With the annoucement of a Castle of Illusion remake, read our full preview here, we used it as an excuse to power up the 1990 classic to see how it’s aged over the last 23 years. You can see the full recorded playthrough in a video at the bottom of this review. Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse was one of the games that came with my original Sega Mega Drive so it has a special place in my heart. I could never complete it however but finally, after 20 years, I can say that I’ve now killed the wicked witch Mizrabel. Details about the games release and background can be found in the preview so I won’t repeat myself here and jump straight in. So, does it live up to the childhood memory?
The game has a simple back story. Witch kidnaps girl. Boy wants to save girl. Boy finds 7 magic gems to build a rainbow bridge over a chasm to the castle. Though many would breakdown at the sight of their beloved being flown away to a spooky castle we can all learn a thing or two from young Mickey. Throughout the entire game he never stops smiling and maintains his swagger whilst fighting his way to the castle. He never gives up and wins her back in the end, it’s quite beautiful. **STORY SPOILERS** The ending also has that classic cliche of evil turning good just in time to save our main characters.
There isn’t much new introduced here in terms of what it means to be a platformer. You’ll be facing many different enemies which can be killed in one of two way. You can either throw an item at them, if you’re stocked up, or you can stick your little bottom out and bounce on their head by holding the down button while in the air. The backgrounds are animated and filled with nearly as much detail as the foreground. Combined with bright colours are great animations making the overall product rather pretty to look at. This game is a very addictive little number.
When you die, you feel like you learned something that you can take into your next turn and will most likely overcome it the second time without feeling you’ve been cheated out of a life.
At the beginning of the game you choose your difficulty and the easier the difficulty the less levels there are. For the sake of this review I chose hard. Once I’d got over the nostalgia of it all I realised that it wasn’t that hard at all. Like alot of retro games, the difficulty doesn’t come from the gameplay but rather that you have to do it in one sitting as there are no save points or passwords. Not getting hit by the enemies along the way is where the difficulty comes in. The levels are pretty linear, the goal is to move from far left to far right in classic side-strolling fashion. After 3 levels in an area you’ll be faced with a boss battle. These are very reptitive, you hit your enemy and they do the exact same thing till you hit them enough times. You might expect that there are no breath-taking boss battles like God of War but if you think of the final boss on Sonic 2 it gets increasingly difficult and mixes it up after a couple of hits to keep it feeling fresh wish is lost here.
There are no tricky puzzles and the game won’t leave your brain hurting, though it may leave you frustrated and feeling cheated at times. The main puzzle of Castle of Illusion comes in the form of trial and error. At times you won’t be faced with a linear path. Sometimes there will be multiple ways to go, some will simply be time wasters, some will have secrets or pickups and others will straight up get you killed. You clearly weren’t suppose to get through this game in one go unless you’re incredibly lucky as you’re forced to die at times just to learn what to do next time. For example, there’s one level with a ramp Mickey runs down rather quickly and if you don’t jump at the right time he’ll run straight into a deadly pool. Nobody would have reactions quick enough to dodge it so it’s their way of making the game last longer. In the modern era that would be considered a cheap way to make a game and give it length but things were different on the retro console. My playthrough video is less than half an hour long so that’s how quick you can finish the game. The idea is that you want to keep going back and trying to beat that tricky area but with enough balance that when you know about it, it’s easily avoidable and not overly difficulty. It’s more like remembering what’s around the next corner, how to overcome it and then play it out rather than taking things as they come.
You’ll also be rewarded for exploring in the form of secrets. These mainly, like several retro games, involve walking through walls to secret rooms where you’ll find gems and items.
As I mentioned, there are 4 levels in total for each area. Though the first level is split into two parts. These levels all feel unique, even the ones in the same area, the environments change and so do the enemies. The greatest example of this is the first area, the forest. One minute you’re running through a bright forest, the next you’re jumping between leaves dodging hanging spiders and then you return to the forest where it’s now dark and spooky. The music also changes to match the mood of the level and though a little repetitive the tunes are rather catchy and the lighter melodies will have you tapping your toes to the rhythm.
Castle of Illusion is a great game and is platforming at its best. It had a lot of similar games to compete with when it was released with platform being the most popular genre of the time as perhaps FPS is today.
If you haven’t played the original then you missed out and I suggest you get your hands on a copy if you can. If you have played it then I hope this review coupled with the video below brings back happy memories as it did for me playing through it again after all these years. It has its cliche moments and predictability in terms of a nice happy ending but story telling isn’t the focus here as it rarely was in this time period. **SPOILERS** There’s still one thing I still don’t understand about the final boss though. After a while Mickey seems to remember he has a magical orb stuffed in his pants that he busts out to finish the witch off. This could have been useful earlier on. Maybe that’s why he was always smiling, he knew he had a secret weapon. Or maybe it just had a vibrate setting.
You can tell that those that worked on the game put a lot of time and care with this title and it shows in the final product.
It’s not without its flaws but the original Sega version has gone down as a classic for good reason. Hopefully the HD remake can make the same impact when it comes out in the summer and do the original justice while bringing it to a new audience.
Just a quick note on this video. It’s not a speed run, I did get hit and turned around at certain points but I tried to cut out anything unnecessary such as mini-levels and the level completion screen so you can refresh your memories without sitting through all the filler. Enjoy.