I’ve gone on record on more than a few occasions admitting my lack of shame for being a massive Disney fanboy. The Epic Mickey franchise is perfect for this very purpose, taking a mix of old-school Disney magic with a touch of modern gameplay mechanics and it’s the perfect kind of game for someone like me. Make a 3DS game that plays like an old Genesis game, effectively amplifying the nostalgia that much more? Oh man, you’ve got something dangerously awesome on your hands.
Power of Illusion is a 3DS release of Epic Mickey to coincide with the console versions. Instead of taking after the story of the console games, Power of Illusion chooses to take on an entirely different adventure inside the Castle of Illusion, the very same one from the Illusion games back during the Genesis era.
The evil witch Mizrabel has gotten her castle trapped in Wasteland; the very place where forgotten dreams go to die. Mizrabel has thrown together an evil plan to use the hearts of beloved toons in order to escape from Wasteland, which is where our rodent hero comes in. Minnie is one of the unfortunate toons to be captured by Mizrabel, and Mickey isn’t about to stand by and let that happen.
Mickey falls into the Castle of Illusion, and the doors are quickly locked behind him. Mickey finds that he has to save other classic Disney characters and free their hearts in order to break parts of the illusion and find the way to Mizrabel in order to defeat her. It’s a story that’s part 90s platformer, as it’s trying to be, and has hints of Kingdom Hearts to it.
Keep in mind, when I say that Mickey has to save other classic Disney characters, I mean the likes of Peter Pan, Beast, Aladdin, Scrooge McDuck, Mulan and the like. The inclusion of all these characters is pretty cool. The circumstance in which you interact with them is not.
Power of Illusion works as an old-school platformer should, however everything is slown down dramatically. Mickey moves pretty slowly, but you’ll find yourself getting used to the rhythm of the game pretty quickly. Across roughly a dozen levels, players are expected to utilize Mickey’s skills in order to take on the challenges of each one. Since this is an Epic Mickey game we’re talking about, you have the power of paint and thinner at your disposal in order to create and erase various objects in each level, aside from the usual physical attacks like spin attacks and the typical platformer butt-stomp.
The paint and thinner work a bit differently than you’d expect. Gameplay is limited to the top screen of the 3DS, while the bottom features a rough map of what’s on top, along with objects in the game that you can either draw into existence or erase from the level. These are usually things like platforms or traps and the like. This mechanic works fairly well for the most part, but quickly becomes repetitive as you’ll be drawing the same symbols over and over again. Not to mention the backtracking, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
What’s cool is you can also “summon” certain objects or characters on command through the use of the sketch system. In need of an extra platform to give you an extra boost? Draw one. Having trouble with a group of enemies ahead? Summon Pluto in order to give you a bit of extra muscle. You can only hold so many sketches into any given level, and you can only summon them as long as you have enough paint. Thankfully none of these are needed to complete the game, but some creative thinking might be necessary in order to reach some secret areas in the levels.
Those secret areas are likely home to one of the many aforementioned Disney characters that are dying to be rescued. When you manage to find them, they’ll take up residence back in the fortress and get their own room. If you go find them after they’ve settled in, you’ll likely be given quests from them in order to find missing objects. This is the part where the game begins to feel unnecessary.
The bulk of these quests can be summed up as fetch quests. You might need to go find a broom for Snow White so she can clean up the place, which will be found in one of the levels you’ve already beaten. You might need to find Ariel’s friend Flounder, again in one of the levels you’ve already beaten. You might need to draw up a camel for the peddler from Aladdin, which begins and finishes the quest in the same interaction. Sometimes quests are as simple as talking to one person, talking to someone in a nearby room, and returning to the original person. It’s not a very intuitive or particularly interesting way of handling quests, but it really feels like a Genesis game in this respect, which I guess is the overall goal in the first place. Take that as you will.
These quests usually yield rewards in the form of upgrades to your paint/thinner reserves, health, stronger attacks, etc. You can buy so many from Scrooge McDuck once you find him, but many of these upgrades are locked to doing these quests. It’s not a great way to make the game feel longer, by making players go through levels that they’ve already played before, but the rewards are at least adequate.
It should be noted that the game could be completed without acquiring every single upgrade, but there’s quite a difficulty curve for some of the later levels. I was actually impressed as well as frustrated how many times I had to restart a level. It wasn’t a cheap restart, to be fair. So that helps with the backtracking a little, but you’ll still likely need to go back for upgrades anyway.
There’s no way of completing quests beforehand either, considering the key items you’re usually looking for don’t appear in levels until after you’ve already spoken to the person in question. So even if you want to scour each level thoroughly the first time with hopes of perfecting the game quickly, you’re going to be required to go back in order to finish these side quests anyway. This makes it difficult to play the game in long stretches.
Although that shouldn’t be a particularly common problem, given that the game is really short. There’s only three wings to the castle, each with 3-4 levels and a boss fight. The game could probably be beaten in about three hours. I managed to 100% the game in just less than eight hours. Given the repetitiveness of the game you may see that as a good thing or a bad thing. I’ll allow you to decide for yourself. I personally thought the length was perfect for what it was.
You could do much worse than Power of Illusion. Although it has a handful of flaws, the game is overall very enjoyable, especially to those who grew up during the golden age of Disney and the Genesis era. It’s a love letter to old-school gaming. While that means it’s packed with more nostalgia than a Nintendo game, it also means there are plenty of dated ideals and missed opportunities here that will likely anger and disappoint the more modern crowd. I really hope there’s a sequel of some kind to Power of Illusion because I’d love to see the game with a few of these problems addressed. It might even be one of the few third party games on a 3DS that could be considered among the greatest on the system.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.