Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • System:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publishers:
    • Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    • US 11/20/1990
    • JP 11/21/1990
    • UK 11/22/1990
    • Brazil June 1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 03/31/2017.

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was originally released in North America on November 20, 1990, Japan on November 21, 1990, Europe on November 22, 1990, and Australia in 1991. Tec Toy also published the game in South America in June 1991. An 8-bit version of the game was later released for the Sega Master System and Game Gear, but it's almost completely different, so this review will solely cover the Genesis original. This is the first game in the Illusion series, which is known in Japan as I Love Mickey Mouse. In order of release, the series includes Castle of Illusion, Land of Illusion, World of Illusion, and Legend of Illusion. All these games are good to varying degrees, and Castle of Illusion is the most well known of the bunch, as many people grew up playing it. Castle of Illusion was in the second wave of games initially released for the Genesis, and it was one of the most successful games on the system until the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. It's not hard to see why; this game is a classic.

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Once upon a mouse, Mickey Mouse took his lovely girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, to Vera City, where life is joyful and everyone lives in peace. Well, except for an evil witch named Mizrabel, who, as her name implies, is always miserable. Mizrabel became jealous of Minnie's beauty and decided to kidnap her for it. Mickey chases after the nefarious nanny and finds himself at the titular Castle of Illusion, the fortress in which Mizrabel resides. There, an old man reveals himself to be the previous king of the castle, but states that Mizrabel took it from him long ago. The king then tells Mickey that Mizrabel intends on using her powers of illusion to exchange her ugly looks with Minnie's beauty. Obviously, this is not a very good deal for Minnie. In order to stop Mizrabel, Mickey must venture forth into the Castle of Illusion and find the seven gems of the rainbow. Once gathered, these precious gems will give him the power to overcome Mizrabel's magic and save Minnie from becoming a hideous freak of nature. The fate of Minnie's beauty is in Mickey's hands.

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Back in 1990, graphics like these were hard to come by. 8-bit consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System were still the norm back then, so anything on a 16-bit system like the Genesis was considered cutting edge. On top of that, Castle of Illusion looked better than the average 16-bit title of the time, featuring an extremely colorful palette, detailed sprites, and intricate animations. The animations are especially worth mentioning. For instance, whenever Mickey nears the edge of a ledge, he'll start flailing his arms around in fear, terrified at the prospect of falling. This later became a regular feature in video games, but Castle of Illusion did it before such a thing was standardized. The music is also pretty good, featuring plenty of delightful tunes and cute sound effects. The boss track is particularly nice, eschewing the normally cutesy style in place of a much faster tempo that's befitting of such encounters. This game certainly nails the presentation.

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In this game, you play as Disney's most iconic character, Mickey Mouse. Like most platform game heroes, Mickey's basic abilities include walking, ducking, jumping, and swimming. Normally, Mickey is unable to harm enemies by stomping on them with a normal jump, but he can hurt them with a butt stomp. To do that, you press the jump button once to jump and then press it again while in the air to initiate the butt stomp. Alternatively, you can press down while in midair. If the jump button is held down just as you butt stomp an enemy, you'll go even higher when bouncing off, which is sometimes essential in reaching higher areas. The butt stomp may seem like an unnecessary additional step to the process of jumping on enemies, but it does make things a tiny bit more interactive, and interactivity is always a good thing in games. The only issue is that Mickey's movements are rather slow and his jumps are kind of floaty. It's not too bad, though, plus the controls are precise enough to make up for that.

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Another thing Mickey can do is throw projectiles to attack enemies from afar, though he has a limited quantity of these. Depending on the stage, these projectiles will either be apples, marbles, or candles, but they all function identically and merely look different to fit in with the current stage's theme. Sometimes, there'll be blocks in your way that can only be destroyed via projectiles. Luckily, extra projectile ammo will always be lying around whenever this happens. Other helpful items include stars that replenish Mickey's health, which is represented by the "POWER" gauge at the bottom left corner of the screen. Mickey also has a limited amount of lives and continues, and the game ends once all of them have been exhausted. By that point, you'll likely be exhausted, too. Lastly, there are diamonds that Mickey can grab for extra points, and additional lives are earned if enough points are gathered. It's all fairly straightforward, and that's far from a bad thing.

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Every stage begins with Mickey entering a door in the Castle of Illusion, each of which leads to an illusory world. Despite the whole game technically taking place within the castle, every stage features different environmental themes. You've got an enchanted forest with vines you can swing on, a land of toys, a giant library with sentient books, a candy land flooded with milk, and more. Each stage is broken up into multiple areas, some of which feel like entirely different stages. For example, the first stage begins in the aforementioned forest, but eventually transitions into an eerie area with massive spider webs and large leaves to stand on. Then, the forest becomes haunted, with ghosts you must bounce on to get across the withered trees. It's a good way to start a good game. Occasionally, the game will throw some curveballs at you. An example of this is the final portion of the toy land stage, which flips upside down whenever you touch certain arrow icons, allowing you and your enemies to walk on the ceiling. In other words, the stages are fun.

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At the end of almost every stage is a Master of Illusion, otherwise known as a boss. Just about every boss battle is a simple matter of avoiding the boss' attacks and then hitting it with a projectile or butt stomp when it's vulnerable; rinse and repeat until the fight is over. Still, they're a good way to cap off a stage. The first boss is a log that rolls into a tree to knock acorns down towards you, and you can only hit him when he stops rolling around. In the toy land stage, the boss is a toy clown that bounces around the arena with his springy legs, and he attempts you punch you with his springy arms. After hopping around for a bit, he'll get dizzy and toss a bunch of springs on the ground that you then use to reach his head. Another boss is a serpent-like dragon that comes slithering out from beneath the screen, presenting you with the chance to bop it on the head. The slithering effect of this dragon is impressive for the time. While basic, the bosses aren't bad.

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Before you begin the adventure, a screen with various options will pop up. These options let you listen to the sound test, alter the controls, and change the game's difficulty. There are three selectable difficulties and they each have quite a big impact on the game. The easiest one is labeled as "Practice," and it's wildly different from the other two difficulties. In Practice, you play a truncated version of the game that only contains small portions of the first three stages and no bosses, plus you have four continues and will always start with full health. The second difficulty is "Normal," which lets you play all the stages in the game and fight all the bosses, but you only start with three hit points and are limited to two continues. Finally, in "Hard," you have no continues and always start with only two hit points. Additionally, there are more enemies and less helpful items in Hard. There are a couple of other differences between difficulties, but those are the major ones.

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The quality of this game is no illusion: it looks good, sounds good, and plays good. However, it does have a few problems, albeit minor ones. For one, Mickey's sluggish movements and floaty jumps take some getting used to, and the bosses are perhaps a bit too basic. The game does make up for these shortcomings with its solid level design and overall charm, though. Also, a lot of things in this game likely served as inspirations for Sega's next big classic, Sonic the Hedgehog. One shining example is the rainbow gems, which strongly resemble the Chaos Emeralds from Sonic. Well, it's more accurate to say that the Chaos Emeralds resemble the rainbow gems, but you get the idea. Anyway, Castle of Illusion might be a tad on the overrated side, but it's still pretty good.

Word Count: 1,579

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