After bouncing on ghosts in a dark forest, you suddenly find yourself soaring above the clouds. Later, as you step across the ledge of a bookshelf, tomes spring to life and blast you off your feet. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse constantly places you in these kinds of fantastical situations, which are equal parts beautiful and dangerous. The platforming is a bit too forgiving, yet the game succeeds because it falls back on Disney's greatest magic trick: the ability to yank you from your living room and show you something truly imaginative, even if only for a little while.
Castle of Illusion is a remake of the 1990 Sega Genesis game of the same name, and it will instantly be familiar to those who have played the original. Mickey and Minnie are enjoying a beautiful day together when Minnie is kidnapped by the terrible witch, Mizrabel. You must--you guessed it--find your courage and save the helpless damsel before it's too late. While it makes sense to use the original plot as the blueprint of a remake, it's too bad it doesn't reach the heights of the newly added narration. The narrator comments on Mickey's various troubles, and his theatrical voice is enjoyable and may remind you of kindergarten story time--but it's difficult to substantially enrich a story as thin as tissue paper.
Jumping and bouncing are your primary methods of interacting with this world. Mickey's animations, as well as the movements of his enemies, are slow and deliberate. Because of this, Castle of Illusion is rarely a difficult game. Some areas can be accessed only by bouncing off an enemy's head. If you fail, the enemy respawns quickly, meaning you won't have to keep restarting the level to make progress or discover all the collectible games, cards, or peppers. Some platformers are about instantaneous repetition and twitch corrections. Castle of Illusion instead offers a slower, trial-and-error type of gameplay in service of collection and exploration. It serves this purpose well, but the minimal difficulty and dearth of levels ensure you'll finish the game in only a few hours.
Speaking of exploration, the art looks so great you'll want to stray off the main path just to see it all. The levels from the original game, including the forest, the library, and the toy land, are gorgeously visualized. The art style also uses scale to convey a sense of place. Marching toy soldiers are twice as tall as Mickey, and jack-in-the-box heads are suitable springboards. One level has you jumping across falling leaves and dangling spiders. Coupled with the narration, the art and effects really bring the storybook feel to the center of the stage.
Most of the levels are set along a flat plane, but boss fights often break into the third dimension. These battles provide a moderate and welcome challenge, as well as offer you atypical gameplay. For example, when you're fighting a dragon, platforms are pulled out from underneath you as you run "away" from the screen, forcing you to quickly jump to another one. One enemy spins wildly around a circular arena when struck. If you played the original Castle of Illusion, seeing how the designers adapted boss fights to newer technology will be a nice surprise.
The game does have one frustrating flaw regarding these battles, however. When your checkpoint before a boss also precedes a cutscene, that video can't be skipped. This may not seem like a vital flaw, but when the whole game is only a few hours long, and when the bosses are by far the most difficult part of the experience, those wasted minutes can really grate away at your patience.
When you have finished, it's easy to dive back in and complete everything the game has to offer. Because Castle of Illusion uses a hub structure, you're able to walk around the castle and reenter any of the previous levels. Finishing the story also unlocks a time trial mode, which encourages a style of play entirely different from what the mechanics suggest. Having the option to easily go back, beat levels, complete statues, and unlock outfits lengthens the legs of an otherwise stunted game.
At a time when many popular platformers are lightning fast or fiendishly demanding, the remake of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse takes a different route. It's less about what you do, and more about where you are. Though they've substituted platform hops for page flips, the developers have crafted a Disney-quality world worth revisiting.