Back in the day, after a few levels of Sonic, it was Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse on the Master System that really inspired me to play platform games. Smash enemies, eat cakes, collect gems, nightmare toy levels, mouth-watering cake levels… all to rescue Minnie from the clutches of the Mizrabel witch. Ahh, the memories!
Thankfully the team at Dalala shares my enthusiasm for vintage platformers from the 90s. “I actually have my childhood Mega Drive Castle of Illusion cartridge next to my desk at work,” Dalala CEO and Creative Director Aj Grand-Scruton said after taking a look at the title. “We love those games.”
Disney’s Illusion Island isn’t a direct sequel to those classics, but it has illusion in its title. “Dalala’s Take is a spiritual successor in a way,” Grand-Scruton continues, “because this game only exists because of how much we love those games. I probably wouldn’t be making games if I hadn’t played them.” ”
Of course, mascot platformers were all the rage in the ’90s. Nowadays, it’s Metroidvanias that dominate the 2D space, so it’s little surprise that Disney’s Illusion Island draws inspiration from that genre, albeit without any combat. The action takes place on a massive map of three unique biomes to create a cohesive platforming game. Grand-Scruton says, “I wonder if they had kept making Illusion games, if that was where they would have taken it.”
In a hands-off look at the game, I got to see a biome that combines the oceanic and celestial themes, named Astrono. The level sees Mickey jumping from enemies such as alien starfish, avoiding spiky coral, and swimming through pockets of water in shades of electric purple. Other biomes include a vegetated area inside a giant peacock and areas inspired by Rube Goldberg machines.
Without combat, the focus is on platforming challenges – some of which are difficult-looking sections – as well as the simple joy of movement and exploration. Players like Mario and Ramon have inspired here. Despite its Metroidvania influence, the combat did not fit in with the design concept for the game; After all, you wouldn’t expect Mickey Mouse to wield a gun.
That said, Mickey will gain unique power-up abilities like wall jumping, gliding, swimming, and swinging, and there’s always a reason to backtrack – especially through hidden areas and additional collectibles like Mickey memorabilia, which Gives players a little history on Disney’s famous mouse. ,
It is through these additional challenges that Disney Illusion Island increases its difficulty. While the game is accessible to genre newcomers on the critical path, it’s not ‘Mickey’s first Metroidvania’ – or Mickey-Vania, if you will. The game will feature exploration challenges specific to the genre and optional areas, as well as allowing players to set their own difficulty with a health gauge, from several hearts to just one.
What’s more, up to four players can join together in local co-op (not online), choosing to play as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy or Donald. Here, additional moves are provided to provide additional support, such as hugging to regain health, or sliding down a rope to help others clear obstacles. This ensures the game is truly aimed at everyone, from families playing together to solo speed runners executing difficult one-hit challenge runs. That’s why the game is local multiplayer only, to bring back that fun co-operative vibe.
There is even skill parity between characters, so no one player will have an advantage over the others. That said, no one (no one!) is taking grumpy, cantankerous Donald away from me, even though Goofy Goofy is a fun second choice. They’re definitely a far cry from their Kingdom Hearts counterparts.
What makes each character unique is their spirited animation. Take Glide, for example: Playful Mickey rides a tiny circle through the air, while Minnie floats serenely with an umbrella and Donald uses a rocket before wildly flapping his wings in panic. The characters may be a bit small, even on the big screen, but they’re bursting with personality and give the game a ‘playable cartoon’ feel. This extends to the animated cutscenes as well, which really highlight the distinct personalities of the characters, as well as the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor adults will appreciate as much as kids.
This is classic Mickey that inspired the art style. “We love the classic, cheeky Mickey: the 1930s-1940s, white-faced Mickey where he’s a little mischievous,” Grand-Scruton says. This playhouse was also a purposeful move away from Disney’s Mickey and the theme parks. “What we wanted to do was obviously think about those classic designs, keeping the heritage in mind, and then redesign them specifically for the gameplay,” he continues. “We wanted to hearken back to Mickey’s legacy but really do a fresh take on it.”
It’s also authentic, not only with its playful orchestrated soundtrack that mimics those classic films, but also using official Disney voice actors for each character. Yet there was still room for the Dalal team to inject their own original creations: the game takes place in the world of Monoth and features new characters like the Hokunes tribe, or map donors like Jido who hand out map expansions on slices of toast. Are. It all ties together to feel consistently Disney, yet fresh and exciting.
Grand-Scruton says, “Working with Disney, it’s been easy. It’s been the most comfortable partnership I’ve ever had.” “Not many people get to write a Mickey Mouse story, much less get to write for voice actors, and working with Disney game writer Chris Painter taught me how to write for these characters. It was always guidance and it was never a ‘don’.” Don’t do this, you can’t do that’. He certainly never said ‘you can’t’, that word doesn’t exist in this relationship. Their goal from day one has been: make an awesome Disney game. ,
The team is definitely on its way to achieve it. From what I’ve seen, Disney’s Illusion Island encapsulates the joy and magic of Mickey’s world, with a healthy amount of choices to make sure the game is accessible – and challenging – for all.
It’s also nothing like Dalala’s previous, unannounced Disney project. Back in 2016, Disney laid off its internal development and publishing teams and — with it — the game broker. Disney’s Illusion Island, Grand-Scruton clarifies, is actually nothing like that project. Instead the team “came in fresh” and the studio grew significantly.
There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Disney here in Dalala’s handling of these characters. It may be a cheesy Disney line, but for Grand-Scrutin this project sounds like a dream come true. “It’s Mickey Mouse, everyone knows who Mickey Mouse is,” he says. “And no matter what you know Mickey Mouse for, no matter what it’s doing at the box office, Mickey is still the mascot for the company.
“The documentary that came out on Disney Plus where he talked to people about what Mickey means to them… you look at that and you say, ‘well, that’s pressure, that’s not Disney’. Knowing Mickey means so much to so many people, just get him right and everything will be fine.”
Disney’s Illusion Island is set to release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on July 28.
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