There’s a good chance that if you grew up in the early 1990’s that you played Castle of Illusion. SEGA’s excellent platformer showcased the Mega Drive in the early years of its life and gave players a fantastic gaming experience as well.
SEGA Studios Australia has given us a lovingly crafted reimagining of our beloved platformer in the form of this year’s Castle of Illusion, which blends whimsical nostalgia with modern design sensibilities to give players a progressive update of a classic game.
Playing as everyone’s favourite Mus Musculus, players find themselves traversing the bitter witch Mizrabel’s castle after she kidnaps Minnie, jealous of her beauty. Each area of the castle is accessed through an intuitive hub system allowing players to go back and replay areas they have finished to unlock various trappings or just beat best times. As players enter areas, or certain events occur, a charming narrator lets us know how Mickey is feeling or comments on the odds he is up against.
Visually, this game has Disney written all over it. While the overall aesthetic and design is very Disney, gameplay has not suffered for this as Mickey controls excellently, with nice fluid motion very reminiscent of his original outing, but a little less floaty. You still collect items to hurl at enemies or stomp on them to access otherwise inaccessible areas. On occasion, I found my button presses to not register, but this was very rare.
Level design compliments the rock solid control with dynamic, engaging levels that are rich and varied with many secret areas to explore. The same basic design sensibilities apply from the original game, such as integrating pieces of the scenery as “portals” to other areas, but each of these areas play out so differently that it’s really only the aesthetic that has been carried over.
One of the things I loved about the level design in Castle of Illusion is that each area in the game is pretty massive. It’s not hard to pass an act if you keep pressing right on the analog stick, but there is real incentive to go back and find all of the playing cards and chili peppers scattered around the game simply to see more of the intricately designed levels.
Another new feature in Castle of Illusion I enjoyed is how the perspective changes. Occasionally, you will be walking down a hallway, and suddenly, an apple or boulder will start careening down towards you, and Mickey will begin running into the screen to evade it. These sections are quite well designed and break up the regular platforming very well. This same technique is generously applied to boss fights with each boss having multiple phases that will often change perspective mid-fight. This is not always a good thing though as the perspective can often change while you’re already moving, stopping you dead in your tracks. It’s a little annoying and takes some getting used to.
Boss fights in Castle of Illusion are faithful to their Mega Drive counterparts for the most part, but, as mentioned before, they will change their attack pattern mid-fight, which will often change the perspective as well. This makes boss fights less predictable and much more dynamic, but their fun factor does suffer a little because of this.
One thing I didn’t appreciate was SEGA Studios Australia changing the Clock Maker’s weapon from a knife to a mallet. While I understand why they did this, it would have been great to see them keep the game as authentic as possible.
The screenshots provided really can’t do justice to how good Castle of Illusion looks. It’s a stunning game with beautiful vistas, subtle lighting effects and charming modelling. Mickey looks great, and his face is very expressive. Enemies and incidental things have had just as much detail put into their design as Mickey himself with stand outs being the cute little mushrooms, the “A” enemies from the library (which say “A” incessantly which is cute and annoying at the same time) and the sugar cubes.
The sugar cubes are actually an indicator of how much effort went into subtle details in this game. At one point in the game, Mickey swims through a cup of tea (well, twice), and each time, he is accompanied by happy little sugar cubes that are obviously in their element drowning to death. They each have their own little expressive faces and the fact that so much effort and animation went into things like sugar cubes that are in the game for about two or three minutes total should be an indicator of how much love and attention was paid to design in this title.
If you’ve ever played Castle of Illusion on Mega Drive you’ll know that while the music is good, it definitely isn’t as sophisticated as something like Thunder Force 3. The reimagined soundtrack uses similar music to the Mega Drive game but is now orchestrated and sounds fantastic. The soundtrack is as varied and dynamic as the gameplay, and in addition to the charming narrator and Mickey’s endearing lines, the game should make your ears pretty happy. It’s silly, but one of the highlights of the sound in Castle of Illusion for me was the “A” enemies in the library. They shout “A” constantly, and when defeated, will utter a variation on “Ahhh,” and as silly as it is, I just love how playful that is.
How does Castle of Illusion compare to the original Mega Drive game? Each game has its own charm. At times, I disliked both, but at others, I loved them. I really appreciated the effort and love SEGA Studios Australia lavished upon this reimagining of a classic game from my childhood and the inclusion of a fairer checkpoint system and a hub that allows you to replay levels to collect more unlockables like statues and costumes brings a contemporary flavour to a game that might turn some away if they like their games purely modern in design.
I would highly recommend Castle of Illusion to any fan of platform games and if you love your Disney, well this is for you. For nostalgia lovers looking for a trip then this is a great way to experience one of the best games on 1990 today.