This summer has seen the resurgence of two of gaming’s most beloved classic platformers. First came DuckTales Remastered, a solid and true remake that was unfortunately too frustrating and dated to recommend wholeheartedly. Now, there’s another retro revisit from the Magical Kingdom to speak of: 1990’s Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, which debuted on the SEGA Genesis before being ported to the company’s handheld Game Gear.
Growing up, I was a big Disney fan. I watched everything I could, and revisited different films and VHS compilations often. To further my intake, and expand my horizons, I rented The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse from a local video store, and ended up falling in love with it. It quickly became my favourite game, and had me saving up money in no time, so that I could eventually fork over $95 to both order and purchase my own cartridge from a local Mom and Pop store. Video games sure were expensive back then, but I got my money’s worth out of it and then some. Though, looking back, I probably should’ve gone with a more established retailer.
The Magical Quest was a fantastic game, and is one that I’d love to see remade. Being that it was a Super Nintendo exclusive, it was something that went well with my first owned console. I’ve never owned a SEGA Genesis, so I missed out on its predecessor, the aforementioned Castle of Illusion, which came out two years earlier. For that reason, I went into this review with tons of intrigue, but no nostalgia.
Two thousand and thirteen’s visually upgraded and remade version of this twenty-three year-old classic revisits the tale of Mickey, Minnie and an evil witch named Mizrabel. Self-conscious and hideous inside, the old cauldron user decides that she needs a makeover, and must transform herself from homely to vivacious. That means going out hunting, and stealing someone whose beauty she can drain. Of course, that ends up being Mickey’s pink-loving date.
Upon ambushing and taking her captive prize, Mizrabel retreats to her inner sanctum within the Castle of Illusion, a dark, dusty and dank old structure that oozes danger from its exterior. To his credit, though, Mickey doesn’t seem to be too worried about what’s inside, because, like all good dates and iconic heroes, he’s willing to do anything in order to save his love from the grips of madness. As such, he enters the abode, but not before being warned by a curious old mouse.
The game’s castle overworld is very similar to that of Super Mario 64, so Nintendo must have taken inspiration from this SEGA exclusive. However, instead of paintings, one must enter less creative doors, which lead the way to different worlds. Of course, being that this is, in fact, a video game, one cannot expect all doors to open at once. In order to unlock almost all of the included locks, gems must be found inside of levels; the first of which happen to be a trio of forest stages that end in a wooden boss battle. Although there are a total of 800 gems (plus seven large, coloured ones) spread throughout the game’s levels, only about 360 need to be found before the final environment is released from its lock and key shackles.
Despite being rather predictable and basic by today’s standards, the worlds that Mickey must traverse are very colourful, though their stage designs borrow from the Mario Bros. franchise and end up feeling a bit uninspired in comparison. That is, through today’s high-definition soaked eyes. Years ago, this type of design would’ve been much more impressive, but credit does need to be given to SEGA’s Australian development team for paying homage by sticking to what once worked. Even though I’ve never played the original game, I watched part of a classic playthrough and noted a lot of similarities.
Following the aforementioned forest, one will come across illusion-based landscapes such as one made of food, one comprised of stormy weather, and, expectedly, one that presents a dangerous castle interior. For the most part, each one is accessible and relatively forgiving, except for the castle. It marks the beginning of a notable difficulty curve that leads into the final boss battle. That’s understandable, of course, but it just so happens that the first castle level’s checkpoints are few and far between, which differs from its peers.
In order to stave off death during every level, one must jump, swim and bounce the suspender-wearing mouse from one point to another. Along the way, enemies appear in an effort to thwart your plans, and can be disillusioned in basic platforming fashion, or by having projectiles (apples, marbles, fireballs, etc.) thrown at them. It’s a very standard system that works without any major issues, but it’s unsurprisingly dated. That theme unfortunately carries through the entire game, and keeps it from being something that modern gamers will want to revisit.
Simply put, there’s something lacking here, and that’s a wow factor. Sure, there are some neat bosses to be found outside of somewhat challenging stages, which offer hidden collectibles and secret areas, but there’s little reason to return outside of achievements and trophies. On top of that, Mickey’s jump mechanic isn’t as precise as it could’ve been.
On the other hand, Castle of Illusion offers modern presentation qualities that feature a good amount of HD shine. It’s vividly colourful, and mixes three dimensional visuals with two dimensional camera angles. You won’t be blown away by its look in comparison to something like Rayman Legends, but that’s okay. Frankly, it’s really tough to complain about the visuals here, and the same is true of the audio. There’s some quality voice acting and interesting narration to be found within, though the latter list item tends to repeat whenever forced retries occur.
Perhaps it’s my lack of nostalgia speaking, but Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a decent, yet ultimately forgettable remake. It’s relatively entertaining the first time through, but you won’t find it calling you back for more, even though it includes a plethora of collectibles, a basic time trial mode and full leaderboard support. What’s presented is solid, but it lacks some sort of a wow factor, and is relatively steep at $15 for between two and three hours of gameplay. Granted, this package would’ve been a lot better if SEGA had decided to include the original game in the XBLA version. Why they didn’t do so is incredibly puzzling, and disappointing, especially for someone like myself, who has never had the pleasure of playing the 1990 classic.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game, which we were provided with.
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a faithful remake of a classic 90s platformer, but is unfortunately too basic and dated-feeling to wholly recommend. It's the type of game that requires nostalgia for its full effect, meaning that only fans of the original game will truly respect and enjoy its modern take on sixteen-bit gameplay.