Developer(s) – SEGA (AM7)
Publisher(s) – SEGA
Director(s) – Emiko Yamamoto & Yoshio Yoshida
Producer(s) – Stephan L. Butler
PEGI – 7
Released in 1990 to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim and later receiving a remake in 2013, Castle of Illusion was ported to several Sega consoles in both 8-bit and 16-bit and became one of the breakout exclusive games on Sega consoles before Sonic The Hedgehog was released in 1991. To me, it stands out as one of the earliest examples of how to do a licensed game along with the many other titles Disney throughout the fourth and fifth generations, including Chip N’ Dale, Duck Tales, Aladdin, and Toy Story, even spawning its own series of Illusion games before the release of Mickey Mania.
Graphics – 8/10
The technical quality of the graphics depends of course on what system the game is being played on. For the best in this respect, the Mega Drive or Sega Saturn versions of the game are preferable, albeit the Saturn version stayed in Japan. However, all ports of the game perpetuate the same wonderful diversity in level design that even matches that of the classic Mickey Mouse cartoons that had come before it such as Steamboat Willie and The Mad Doctor, borrowing elements from the cartoon as well that of other Disney films on addition, such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Throughout, the game also presents a stark contrast of happy and serene settings at the beginning and dark and gritty settings towards the end.
Gameplay – 9/10
A traditional linear 2D side scroller, the player must traverse across five different levels and collect a series of gems by beating a number of bosses at the end of most levels. Once all the gems are collected, the player can then challenge the game’s end boss and rescue Minnie Mouse. There’s also a small combat element as players can collect project apples to attack with, similar to Aladdin, and the boss fights throughout become evermore creative; the final boss in particular somewhat reminding me of the final boss fight against Dracula in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.
Controls – 10/10
The controls, in addition, pose no problems as even in these days gone by when the game was first released, the 2D side scroller had long since been mastered by developers and have remained a staple within the industry. Future games in the series would pose a couple of minor problems in this respect, notably the crawling mechanics in World of Illusion, but the controls in the original game are as fluent and as easy to get to grips with as any good side scroller released at the time.
Lifespan – 7/10
The game can be completed within around 30 minutes, which whilst being nothing by today’s standards, was at that time, about the standard lifespan of a traditional side scroller. Of course, the Metroidvania and RPG genres would spawn games lasting tens or even hundreds of hours throughout the late 90s, but this is the type of game that warrants multiple playthroughs.
Storyline – 6/10
The plot of the game is relatively straightforward; typical of plat threads in games at the time as a matter of fact. Mickey Mouse must save Minnie Mouse who is imprisoned in the Castle of Illusion by an evil sorceress named Mizrabel. There are a fair few cutscenes in the game, which were a somewhat new addition to platformers at the time following games like Chip N’ Dale and Mega Man 2, and they helped to keep things relatively fresh in the circle of side-scroller games being released at the time.
Originality – 8/10
Though the story of the game may not be a particularly standout feature, everything else about this game makes it stand out to an unbelievable extent. Its contemporary settings and style of gameplay mixing side-scrolling and light combat elements make it an extremely memorable title still beloved by gamers of the old generation and among those who played the 2013 remaster. It’s highly regarded as one of the best titles on the Mega Drive, and it’s no wonder why.
Overall, Castle of Illusion is one of the best side-scrollers released in the early stages of the fourth generation and remains a fan favorite among gamers for good reason. It’s an insanely enjoyable game, and it comes highly recommended by me.