Review: Castle of Illusion

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I’m going to be honest… I was a Nintendo kid, so when I picked this up I kinda thought it was The Magical Quest. That’s the one where Mickey gets costumes with special powers, like a firefighter or Carnac the Magnificent. Castle of Illusion obviously isn’t that, it’s a remake of a classic SEGA cart and for my part I was still willing to give it a shot. I have no nostalgia for a game I never played, so you can believe me when I say this one holds up just fine on its own. Despite a few polish concerns Castle of Illusion does a lot with its limited mechanics and scope, making up for them with wonderfully creative levels.

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The ubiquitous mouse is out on a picnic with his gal Minnie when the dastardly witch Mizrabel snatches her away for a dark ritual. Mickey gives chase back to the crone’s castle, a twisted edifice filled with portals to illusory worlds. There’s no way up to the tower where Minnie is held, but if Mickey can collect seven rainbow gems from the castle they’ll form a magical bridge he can cross. Grabbing them is no mean feat though, for each is held by one of Mizrabel’s masters of illusion who hold sway in their dreamlike domains.

Mickey’s definitely taking a few pages out of Mario’s book here, and not just from the lost sweetheart chapter. From the free 3D roaming of the castle to the fantasic pocket worlds to the scavenger list of magic gems to collect, Castle of Illusion hearkens heavily back to Mario 64 in structure and style. There are five rooms in the castle that lead to different worlds, each locked until you find the rainbow gem and a prescribed number of diamonds in the previous world. Within each world you’ll face a mix of 2D and 3D platforming, bouncing off enemies and hopping from ledge to ledge in search of gems and the exit. You’ll have two pure platforming levels per world, capped off by some kind of boss to topple.

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What makes Castle of Illusion special is how each realm is used to pose new challenges. The initial forest world has a great deal of verticality to explore by bouncing off of bats and insects, while the toy world features side areas themed around different toy sets. By far my favorite world is the library, which is filled with giant books that both shove you around and serve as makeshift platforms. There are tons of secrets to turn up here, even before you find adjoining passages to a candyland of flowing cream and floating cookies. Beyond the diamonds there are health and extra life pickups to find, as well as some well-hidden collectibles like castle statues, playing cards, and chili peppers which all unlock certain features back in the castle proper.

The bosses in particular stand out as high points, as they have very clear and creative patterns that still require decent reflexes to overcome. Most of the enemies and even the platforming aren’t that challenging until the final level or so, which could be a turn-off to hardcore platforming enthusiasts. The only other knock I have against Castle of Illusion is in some lacking aspects of the polish. Mid-budget platformers and remakes in general seem to end up feeling a bit cheaper than they should, and here it’s due to some thin sound effect design, a lack of feedback for combat, and some floaty movement. Really nothing you do has much weight to it, and while the cartoonish antics don’t demand it the overall game feel is worse for not having it as a consideration.

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I’ll not knock the game’s graphics, though. Castle of Illusion perfectly channels Mickey and his grimmer adventures, tempering the darkness with adorable enemies pulled right from classic films. Mickey himself looks fantastic, and really pops against the colorful backgrounds and art. Between that and the excellent narrator reading along with the story, you’ll find a strong offering for the aesthetically-minded. And for everyone else, there are a couple hours of quality platforming to partake of. It won’t set the world on fire but Castle of Illusion delivers where it counts, giving our friend Mickey fanciful worlds to run and jump and explore in.

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