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Preview: Castle of Illusion (XBLA, PSN & PC)

Preview- Castle of Illusion 7Most of the time, licensed games have little chance of ever seeing a re-release due to the problems inherent in licensing. Rights change hands, and the company that originally published a title may no longer have permission to bring it back. A few titles have managed to overcome this obstacle recently, such as the Teenage Ninja Turtles arcade games, which saw a rare joint effort between original publisher Konami and current Turtles license holder Ubisoft. Some companies have even cared enough to reestablish a license in order to bring a classic title into the modern era (see: Ducktales Remastered). These events have brought hope to many gamers that some of the great licensed titles of the past – and yes, there were indeed many – can have a chance to show current audiences just why they’re so highly regarded in the first place.

Even so, it was a major surprise to learn that Sega had decided to go through this process and bring back one of the most cherished games on the Genesis, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. We here at Sega-16 have made it no secret that the original game is a true favorite, and we were both overjoyed and concerned to hear of the upcoming remake. We are, of course, ecstatic to learn that one of the best Disney games ever made is returning, but we’re also a bit worried that the update may not do justice to the original. No one wants their cherished nostalgia put through the wringer, and Mickey has been kind of hit-and-miss lately. That’s the problem with remakes and tributes. Often, the charm of the original is lost during the rebooting process, and what’s left is a soulless husk that only barely resembles its inspiration. The same goes for sequels. Does anyone even remember Commando 3? I thought not.

Thus, we raise both one eyebrow and crack a wide grin, hoping that past negative performances are not indicative of future results. This is Mickey’s finest hour we’re talking about here, and to many this is hollow Sega ground. Developer Sega Studios Australia must tread lightly and ensure that the new game not only meets the expectations of modern consoles but retains its original charm and magic.

Judging by the gameplay videos Sega has released over the past few weeks, the new CoI appears to be doing a good job of matching the original’s visual style. As the game is now in 3D, there are going to be changes to how levels are structured, and many have new areas and challenges that were simply not possible back in 1990. Each level has retained its famous theme, from the forest to the toy room and on all the way to Mizrabel’s castle, but Mickey now has many new obstacles to overcome and sections to explore. Sega Studios has emphasized the fact that this is a tribute and not a remake, which allows for new and expanded dynamics to be implemented. Stages also have many secrets to discover, which increases the replay value.

Preview- Castle of Illusion 1 Preview- Castle of Illusion 2 Preview- Castle of Illusion 3

The levels themselves look gorgeous, rich in color and detail and oozing life from every pore. For instance, Willie the Giant can be seen snoring in the background at the beginning of the castle stage, and the Goofy painting’s eyes move as Mickey passes by. It’s all very beautiful to look at, and there are so many little things that will only be noticed after multiple playthroughs. Mickey himself is also highly animated, We all loved his animation when he was placed near an edge on the Genesis (which is in this game as well), and Sega Studios Australia has incorporated many new expressions for different situations. Our only gripe thus far with the visuals is that Mickey’s model seems a bit too Disney Junior compared to the cartridge version. The Genesis game was designed to capture the flavor of the early Mickey Mouse color cartoons, and the mouse deliberately looked very much like he did in the 1930s and ’40s. By modernizing the character, some of that old Disney ambiance is lost.

Preview- Castle of Illusion 4 Preview- Castle of Illusion 5 Preview- Castle of Illusion 6

Castle of Illusion still retains the “hop-‘n-bop” gameplay we all know and love. Mickey butt stomps his foes and can collect and throw items such as marbles and candles. The focus is still on platforming and exploring, and while the jumping did seem a bit floaty in the version shown at E3 (admittedly an alpha version), so hopefully this will be fixed by the time of release. Overall, the controls do seem to work very well, and there are many instances where “chain jumping” foes to cross pits and reach hidden areas is required. These seemed quite fluid in the videos Sega has released, so there should be a heavier feel to the gameplay once a controller is actually in our hands. The difficulty has also been increased compared to the cartridge original, so seasoned Mouseketeers won’t be able to run through this version as quickly as they did the first.

Sega Studios Australia has obviously put a ton of care and love into making as close a tribute to the Genesis classic as possible, and Sega-16 has high hopes that this will be worthy of its heritage. Gamers have been demanding re-releases for ages, and the problem has mostly been in the quality of what’s been revisited. If Castle of Illusion manages to play as good as it looks, then Sega should have a major hit on its hands. Moreover, it will be proof positive that there are tons of quality games in the company’s back catalog that are worth a second look.

Sega-16 will be playing this one on day one, so look for a full hands-on shortly thereafter. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse will be available for download in September 2013 on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, as well as for Windows PC. For a closer look, check out parts one and two of Sega’s excellent behind-the-scenes documentary on the game’s development.

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