A little over twenty years ago I remember visiting a friend's house to play a new game he had just bought for his Sega Mega Drive - Castle of Illusion. I remember my reaction as I sat on his lounge room floor, controller in hand. I was no longer watching a Disney cartoon or playing a video game. The two had melded into one, and I was now playing a Disney cartoon. Twenty years ago, the future had arrived.
I'm sure if I got my hands on a Sega system now and popped in the cartridge, my memories would be as dust in the wind. It's amazing what we have become accustomed to over time, especially now we have 64-bit A7 chips in our iDevices. So perhaps I was expecting too much when I loaded up Sega Studios Australia’s new version all these years later. The developer has done a solid job: it still feels like I am playing a classic cartoon. But all the advancements in technology over the last two years have cracked my rose-tinted glasses.
As you’d expect, the Castle of Illusion gameplay experience feels like a very old platformer, despite the fresh coat of paint. I really do like old-school platform level design. I like seeking out hidden areas that only exist to reward those willing to go exploring – a feature missing from most modern takes on the genre. There are no clues or pointers to get you there, they are just waiting for the curious to find them.
Others elements, however, remind you that the world has moved on and evolved alongside new ideas. Much of Castle of Illusion involves jumping on an enemy's head to defeat them, collecting gems and, of course, leaping from platform to platform. There are some nice quirks that still stand out as being inspired, such as a puzzle that involves a mirror image of Mickey, but for all my nostalgia, I quickly longed for something fresh to experience in this world that didn’t rely on old gameplay tropes.
The controls let the game down slightly, too. Using a virtual thumbstick for precision platforming never feels intuitive. You can choose to have it appear in a floating or fixed position on your screen, and I much preferred fixed. (Choosing floating often sees your thumb gradually inch along your touchscreen and off the edge). However, I think fixed directional buttons instead of a thumbstick would have been a better option and more representative of the old-school gameplay.
Collecting enough gems will unlock doors in the titular castle, which acts as your level hub. Collect the gems, complete the levels, climb the castle, save the girl. The girl in this case is, of course, Minnie Mouse, who has been abducted by the evil witch Mizrabel who plans to steal her youth and beauty away for all eternity. It’s a classic Disney tale and that, for one, never gets old.
Despite its flaws, this remake of Castle of Illusion looks great and is fun to play, but in an App Store with so much innovation and competition, I feel it could easily get lost in the crowd. To my surprise, it failed to evoke in me those feelings I remember from sitting on my friend’s lounge room floor more than twenty years ago, but I certainly appreciate the opportunity to peer back into that memorable period of my life.
You can grab it here.
Verdict: Despite occasional frustrations, Castle of Illusion is a fun and visually impressive rework of a true classic. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d played this experience in too many different guises over the years to fully enjoy it.
Did you know there are 22 more detailed, fully interactive new media reviews in Issue 1 of Grab It Indie Games Magazine? Get it here.