Castle of Illusion isn’t the straight remake of the 1990 Sega Genesis original that you may have expected it to be. While some levels are largely the same, others are completely retooled, with new illusions and tricks around every turn. But worry not, retro purists, the same wondrous environments and engulfing atmospheres remain intact, and it’s clear that every new decision was caring and made with the utmost respect for its inspiration. This is a labour of love, that does a pretty great job of reintroducing a classic game to the modern era, despite a few shortcomings.
Mickey Mouse has found his way from coaxial cords to being beamed into your television via HD cables, and we must admit he looks pretty darn good; smooth and shiny would be two most fitting words we can think of to describe the new 3D-rendered visual overhaul. Environments that you remember – like the Enchanted Forest and Toyland – are delightfully redesigned, and the inhabitants feature impressive animations. On top of it all is an admirable narration (it’s Sully from Uncharted!) adding an extra layer of innocence and fun to the proceedings. All of these elements come together to feel like you’re really a part of this living, breathing, storybook-like world.
For better or worse, the hop and bop gameplay largely feels the same as it did over 20 years ago. Mickey still moves rather sluggishly, but the level design and space feels more effectively laid out here, which keep things engaging. But it is a “one jump at a time” type of play – as opposed to a reflex-based approach – that won’t be for everyone. Mickey jumps high into the air, but is carried with very little forward momentum. Platforming can pose quite a challenge because of this, mainly in a fair manner, but on isolated occasions it can be quite clumsy leading to unwarranted deaths. It may all show its age, though it’s still serviceable.
The game remains dominantly delivered from a side-scrolling perspective, but now the terrain dynamically winds in and out of the background and foreground, further immersing you in each location. Often you’ll enter a new area where the play will seamlessly shift from a standard side view, to full 3D freedom. These areas generally feature light puzzling, mazes, boss battles, and of course, tight platforming. Most feel fantastic and exciting, but there are sections that require very precise landing, and it’s complicated to judge your distance. In other 3D platformers your character’s shadow is indicative of his positioning, but Mickey’s shadow is so faintly projected, that you can barely notice it when you need to. Luckily it's an extremely minor hiccup throughout the adventure.
Like most boss battles from this era, the method to success is memorizing patterns, then attacking with proficiency. That formula is the same here, though the cinematic presentation tends to spice things up a bit. In the final act of Toyland, you’ll face off against a bouncy jack-in-the-box, but this time around you’re planted in a 3D arena. It works pretty well and injects new life into the battle. There are one or two that aren’t as well-developed though, like an underwater battle against a bunch of sea monkeys which is victim of spotty detection and poor design. It’s not infuriatingly bad, but it is negative mark on the scorecard, nonetheless; though we do feel the sheer size and scope of the followup boss, the Red Licorice Dragon, totally makes up for this.
Overall, things tend to drag a little bit when the swimming portions are introduced. They aren’t terrible, but Mickey doesn’t move all that fluidly yet is tasked with navigating tight spaces cluttered with enemies and obstacles. There were also minor detection issues that played a hand in our frustrations around this point. It’s not a major hurdle to overcome, but considering it’s a two hour game that costs $15, any hangup can affect the impression in a greater way than you’d expect. If you’re an unwavering fan of the original, or have spectacular memories of the game that you’d like to relive, you’ll more than likely adore what’s on offer here. It’s the modern-day gamers that are only accustomed to speedier platformers featuring the likes of Rayman or Sonic that may not be able to get past the slower moving, archaic gameplay.
Castle of Illusion is a faithful re-imagining of the Sega Genesis classic, which happens to be a good, but occasionally hindering thing. The shiny new HD coat of paint is captivating, the environments and enemies are animated and whimsical, and the overall modernized presentation really brings this magical world to life. Unfortunately the sluggish controls and some clumsy platforming can drag things down here and there. When you top that off with an extremely light amount of content for a double-digit asking price, this may not be an ideal purchase for all. Regardless, it should please fans of the original, like us, and isn’t that what matters most?