Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse Review
Remember the old days when Disney games were awesome? Three of the biggest platformers of the 8 and 16-bit era were Ducktales, Mickey’s Castle of Illusion, and Aladdin. Well, Disney has been working to bring back these classic titles of yore to a current generation of gamers. Ducktales has already been remastered and recently Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse got the remake treatment as well, courtesy of Sega. Aladdin, we are looking at you next!
Unlike Ducktales Remastered, which was more or less a faithful remake of the NES original, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse takes some serious artistic license with the source material. Instead of being a strictly 2D platformer, the new Castle of Illusion switches back and forth from 2D and 3D perspectives. Levels in the game have been completely redone. Boss encounters that didn’t exist before have been added as punctuation to the platforming levels. All levels are now connected via a hub world, and some of the most difficult parts of the original game have been changed into bonus levels or omitted entirely.
But with all of these changes, Castle of Illusion still feels as if it is truer to the original than Ducktales Remastered was, even though Ducktales was almost pixel for pixel the exact same game we saw on the NES. A lot of this comes from Castle of Illusion’s pacing. Unlike Ducktales and many other prior Disney platformers like Disney Epic Mickey, the action isn’t broken up by dialogue or cutscenes. Instead, there is an ever present narrator that describes the action as it takes place, never breaking up your control of Mickey. There are a few custcenes before boss battles and they can get a bit long at times, but they are infrequent enough to not affect your enjoyment of the game.
Castle of Illusion is controlled with classic simple platforming controls. Although Mickey an throw a limited amount of projectiles, his main method of attack is to jump on the heads of his foes. Doing so gives Mickey an extra bounce of height and many of the more advanced platforming levels involve bouncing off enemies one after another to reach high areas or platforms that would otherwise be inaccessible. Of course, if you screw up your platforming after killing an enemy or two, you cannot attempt the platforming puzzle again as the enemies are no longer there to bounce off of.
Luckily, Sega has made sure that puzzles like this rarely end in death. Instead, they tend to lead to bonus levels and cool unlockable extras which luckily means you never have to grind your way through difficult jumping puzzles just to proceed. Bonus levels themselves tend to be even harder platforming puzzles that take split second reactions to complete. However, dying on bonus levels simply spits you back out into the main game, no lives lost. Sega made sure to cause as little frustration as possible, allowing casual gamers to continue with a minimal amount of trouble, while still including optional platforming segments for the hardcore crowd.
When we tried Castle at E3, Sega representatives warned us that the TVs we were playing on were laggy, and as expected the game was difficult to control due to controller delay. Unfortunately, it seems as if that was a lie, because every TV we have tried the final version of the game on seems to still have this controller delay hardcoded in. This makes Mickey kind of hard to control, as you always have to jump and move a second before you actually want to. The fact that Mickey feels loose and floaty in the air doesn’t help either. It’s a control scheme that you will eventually get used to, but will seriously annoy you when just starting out.
The 3D levels in the game are sadly weaker than the 2D levels. Jump distances are hard to judge, especially with the slight controller delay, which will result in a few frustrating mishaps. Luckily, the 3D portions are infrequent, and many of them are bonus levels only. It doesn’t hurt that much but could have been done better.
3D boss battles, on the other hand, are actually rather fun. They open up bosses to a variety of different attack patterns and let you dodge their attacks in interesting ways. They are especially enjoyable if you remember the original game’s 2D counterparts. Granted, this sort of splits Castle into two completely different gameplay types: 2D platforming and 3D boss battles, and they do take two completely different sets of skills, but for some reason it just works.
The biggest problem with Castle of Illusion is that it’s short, very short. If you get the hang of the control scheme then it can be beaten in a few hours at most. This is one of those titles you can easily binge play to completion in one sitting, which can make it feel a bit like a ripoff to some people. Luckily, there is a certain degree of replay value in the aforementioned bonus levels, hidden collectibles, and secret areas. There is also a time attack mode that will allow speed runners to try and best each other while climbing up an online leaderboard. Unfortunately, neither the hidden collectibles nor the time attack mode will appeal to more casual gamers who will likely play through once and then put it down forever.
Castle of Illusion has a lot of ups and downs. Its short length and control issues will turn a lot of people off, but its dedication to the spirit of the original and genius level design will appeal to hardcore platformer fans the world over. If you played the original way back when, then you should pick up Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse just to see how it has changed. Otherwise, Castle of Illusion is a competent platformer that will keep you engaged, but doesn’t really shine over other platformer offerings on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network.
This review was based on a downloadable retail copy for the Playstation 3.