What can you say about Mickey Mouse? I’ve always had a soft spot for the old rodent, not just because he’s a timeless character or that he was the star of one of my favorite childhood cartoons, House of Mouse, but also because he’s been there with me for some of my best childhood gaming memories. Mickey’s Speedway USA, Magical Mirror Starring Mickey Mouse, and, of course, Kingdom Hearts; these were all games that feature Mickey Mouse in starring roles (or at least secondary roles). Unfortunately, however, since I became a gamer when the Nintendo 64 was the big cheese, I missed out on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games, including, what many consider to be one of the best classic platformers, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a game praised for it’s simple-yet-fun platforming mechanics, detailed animations, and memorable soundtrack. In 2013, as homage (and perhaps a small cash-grab) to this game, SEGA remade it as a 2.5D platformer under the same title: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (but just Castle of Illusion is fine if you’re in a hurry). I wanted to play it when it came out, but sadly, back then, I wasn’t the savvy shopper I am now, and couldn’t fit into my gaming budget. It’s been a long time coming, but just recently, I finally got the opportunity to give this game a play myself, which is to say, I got it cheap.
One fine day, Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend (of like, eighty years) Minnie Mouse skipped merrily into the woods to have a picnic and just generally enjoy each other’s company. Unfortunately, no one checked the forecast that day, and about a minute into their picnic, a storm began to roll in. In a flash of lightning, Mickey sees that Minnie has been captured by the evil witch, Mizrabel, who bears a striking resemblance to the Evil Queen from Snow White. Mizrabel had always been jealous of Minnie’s beauty (who I would like to reiterate, is a mouse), and decided to kidnap her to steal it, whisking her away to the eponymous Castle of Illusion. Giving chase, Mickey meets an old mouse, who I guess just hangs out in front of the castle telling people how to beat Mizrabel, and tells Mickey he’ll need to find seven Rainbow Gems, hidden within the castle and guarded by Mizrabel’s illusory monsters, in order to clear the way to Mizrabel herself. The plot’s unchanged from the Genesis version, which is why it seems a little basic, though to be fair, Banjo-Kazooie had basically the same plot, and that game was good. Remember, it’s a remake, not a reboot.
There are five worlds within the Castle, with three levels in each. The first two levels of each world are your standard platforming fare; start at point A, get to point B, try not to die. Mickey can pick up various objects to lob at his enemies, such as marbles and candles, but his real skill is his bouncing ability. Jumping on an enemy’s head and holding down the button will shoot Mickey up into the air, which is usually where hidden platforms and collectables are to be found. If you ever see a bat hovering around seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it’s usually a fair guess that he’s actually your secret pathway to a chest. In addition to silver gems, which you need to collect in addition to the Rainbow Gems in order to open up the worlds, you can find magic playing cards and chili peppers (that belong to Donald Duck for some reason) hidden in each world. By collecting the cards and peppers, you can use Mizrabel’s magic mirror to change Mickey’s outfit, which doesn’t actually do anything, but it’s neat. The third level of each world is a boss guarding a gem, and while there are slight variations between them, the appropriate strategy is usually “wait until they do a thing, then jump on their head”. Admittedly, this game is a little light on the, well, game department, but the platforming is solid for the most part; Mickey goes where you want him to go, and rarely was a death not my own fault, with the exception of a couple of the water based levels, which were slightly hard to navigate.
What Castle of Illusion does have going for it in spades is style. I feel like I haven’t seen such a vibrant game in a long time. All of the worlds are rendered in a cartoony, but no less impressive 3D, from a sunny forest and a colorful toybox, to rain-soaked ruins and a sugar coated wonderland, it all evokes a strong feeling of childlike wonder in me. This is helped by the soundtrack, which was composed by the gaming music master himself, Grant Kirkhope (one more thing this game has in common with Banjo-Kazooie, amusingly). His signature horn sections put a jaunty spring into everything Mickey does, but he can easily shift the mood in a more serious direction with a quick string sting for dangerous segments. If you don’t like Grant Kirkhope, though (which means you probably don’t exist), you can toggle the game back to the bleep-y Genesis soundtrack with all songs faithfully carried over.
So while Castle of Illusion is a bit light on its gameplay, it is, by all means, a very well put together game. It looks great, sounds great, and does what it needs to with its platforming. The game is also a bit on the short side, with my playthrough clocking in at just under two hours, but if you spot it for the right price, it could be a fun way to spend an afternoon, especially if you have kids and need something a little lighter to enjoy with them.