Genre: Platformer Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Release: 1991
Castle of Illusion was one of those games that was a reason to get a Genesis when it released in November 1990. It screamed Disney, but Sega was keen on bringing over Mickey Mouse to its new Game Gear. It ported Castle of Illusion to it as one of the very first titles in early 1991. Outside of a few cheap moments, it’s pretty good and translates well to the smaller screen.
The story is virtually the same as the Genesis and Master System versions. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are happy in Vera City when the witch Mizrabel kidnaps Minnie. Mizrabel is jealous and wants popularity and beauty. It’s up to Mickey to recover gems in areas of the castle before the witch does anything harmful. Regarding story, it’s okay and does an interesting take on rescuing somebody. Other than Banjo-Kazooie on the N64, I can’t think of any other titles that did this kind of plot.
Castle of Illusion is a platformer. As Mickey Mouse, you must venture through the castle to get seven gems in order to save Minnie. Describing how he plays and the main meat of the game, it plays a bit like DuckTales on NES. Mickey can jump and use his butt to hit enemies, just like Scrooge’s cane minus the bouncing, except for enemies and certain objects. Another game like this is Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers on NES. Mickey can also grab certain objects that can be thrown like his chipmunk friends did. Whatever he throws can yield potential rewards.
The vibe I get out of Castle of Illusion’s graphics are those of an old ‘30s to ‘50s Disney cartoon. It may not have the flashy look on the Genesis, which was great, but this Game Gear version looks excellent, especially for being one of the handheld’s first games. Areas and backgrounds are great and capture the feeling of being in a Disney environment. Mickey and the enemies have little touches of animation that show the detail that can be done in 8-bit; it can hold its own. On the other hand, the game’s audio is decent. The music is not anything impressive. It’s decent, but lacks the sense of adventure like in the Genesis version. Some of it comes off too somber. The sound effects are pretty basic, but they vary enough to give the game a distinctive feel.
Castle of Illusion’s level design are above expectations. Sega did a great job of keeping the game from getting stale. There are going to be a few secrets or areas that might not have been explored the first time around and warrant a replay. A bit of complexity is given and the effort is superb for giving someone time to get through the levels within the confines of a time limit, something seen in most 8-bit games at the time. You’re not forced into checking every place, but whether the risk is warranted for the reward is up to the individual.
There are five main levels, with a final one opened after all of them are completed. Unlike the Genesis version, you can pick in any order from the first few levels that are offered. These are the same locations as in both console versions, such as the forest and dessert levels. Their designs do not have a simple “go left to right” approach. As in DuckTales, many paths can be taken to get to your destination. Some of them will take you to a dead end, and others will lead you to a path that takes you to the boss. As far as those fights go, a little patience is needed to figure out what method of attack is needed and where the boss needs to be hit.
Enemies are unique to each area. Most are pretty easy to disperse, but a few will get the best of Mickey. There are lot of objects within each level that can be thrown. A flower may prove deadly, but throwing a rock will make things easier. Also, scattered throughout each area are treasure chests. The items in each level aren’t random and range from from cakes for health to extra points. The score can grant you extra lives, which will be needed. There aren’t too many hazards, but it’s basic things like bottomless pits that will cost you a life. The game does offer continues if all lives are lost.
The difficulty isn’t too bad. It has easy moments but enough parts to offer a sizable challenge. There are two modes of difficulty, but only one is worth playing. I don’t have too many gripes as far as criticism goes. Outside of the audio, it’s mostly minor stuff that is not common. For instance, there are a few leaps of faith, and Mickey often gets bounced back with very little post-damage recovery time.
This game is pretty short. It’s about 30 to 40 minutes, but there is a little replayability if there are things you haven’t found during the first playthrough. Everyone should definitely check out Castle of Illusion. It is decent in price, despite not being common. Mickey Mouse may be a very vanilla character, but the game brings out some excitement that some cartoons can’t replicate. Any way you slice it, Castle of Illusion is a winner and a great game from the early start of the Game Gear. It is one to have for any Game Gear collection.