For May the Retro Gaming Club played through the original Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse. Some played the Master System version, some the Game Gear release and others the Mega Drive one. Some played all three, I played the Mega Drive one via emulation on my PSP.
Castle of Illusion was developed and released by SEGA prior to them releasing Sonic the Hedgehog, in a way it was the SEGA consoles’ competitor to Nintendo’s Mario games due to the time in which it was released. SEGA at that point had relied on their mascot at the time, Alex Kidd but I don’t think that he was ever likely the one to take Mario’s crown. A good platformer featuring a character who was more renowned than Mario though? That’s more like it.
My recollection of the time was that it was another game in a long line that had me interested in the system, and I spoke in my Sonic 2 and Rocky throwbacks of how much I wanted a Mega Drive. I don’t ever recall actually playing Castle of Illusion, but I’m certain I played its sequel World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at a friends house a few times. So really, I went into this one fairly blind.
First off, it looks lovely, and I know I’ve said this often, and maybe its the PSP’s still pretty gorgeous screen or that 16-bit games have aged incredibly well, but it looks lovely. It obviously has its limitations and the animation obviously isn’t that of a Saturday morning cartoon but it definitely brought back memories of waiting at the airport when going on holiday in Jersey and reading comic strip panels with Mickey Mouse and co in from one of the pull out sections of my Uncles newspaper. Each level looks totally different with unique enemies in each so that visually it never gets boring, and the worlds behind each door way are interesting and fun with the odd hint to some of Disney’s own history (one boss is reminiscent of Pete’s Dragon), albeit this is a standalone tale of its own.
Level’s are short and sweet, although I definitely took advantage of my emulator’s Save State ability as the controls can feel a little imprecise and once Mickey’s lives are lost you’re sent right back to the beginning of the game, there’s no saving at all as far as I can tell and this definitely harks back to the “must complete in one play through” days of yore. There’s nothing wrong with that and maybe back then I’d be more inclined to keep trying as that was just how games were, now though we’re spoiled by saving structures, particularly autosave, and thus these types of games feel harder now than they did back then. Mickey can use two methods to defeat his foes, he can jump on them (however you have to press jump twice to pull of the bottom bounce required to defeat a foe, hitting one with a standard jump will deplete your health bar) or you can throw collectible items at them, a level is complete once you defeat its boss, again achieved by throwing items at them or bouncing off them. Due to the small area’s within these boss fights take place they often feel more difficult than they actually are.
It’s a charming little game though, its length means it never manages to outstay it’s welcome although this is probably a design decision based upon finishing in one sitting than it was the developers deciding they wanted that mood set. The story is uncomplicated, an evil with wants to steal Minnie’s youth and its upto Mickey to save the day, is typical of the time and particularly reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. which is probably what the team at SEGA were trying to emulate. Does it stand up as well as Nintendo’s defining platformer? I’d say no, it feels a little sluggish in comparison (despite the more primitive hardware that Nintendo’s game was on) and as I’ve mentioned the controls don’t feel quite accurate enough which is what makes Mario really stand up well today. It was still fun to play as a curiosity though.