In a time where it seems remaking old platformers is all the rage, Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse was next in line for a coat of HD sheen.
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, a mostly 2.5D platformer that tries to channel the 16-bit games of old, shows why some games should better be left to time. In some aspects, the game succeeds at bringing back the platforming prowess of the 1990s. Jumping around feels tight and accurate, yet floaty enough to correct errors. As such, I rarely found myself cursing controls or technical glitches. As a whole, there’s nothing specifically wrong with the game, but there’s also nothing that makes it special.
Castle of Illusion features a hub connecting its variously themed worlds, which are: boring forest, giant library, also-giant toy world, and regular-sized castle. Some of these are much more interesting than others. The forest is tired and dead, whereas the library is full of living books. At least they don’t rely on any one repeated gimmick or copy-pasted templates.
For extra variety, stages typically have branching paths and hidden goodies among them, which encourages you to take your time and really explore the whole level. Or would, if said goodies had any reason to collect besides achievements, some cosmetic changes and your own satisfaction. I don’t enjoy collecting hundreds of gems or hidden chili peppers when they don’t offer anything of merit.
Each world manages to devise some magical new way to bring you from left to right – sometimes it’s retractable platforms and other times it’s slowly descending tree leaves, but it’s always a different excuse to find new reasons to jump. It’s a shame, then, that so many levels feel like little more than brief obstacles instead of a challenge or real danger.
Sweating to the Oldies
To compensate, the final level is much harder than any other one part of the game. During the first three-quarters of the game I lost around five lives, but continued without a true game over. Contrary to that, the final castle resulted in at least ten or so game over screens. Considering how easy the rest of the game was, I didn’t particularly mind this distribution of difficulty. The final boss fight, though, is what took up most of my time. Every boss is the same tired “dodge and jump” formula, but the final boss is borderline unfair, longer and more dangerous than anything else.
If it weren’t for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, two characters who have nearly no depth, the game could be passed off as an above-average platformer from some unknown developer. But, because of the attachment to established Disney source material, the story and world are doomed to dullness.
Mickey as a character is just so boring, with almost no traits besides “brave” to his name. This was a chance to do something interesting or new with a character who hasn’t changed in two decades. In today’s world of Super Meat Boy and ‘Splosion Man, who ooze character and charm, a high-pitched mouse with nothing of note doesn’t cut it.
That’s the biggest weakness of Castle of Illusion. It’s a re-imagining of a game from the 1990s without any of the charm or character. It’s a solid platformer that happens to feature Mickey Mouse, but it’s nothing special.
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, by Sega and Sega Studios Australia, is out September 3 for Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3 and PC.