Castle of Illusion Review

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A home-grown re-imagining of a Disney Classic!

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Platform: Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (Reviewed)
Developer: Sega Studios Australia
Publisher: Sega

The early 90’s saw not only a renaissance in Disney films with titles like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, but also with interactive entertainment. Many great Disney animations became surprisingly great video games. The original Castle of Illusion on the Mega Drive could be considered the first of such games along with (the also recently re-made) DuckTales video game on NES. Many of these titles were great games in their own right, the license merely giving the games their character. Many of these titles remain as playable today as they were then but that doesn’t mean that more can’t be done. This Sega Studios Australia developed reimagining of Castle of Illusion has as much to live up to and it certainly does.

Let me briefly digress about length. This is something that comes up a lot with many titles whether budget or AAA. What is more important, quality or quantity? There is no easy answer and I don’t intend to try to give one. It is relevant to consider this though as Castle of Illusion is a very short game, lasting a matter of hours and with very little to extend it. This is of course no different to the original but it is made more noticeable by the presence of checkpoints which makes the game a lot more forgiving. If this bothers you, even for a game priced under $20, then it is worth mentioning and considering. I however, wasn’t at all dissatisfied once I reached the end and I’ve still to go back and grab the few collectables I’m missing.

I’m not bothered because Castle of Illusion is quite simply engrossing from start to finish and I couldn’t put the controller down until the end. Every level – every moment is quality time spent.

Let’s knock out the flaws so I can continue to gush:

  • There are times when platforms blend in confusingly with the background.
  • The narrator’s voice sometimes cuts out before he has finished speaking, especially if you move through too fast. Also, some people may not like Sully from Uncharted or even having a narrator at all.
  • Like many platformers, it can take some time to get used to the otherwise smooth and responsive controls. However, it was a little better in my experience than the original.
  • There are some unexpected and irritating insta-death moments.
  • It isn’t a pixel for pixel recreation of the original in HD which is not really a flaw but worth mentioning.

What makes Castle of Illusion so great is the way the environment, sound effects and musical score blends so well with the gameplay. This might sound silly because most games could be said to do this. Castle of Illusion does it better with the wonderful orchestral score striking highs and lows as Mickey travels through the level. When you’re just doing regular platforming there will be a gentle melody playing but when danger strikes the symbols will crash and the horns will strike up and on cue you will realise it is ready to run. This is something that will happen throughout each of the stages, ending only briefly as you come back out into the new castle overworld to select the next world. Outside of bringing the game to a new audience, the bombastic score is also perhaps what best differentiates and therefore justifies the remake.

The gameplay largely remains the same. Mickey is able to throw items and jump upon enemies. The game controls a little differently to the original and it does take a while to get used to the mechanics. Once this is overcome, each world is a pleasure to traverse with only the aforementioned (and occasional) confusion about what precisely is a platform. Where the gameplay differs is during the boss battle where Mickey is able to switch to a 3D plain. Since the game is all built on a 3D engine and there is fair warning, this transition is very smooth and makes the boss battle a lot more interesting. It helps that the overworld is also navigated this way.

The environments, while also redesigned based on the original are still fresh and original today. While beginning the game in a forest, Mickey soon moves on to more exotic locations. Amazingly, even back then, they weren’t just the typical desert, tundra and forest but truly inspired locations. Highlights include Toyland where Mickey is attacked by toy planes, soldiers and a jack-in-the-box and the dessert world, where Mickey hops on cookies over milk lakes is the  (please, excuse me) icing on the cake. There are also some stages within stages to be discovered including a memorable swim in a cup of coffee.

Castle of Illusion doesn’t radically change the original game but it didn’t need to. Instead it makes some meaningful enhancements using the technology of today and leaves what makes the original so special alone. In one way, it is a shame Sega Studios Australia have done so well because I had a great line ready if they didn’t:

“They dun Goofied”

But they didn’t.

4.5 Stars

September, 2013

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