System: Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) | Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA | Reviewed On: Mega Drive
Mickey Mouse is without a doubt the biggest name in animated entertainment. Making his debut in 1928 & originally voiced by Walt Disney himself, he would later become the official mascot for the company, which last year generated almost $70 billion in global revenue. His silhouette is one of the most recognised symbols around the world & his legacy helped turn this animation company into one of the biggest media empires in the world. But today, we will be talking about his debut in the 16-bit console wars of the 1990s. Because priorities.
In 1990, Mickey made his debut on the Sega Mega Drive, eventually making its way to Europe in March of 1991. This entry was part of a second wave of games released for the console to help sustain Sega’s popularity. This was until a certain blue hedgehog would help change the company’s fate for the better. On the game's 30th anniversary, we’ll be diving into this classic platform gem and see if it has withstood the test of time. Oh boy! Let’s go!
Like most games in the 90s, this title has a simple story. Mickey and Minnie are dancing happily in the forest when suddenly, the evil witch Mizrabel kidnaps Minnie & takes her to The Castle of Illusion; with her goal to steal her youth, in order to become young again. When Mickey reaches the castle, he is met by a hooded figure, who we find out is the true king of the castle. He states that in order to reach Mizrabel, he must collect seven rainbow gems that are guarded by her henchmen. These together will help forge a path that will allow you to reach Minnie in a protected part of the castle, offering him the opportunity to cease Mizrabel's plan & secure Minnie’s freedom. A simple story of heroism & good over evil.
In order to reach Mizrabel, you must pass through six stages of varying themes ranging from an enchanted forest, a library, a medieval dungeon, even a toy land. Here, you will encounter different enemy types from trees to mushrooms, ghosts, toy soldiers & bats; all of which move & act in differing ways. You can eliminate enemies by either by bonking them with your butt (not in the British sense, I must note) or by throwing projectiles you collect; from apples to blue spheres & fire balls, one appointed exclusively to each stage & allowing up to 30 to be collected at a time.
However, be warned that enemies can simply touch you or throw projectiles of their own to harm you. Even parts of the environment can cause damage with some also causing an instant loss of live, so a level of precision is required in order to avoid these encounters. The game is sufficiently fruitful in offering health aids; with stars offering one point of health & a Mickey Mouse logo giving you an extra life. In addition, at every 40,000 and 90,000 point mark, you’ll receive an extra life automatically. Whilst your lives carry over, your health points & throwable items do not & will reset when you enter a new stage, so don’t be afraid to be too conservative with your items.
Typically, there are three levels in each stage with the final level concluding in a boss encounter, resulting in you obtaining one of the rainbow gems. These bosses also differ in their combat style, but they are pretty basic & once you've registered their movements, you can easily attack their weak points to defeat them. Overall, their simplistic nature was a little mixed for me personally, however this did not stop me getting too comfortable & ended up taking damage.
Even after the numerous times of playing this over the years, it’s still fun to overcome these encounters, even when I am aware of their patterns. My only disappointment was the lack in attack variety, as this did feel a little repetitive at times. On reflection, this is a game that was designed for a younger audience, so maybe I am pulling at the strings a little too tightly here.
Going back to the level design, each stage is uniquely detailed & vibrant. The game’s use of colour is stunning & although the system was limited to 512 colours, it was able to make effective use of this palette & made each stage feel distinct. There was also enough varying enemies & set pieces that made each level feel fresh & not one stage felt similar.
The music itself is pretty good. Nothing of major note, but it set each scene well with upbeat songs for the colourful levels & droning music for those with a darker tone. Unfortunately, there are no classic Mickey Mouse sound bites here. Instead, the game uses standard noises such a squeaky noise when you get hit, a high-pitched squeal when you fall & lose a life & an ascending tone every time you jump. The sound effects did grate a little bit over time, but I guess without them it would felt rather strange.
Castle of Illusion is a fun, platforming game that you can blast through effectively in a couple of hours & be entertained throughout. Whilst its age is a natural detractor for younger audiences, this doesn't mean it's lost its flair & I can see this as a entry level platformer for gamers, who are willing to embrace games from older generations. Its presentation & level design stands proudly, but slacked slightly on the sound effects side. There’s enough variety for the experience to feel engaging & it’s easy enough to reach the end with some resemblance of a challenge, which can still bite you if you don’t pay attention.
Playing this game takes me back to a simpler time when I used to visited my grandparents; with a hot mug of tea on the side & ready to zone myself into this world. It teaches a simple-yet-powerful story of a hero standing up for themselves and overcoming the odds, in order to save the person they love & attempt to rid the world of evil. Whilst it seems overly cliché, it's a guilty pleasure to embrace such a premise & this game delivers in a wholesome experience for retro & Disney fans alike.