Saturday, November 3, 2012

Impressions: Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (GEN)

Received: October 9th, 2012 / Written: November 3rd, 2012
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
Year: 1990 | Developed by: Sega (AM7) | Published by: Sega

The Itsy Bitsy Spider came down to greet
the Mouse
For the longest time the only 2D platformer I ever played that starred Mickey Mouse since I was very little was Mickey's Wild Adventure for the first PlayStation console (the PAL-exclusive, enhanced port of the MegaDrive/Genesis game Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse); I lived in Europe back then, and I always visit my relatives each year.  After all these years, I think that game has aged well; it's got good aesthetic qualities, good play control, memorable areas, decent amount of challenge, and it was always a fun, enjoyable experience for me.  One of my childhood favorites, and one of my current favorites today, though I still wish the Sony version reached the American shores.

It wasn't until some time early this year (2012) that I would finally get to experience another retro 2D Mickey Mouse platformer, Capcom's The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie for the SNES console.  Then on my birthday (April 5th), one of the games I was given and was going to play was its predecessor, The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, also on the SNES.  And during the summer, I purchased a Retro Duo system, which lets me play not only NES and SNES games, but also Super Famicom games, I decided to start importing SFC games from Japan (one of the best things to happen to me as a gamer).  One of the first games I decided to import was the obscure, Japan-exclusive Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken.  All good, very fun games in their own right, and I'm glad that I got to play them all!  =)

Swim away from those piranhas through
these perilous water caves
There was this one Mickey Mouse game, though, that has attracted my curiosity for so many years, and that game was none other than Sega's Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse.  I remember one time when I visited some of my cousins in America, they had a Genesis console with some games for it, and I remember there was an ad for it in the back of the instruction manual for the first Sonic the Hedgehog.  I've also always heard positive, good word of mouth for this game, and since then I've always been interested and curious about it.  Recently I've decided to order it from eBay and experience it this past month.  But wait, I don't own Sega's 16-bit console, so how was I ever to play it?  Well, at the same time I ordered a RetroGen, an adaptor that lets you play Genesis and MegaDrive games on the SNES and Retro Duo consoles.  While I was initially skeptical about the adaptor, I was amazed by its capabilities when I finally got it (it's not flawless, but it works all the same).  However, it didn't arrive until the 27th, and seeing as the game arrived long before that, I was really eager to play the game so badly.  When the adaptor arrived, though, I was finally able to play the game, and having got a chance to play Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, I knew I was in for something special.  My own Sega cartridge, yay!  =D

I've never seen Mickey look so panicked
before
In Vera City, all the inhabitants and visitors are happy and joyful, especially the always charming Mickey Mouse and his equally charming girlfriend Minnie Mouse.  Everyone in there liked and admired Minnie for her popularity and beauty... well, not everyone exactly.  One day she gets kidnapped out of envy by the witch Mizrabel, who looks like she came out of Disney's 1937 animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (intentional homage?).  Mickey, wanting to save Minnie, traced them all the way to the titular Castle of Illusion.  It's there that an inhabitant warns you that Mizrabel plans to steal Minnie's beauty to make the witch look beautiful and Minnie look evil like her, and that the only way to stop the evil witch is to recoup the seven rainbow gems, most of which are guarded by the Masters of Illusion.  Inside the castle there are doors that lead to different realms; so basically the exterior part of the castle is like a hub world, only it's entirely linear in structure and scope.  Anyway, what are you waiting for?  Minnie awaits your rescue!

The controls for this game are nice, yet simple.  There are two main types of action: jumping and throwing items (should you have them at your disposal).  It's been so long since I touched the croissant-shaped Sega controller, so I wasn't certain how the buttons would function on the SNES controller.  The back of the RetroGen box was kind enough to tell which button was which in the transition (i.e. Genesis B = SNES B, Genesis A = SNES Y), and I really appreciated that since I found it very helpful.  Each realm is divided into small portions, and at the end of each stage there is a boss encounter.  The thing about the jumping controls here are that you have to hold down on the directional controls in order for them to be defeated, otherwise you'll take damage from them.  Holding down the jump button while pressing down on the enemies will make you bounce high.  How effective!  Every realm has a different kind of item to throw towards enemies, and finding a bag will give you ten items.  Mickey can also duck, swing, swim under water, and run down diagonal slopes.  At times there are moments when you'll come across small white gems (for bonus points) and stars (which serves as a health power-up).  The area design layouts are good, and the controls are fairly responsive.

Warning: Do NOT play this area on an empty
tummy!
For a game that was made in 1990, it's rather surprising how impressive the visuals were for its time, and I think it's quite beautiful to look at, all simplicity for its time aside.  During the intro sequence, there is a cutscene rendered in a small box-shaped view, but the moment Mickey arrives in front of the castle, said box widens to fill up the size for the title "Castle of Illusion" to fit on there, and I think it's rather neat, and the way he stops and looks towards the castle at that moment reminds of a similar cutscene in the NES Ninja Gaiden game.  Awesome!  The forest is a wonderful-looking area with all the green foliage and trees that surround it; there is even a sub-area with a pristine look to it, with interconnected spider-webs and leaves lathered all over the place, and the trees viewed from that perspective look sweet.  The way the spider-webs are detailed, with the water drops on them, and the way it sometimes glows is quite breathtaking.  The water cave portions are neat, and one of them was made in such an in-depth matter, with the smooth parallax scrolling, abundance of waterfalls, and the ruinous-like stature which makes me think of the lost underwater city of Atlantis.  One of the sub-areas of the library is a pastry- and sweet-filled wonderland, with its mouth-watering look and feel, which if looked at too long will cause one to be very hungry; so be prepared.  The thing that caught my attention here was the way the parallax scrolling was implemented during this part, done in such a way that it almost feels like Mickey's in a carousel or other fun ride in an amusement park, which I find very impressive.  The other areas look good, too, and from time to time there are moments of layering over the character and enemies.  Since the MegaDrive/Genesis isn't capable of smooth color-layering effects, instead we're treated to a unique kind of layering effect called "dithering".  It's not as flawless as in consoles that do implement smooth color-layering, but it's not horrible; in fact, it does a good job of giving a nice feeling of depth.  Mickey Mouse is designed greatly, even if at times he looks a little anime-ish (hey, it was made by Sega of Japan, after all), though I don't find that to be a bad thing.  The animations are decent, though the way he runs down slopes and the way he looks as he's standing near an edge are funny, if not disconcerting at times.  The enemies are memorable, and the bosses don't look shabby either, especially Mizrabel.

Sega's 16-bit machine isn't particularly known for displaying impressive sound capabilities, but the music presented in this game is not bad.  In fact, many of the songs are catchy, energetic, upbeat, and are just so much fun to listen to, despite the console's sound quality.  The forest and toyland themes are lighthearted, the water cave themes sound epic and adventurous, and the boss themes sound really pumped up and energetic.  The theme that plays during the portion with the spider-webs and when you're swimming inside a coffee cup in the library sound whimsical and adds a magical sense of feeling and wonder.  The other songs are good, too, and a few of them sound dark, even.  The sound effects, interestingly, have a higher quality to them than the music does; and I know that sounds crazy, but that's what it sounds like to me.  The way the door closes in the castle hub as Mickey enters sounds crisp with a good quality.  The other sound effects, like when Mickey jumps on the enemies, he collects items, or the sound effect that plays when a clown is struck and the unicycle is riding on its own is humorous.  The ending suite is nice, and it gives you a sense that you've done a big accomplishment.

Swingin' on through to the other side
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse has three difficulty settings.  The easy difficulty setting is so short and easy that you can literally beat in a matter of minutes.  The normal difficulty has more length put to it, with some more enemies and areas in the mix.  The hard difficulty setting adds more enemies, makes them do more, not to mention add more challenge to the game thanks to the fact that there are less items to use and find; made even more challenging by the fact that hard mode must be beaten in one continue, otherwise it's game over.  Talk about harsh!  At least on normal mode you're given a few continues to begin with.  But I won't give up, I'll have the hard difficulty setting beaten one day, it's just going to take some time.  In all difficulty settings you start with a different amount of health in each stage; on easy you start with five, on normal you start with three, and on hard you begin with two.

Sega's first Disney-licensed game is a fun platformer, and I can see why it's often touted as such a classic.  It plays like a charm (though it seems like Mickey has floaty jumps sometimes), looks like a charm, and even sounds like a charm.  It's one of those cases where a game can be most effective at its simplest.  It's rare, but the game somehow fits the bill.  Playing in each area is such a joy, the amount of creativity is good, exploring some of the bigger areas is an exciting moment, and the boss fights are fun, even though they have simple patterns to defeat them.  One thing I noticed about this platformer is that it can be beaten in over a half hour.  When it comes to games that are so fun to play yet are so short in length, that can either be a bad thing (*cough* Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! *cough*) or it can be a not-so bad thing, depending on how you view it.  Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse has only five stages, but they've got a good amount of challenge to them, and yet oddly enough I'm not bothered by its brevity.  It's a fun game while it lasts, and it's a rather addicting one, too.  Quickly became one of my favorites, and it's become my favorite 2D Mickey game so far.  I heard that there was a version of it made for the Sega Master System, only it plays a little differently.  Mickey's first 16-bit Sega adventure was so successful among gamers and critics, that it garnered some sequels: Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse on the Sega Master System, World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck for the MegaDrive/Genesis, and lastly Legend of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse for the Sega Master System.  Recently there was news that there's a new Mickey Mouse game for the Nintendo 3DS Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, which is both a follow-up to the Nintendo Wii game and an homage to Castle of Illusion.  In fact, that's one of the reasons I bought this game (to prepare myself for the 3DS game), aside from being curious about it, and I'm hoping the 3DS game lives up to its hype and is a good, faithful follow-up to Sega's classic.  But, who knows, in time we'll see; just a few more weeks left to wait.  I'm glad I got to play Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse; it's one of the best MegaDrive/Genesis games I ever played, and I daresay it's the best Disney game ever made!  It's simple yet effective!  =)

Thank you for reading!  Please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: If I were to give this game a grade, it would be a 9.5!  I couldn't have picked a better first Genesis game!  =D
P.S. 2: The ending is well-done, and the post-credits scenario is nicely done, too, though it leaves so many questions.
P.S. 3: Two years later Capcom would create their answer on the SNES to Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse called The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse.  How does it stack up to this game?  If you stick around, I may just review it one day.  Stay tuned and take care!

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