! In fact, the same trick works better in later bosses. Most of it is in 3D but for one attack, the perspective suddenly changes with little time to compensate or understand what happened. Just as the Jack-In-The-Box is about to throw a punch, 2.5D suddenly kicks in. Usually, this will mean that you'll still be in 3D mode for a couple of milliseconds, meaning that you'll still be holding your course. If your lucky, you'll end up ducking. If you're not, you'll be walking away from the boxing glove coming right for you with only a well timed jump able to save you from damage. Because everything else is at a gentler pace, this could have had a little more tweaks to fit the general difficulty level of the whole game.
Coulrophobia for your whole week, right here. Enjoy! Post your favourite nightmares in the comments below!
Later bosses get this transition much, much better so that it’s not quite as jarring.
But let's go back to that presentation, shall we? First off, it's set up like a fairy tale. The game even has an omnipresent narrator that will chime in to give small bits here and their. Mainly just to give some outsider context to what's going on. Otherwise, it would be very pretty, well animated but ultimately rather barren expanses of platforming. While not aiming for much comedy, The Narrator's voice is still very pleasant. He set's the 'Kiddie' mood extremely well, almost as if this was a bedtime story you could play.
Art Design is pretty good. Sure, the mechanics are as bare bones as a game of this nature can get but the colours are bright, lush and full of small flourishes. The forest is leafy, the toy room is generally a little surreal as Mickey seems to have been shrunk down to the size of a Lego Man, and the Library levels are warm but clearly cluttered with books. This Castle of Illusion has some pretty diverse level themes that really do make you feel as if you're rushing through an ever changing fortress of weirdness.
Like I mentioned, there is a level that's entirely made of sweets where you have to jump across macaroon stepping stones in a river of milk. This game is delightful for that, especially as it comes right out of no where! One minute, Micky is running through a giant Library that makes him like the size of a...mouse, the next he’s in a five-year-old’s idea of Heaven.
This is like the Carebears turning up in Citizen Kane. It's that unexpected and random. Mickey get's pushed into a bottle of milk and ends up here!
Now, the Android had a few graphical oddities concerning swinging ropes but everything else looked stellar! Character designs were fun but definitely very 'Disney'. Even the main villain 'Mizrabel' had looked great when she transforms into a younger version of herself at the end. The fun part is that she get's the best line in the entire thing.
Something along the lines of: "You think you can beat me? That would be a 'Castle of DE-lusion'!". Perfect! Hat’s off. It’s cheesy as all hell but it made me giggle. It’s just fun.
There's even the flipside to Mickey's pathetic feel. You see, Micky does feel weak, underwhelming in terms of abilities, feeble when taking damage and lighter than a feather while jumping and has no method of augmenting his abilities at all throughout the adventure. The upshot is a sense of dread from the Castle itself. The things you're fighting are often waaaay bigger than you. All of the bosses are either bigger than you or outnumber you. The castle becomes intimidating because the Level Design and Aesthetic attempts a sense of grand scale with what little it actually has to play with to create this threatening grandeur.
He's only an Unstoppable Machine of Destruction when Copyright is concerned.
For example, Toyland and the Library are both played while Mickey has been shrunk down until the mundane environments of a playroom or a library are now daunting challenges through them. The Toyland’s best level starts the player off right in front of the level exit, but it’s locked. The Key? Up a huge mountain of wooden blocks, train tracks and mobilised toys. When you get the key right at the very top? You rush all the way down at top speed, avoiding all the enemies until you skip right into the end. Simple, but satisfying. It’s a gradual build up you earn and your reward is to go down the giant slide.
The most intimidating and pretty neat level is when you have to rush though the parts of a Clock Tower. Running through each part of the moving, crushing and whirring parts till you get to the top. Everything is slamming against each other, grinding anything in the way into dust. Not only does it make for a more natural fit for a platformer challenge but it even feels dangerous. The shadows, the noises and the genuine actions of each part as you traverse seem to feel like it's hitting with some force when it moves.
There’s even little bits of variation between levels and environments have their own gimmicks. The Ruins introduce water and swimming. The Forests introduce the idea that some things look like they can be jumped on but are actually a trap. The Library has high and low paths to explore for pick ups. The Castle is just straight up full of traps for you.
Each level even has a few unique gimmicks. The Library will suddenly transition to Candy Land as mentioned, but The Forest has a small puzzle in the form of an impossible space. Walking in one path will make you appear out in the opposite place. The signpost in the middle will signify which directions haven’t been taken yet. You simply have to walk down each pathway until it lets up.
At one point, it suddenly becomes Soul Calibur.
A harder challenge is in Toyland because Toyland is best level. At one point, there will be a load of multi-coloured platforms laid out and the way forward looks pretty simple to cross. But! Walking straight across means that Mickey will just plummet! Why? Because some of the platforms are illusionary! If you guessed, there was a mirror near by that was showing the real path forwards, give yourself a cookie or something. I know it’s a cliche but it’s still done well, not exactly obvious, fits the theme of ‘Illusions, wooOOOooo!’ and actually caught me off guard till I figured it out. Heck! Even navigating via mirror is tricky!
This game is full of little touches where they tried to break up the 2.5D side-scrolling with something new. The Library has a moment where Mickey falls into a cup of tea and has to swim away from a whirlpool coming right for him. Anthropomorphised cubes of sugar with creepy little faces keep jumping in and getting in the way. Toyland also has a little bit where you run across cards until you get to the end. The Ruins has a level where you need to build a face out of what’s represented on all the buttons surrounding Mickey to continue.
There’s plenty of memorable stuff in here. Plenty! And you’ll likely get through it in a few hours. It’s very short. Which here is good. Dragging it out would have made this game far worse as, well, I'm not sure what else they had left towards the end. A few more sets of levels could have killed my enthusiasm but a short, sweet little game means it’s just that much more satisfying. No outstaying it’s welcome, just whip it out whenever your bored. Job done, play Toyland again.
"Did he just say what I think he said to do when bored?"
"Yes! You should have seen what he originally said you ate cheese off of."
(Keep those jokes to yourself, OK ;3)
If older players might not get the most out of it. The game is very gentle. Sure, some parts were tricky till I nailed the patterns, but lives and ammo are plentiful. You are highly unlikely to get a game over. The plot is barely worth mentioning, which is why I haven’t told you that Minnie has been captured by an old witch - called ‘Mizrabel’ - looking to do a Grunty by stealing Minnie’s youth and it’s Mickey’s job to save her, because it barely matters. In this, all the weird stuff you witnessed is more interesting.
For a child or someone that likes Disney stuff but isn’t too great at Platformers, Castle of Illusion is pretty decent as a choice. With it’s feet firmly rooted in the original, this actually improves on the original that having all the wizzy-wizzy technology Space Year 2015 can provide improve and breathe new life into something. This is a remake of something I’d never played, yet I still had some fun.
It won’t beat out Time Surfer as my favourite game on my Tablet right now. Nothing will because Time Surfer is awesome! If you see it, pick it up and hope for a Mickey Mania Remake in the same vain.
Actually! Why didn't this get a remake? Wait...Is that a Sony Logo? Yeah...Marvel Studios is likely ticking them off so much, they'll never let them have the code for that one...
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