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May 19, 2017

Castle of Illusion

Didn't think I'd put a pic of such a
different game in the review of a
Disney-based platform game!
On Steam, we’ve all got that one game that was pulled out of the store for a reason or another. It’s no longer available for others to buy, but if you’ve got it in your game library, you can still play it as much as you want. For some reason, a few games included in Humble Bundles can also be this. In other cases, the game is announced as leaving the store and can still be purchased, sometimes with a great price reduction, before it goes away; this recently happened to the Alan Wake series due to expiring music licenses. That was also the case for a while for Disney’s Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, HD Remix.

Or, if you prefer brevity, you can just call it Castle of Illusion.

I would say a toy box world makes sense for a platforming
character who's a mouse, except Mickey is usually too
big for this to make any sense...
The original game was released on the Sega Mega Drive, known in America as the Sega Genesis, in 1990. It was, at the time, a very sweet little side-scrolling platform adventure featuring Mickey Mouse, where he ventures through a few worlds in order to save his girlfriend Minnie. The game was praised at the time, even reaching 21st place in Mega magazine’s 1992 list of the greatest games of all time on the Mega Drive.

And thus, much like DuckTales Remastered, an appreciated, beloved and cherished retro title had to get its 3D remake for the new era. Bonus points for Castle of Illusion HD coming out less than a month after DuckTales Remastered, on September 2013. Removed on September 1st, 2016, from the Steam Store, Castle of Illusion has returned on March 30th, 2017, now costing 16.99$, so my introduction about games no longer being in the store is kinda pointless. Oh well, it happens! It just means that I have an even better reason to review it! Follow me in this adventure, as we follow Mickey in the eponymous Castle, and meet all the dangers within!

What starts this adventure? The implication that the main Disney cast (the fan-favorites of the Mickey and Donald sub-series, including Scrooge who probably got his ticket for free, the cheapskate) is watching the events unravel like they’re a stage play or a movie. Well, I hope they’ve got a good stunt actor for Mickey, because he’s gonna get hurt a lot! Also, a Disney play/film and no songs? 1/10, not musical enough.

Fr some reason, my digital copy of the game was in French
and I was unable to change it. Oh well.
Mickey's search brings him to the entrance of the castle, where he meets an old mouse explaining to him the concept of platforming plot trinkets. That mouse says that Minnie was kidnapped by the evil witch Mizrabel. The witch plans to steal the mouse girl’s youth in order to recover hers. You know, this totally sounds like the evil queen from Snow White… but I guarantee you, this is a completely different villain character named Mizrabel. Never mind the fact that the old witch looks and acts exactly as the one from that classic Disney movie, ignore that her end goal is to be beautiful again, also ignore that the rejuvenated form of that witch will look exactly like the Evil Queen. This is a totally different character. Call it an homage if you want, we totally have a reason for going through all these hoops and telling you that this character who is the Evil Queen in anything but name is, in fact, not the Evil Queen! She’ll sue us! She’ll find a way through the barrier of fiction! She'll get the game pulled off Steam again!

The switch between 2D and 3D is noticeable but smooth.
And thus, Mickey enters the castle grounds, where we learn the main controls – you can of course change the button configuration in the options. Mickey has two abilities: He can jump, and he can throw items. The item he throws differs from a world to the other – as an example, in world 1, he tosses apples. He has to collect these items as he goes, however, meaning that he may have a limited amount to use as projectiles. Use with caution.

Mickey enters the castle, and I can definitely see a bit of a Super Mario 64 inspiration there. Mickey must collect a number of diamonds (there are 800 scattered around all the levels in the game) to unlock the later worlds. Each world has three levels (and thankfully doesn’t take place in a painting), and ends with a battle against one of Mizrabel’s Prime Ministers of Misery. Each of them has one of the seven Rainbow Jewels needed to build the bridge towards Mizrabel’s quarters.

"Welp! Even if I collected two jewels, guess I won't get
to see the bridge half-finished. Gotta have them all!"

On a side-note, I should mention that the music of the Remastered edition was composed by Grant Kirkland, the legendary composer of the no less legendary Banjo-Kazooie, also the composer of Yooka-Laylee. Oh hey, I never expected this review to be so relevant!

This game alternates between 2D and 3D sections, making it effectively a 2.5D platform game. In the first level, we have a sequence where Mickey is being chased by a giant apple in a 3D sequence, with the camera in front of Mickey, revealing the obstacles as he reaches them. I could have sworn I’ve seen something like that somewhere else…

Yup, I could have sworn there are weird similarities
between the top image and the bottom one which is
from a game I promised I never saw before. And if you
don't believe me, I say boo.

…I just can’t quite put my finger on it… And those Rainbow Jewels, of which there are seven, and who are all of different colors… It’s all so… strangely familiar… These gems that look like emeralds remind me of something, but it’s like chaos in my mind right now…

Maybe he was shrunk? Or everything around him is
bigger than normal? Or is it a mix of the two?
Mickey’s quest brings him in various illusory worlds, the first being a forest. Next is a toy box world, with a jack-in-the-box as the boss. World 3 is a combo of mountains, underwater areas, and ruins. Things get surprisingly hard as time goes, mostly because Mickey easily loses Hit Points, and the Stars required to regain them are sparse. Thankfully, checkpoints are common, so while you can die a lot, you usually won’t lose much – even if you lose a life, which is bound to happen, as many areas in the third and fourth world require precise jumps, in both 2D and 3D sections. Even Game Overs aren't too punishing.

World 4 is a giant library with a second world made of sweets inside it. While there are seven Emeralds to collect, there aren’t seven worlds; instead, there are five worlds, and two emeralds are found within levels. As an example, a shadow Mickey steals an emerald in this world, and Mickey chases him down across the candy world filled with jelly and the rare strawberry Oreos, and then through the bookshelves where most of the books aim to send you off into the great big endless pits. Thankfully, this ends with Shadow Mickey being taken out, so Mickey recovers the green emerald. Also, the boss in this one is a giant red licorice dragon. Weird, but surprisingly tough since the entire battle is spent jumping from a strawberry Oreo to another. I would rather prefer the Sugar Rush world. It may be led by a jerk racer, but at least it doesn’t have licorice dragons!

Wait, why am I saying emerald? It’s Rainbow Jewels. Jewels, Nicolas!

Now if only that new jewel wuld give me the
power to defeat that big licorice dragon...

We're gonna ring his bells alright!
World 5 is a castle land that evolves into a clock tower with gears all over. Mickey finds another free jewel in that castle’s treasure room, and gathers the last one from that world’s boss, whose design is similar to the giant from Disney’s take on Jack and the Beanstalk… which also featured Mickey. For the sake of trivia, that short was presented during a house party that included Jiminy Cricket, some kids, an adult, two ventriloquist dummies and a hand puppet for some reason.

A rainbow bridge? What kind of Care
Bear Bullcrap is that?
With all seven Jewels in hand, Mickey builds the bridge towards the final zone of the game. Thus we get the final level, a hectic climb up around a tower while Mizrabel plays tricks, summoning spiders, making platforms invisible, destroying stone floors just after Mickey ran past them… But we get to her chamber, where the witch has started her spell. And it works! She reverts to a hourglass figure, looking exactly like the Evil Queen – but it’s not the Evil Queen, gotta remember that!

This green glow is the most evil thing about this Evil Qu-
Er, I mean, nasty sorceress!
As a final boss, she is suitably hard, with various patterns, and of course it takes place on a 3D battlefield. Mizrabel has 6 hit points, and she first has five different patterns, which she combines for the sixth. When she’s defeated, the seven Jewels come down, merged into a single Rainbow Gem, which Mickey tosses in the witch’s face. Hey, gotta try everything that can be tried, right? This turns out to work, bringing Minnie back to normal, and morphing Mizrabel from a malevolent-looking old witch to a fairly-more-benevolent-looking old witch.

At least this one doesn't look like the kind who would steal
the youth of others to become young and pretty.
Urgh, I despise vanity as a motive for evil characters.

With this, the castle crumbles, and Mizrabel, who has had a change of heart, hands brooms to the couple so that they can escape with her. And so they fly away as the Castle of Illusion disintegrates, and Mizrabel is allowed to turn over a new leaf as a good person. Well, that came out of nowhere. Mickey hugs Minnie, mission accomplished, the end. We roll back to the theater room where the audience stays still, but we hear applause. Roll credits, the game’s finished!

And so Mickey and Minnie taught love to an evil character,
turning that character good.
That's the biggest goddamn cliché in the book.

As you can see, Mickey's mirror self wears an explorer's
Of course, you can stay around to find everything else there is to find in the game:
-Gather all 800 diamonds;
-5 Peppers, one per world;
-5 Playing Cards, also one per world.

Those don’t actually do much, aside from unlocking alternate costumes for Mickey. Beating the game gives him a knight attire, the playing cards dress him up as a stage magician (What? Not his wizard costume from Fantasia?), and the peppers unlock an explorer garb.

That’s all for this game, really. I’d say it’s about as good as DuckTales Remastered, although the two are different on many points. Both are adaptations of 2D side-scrolling retro platform games, yet while DuckTales stays true to its 2D roots, Castle of Illusion innovates by adding a lot of 3D sections. Both games improve on the plot of the game they’re remasters of, adding voice tracks and cutscenes, and generally expanding on the plot. I’ve heard that the final boss in the original version was also a mouse person, despite still being a witch. They changed her to be a nod to the villain of Snow White, which is clever – although the reference is so clear, you have to wonder if they really needed to try and disguise it. Maybe because they knew it wouldn’t fit with their ending where Mizrabel turns nice…

I do have over 320 diamonds! Why can't I enter that level?
This is horseapples! Why do I NEED the diamond from
the previous level?
Oh, it’s got flaws of course. For starters, the hub castle level has doors to each of the five levels, but you can’t, say, skip one. You’re still forced to play them in the order they were meant to be played, since one isn’t unlocked unless you beat the previous one. Also, you still need the required amount of diamonds to unlock later doors, which is kind of a useless demand if you’re forced to play the levels in a set order! The point of having Stars unlocking doors in Super Mario 64 was that you had freedom in picking the levels you wanted to play, as long as you had enough Stars!

Comparing the old game to the HD 3D remaster, I can see how they tried to replicate the levels and bosses accurately, while still giving more depth to each of them. Another thing I notice is how every boss has an updated design and a few more tactics and attacks. The bosses of the original generally had one attack pattern and that was it. The diamonds add a very nice dimension to the whole game, at least in the added challenge of gathering them all – since their purpose in unlocking doors is pretty much pointless.

I would also say that the game is more difficult than you’d expect it to be, but thankfully the game’s system isn’t too punishing. Falling in an endless pit only makes you lose one hit point, and there are many respawn points. If you lose all of your lives, you only have to start the whole level over, which isn’t as punitive as some other games where you’d lose all progress. On this, I felt the game was fair. Not the hardest platformer I’ve played (come back in two weeks for that one!), but not an easy one either.

Narrow platforms + insta-death water flows =
ne of the hardest sequences in the entire damn game.

I’m not sure I’d buy this game at its current price tag of 16.99$ – many, many more Steam games are less expensive and yet hold more content – but I do suggest you buy this game if you someday find it on sale. It’s a fun little Disney title that will keep you busy.

Still one more review to go for Steam, then another special review, a Top 12, and this cycle will be complete!