Don't let the cutesy good looks and eclectic collection of Disney characters fool you: Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a ruthless platformer. Like the classic Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion games it's inspired by, there's little in the way of hand-holding as you're pushed through its smart, well-designed levels and asked to save the world with little more than a stomp and a paintbrush. And while the tight platforming is a wonderful thing, it's Power of Illusion's role-playing elements, such as side quests, shops, and a leveling system (albeit, a basic one), that make it such a rich experience.
It helps that there's a story tying the whole thing together, which draws from both the older games and Mickey's latest outings in the Epic Mickey series. Oswald once again summons Mickey to the Wasteland--a sort of limbo for forgotten cartoon characters--except this time he needs Mickey's help. The evil witch Mizrabel's Castle of Illusion has suddenly appeared, and cartoon characters across the Wasteland are disappearing fast. It's up to you to enter the castle, search its rooms, find the missing toons, and take down Mizrabel once and for all.
To do so, you have a number of special abilities at your disposal. You can spin to take down enemies, fire blobs of paint and thinner at them, or bounce off their heads. It's the latter that makes the platforming so satisfying, thanks to tight controls and a neat mechanic that rewards you for riskier attacks. If you leave your bounce attack to the very last second--just before you come into contact with an enemy--you gain a super-bounce, which leads to more item drops and sends you skyrocketing to access secret or difficult-to-reach areas.
Each room in the castle is based on a classic Disney franchise such as Peter Pan, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. There's a great attention to detail at play that makes levels not only a joy to look at, but a joy to play. The vast ships of the Peter Pan levels give you plenty of room to jump around, while cannons and barrel-rolling henchmen provide obstacles for you to duck and weave your way through.
The Little Mermaid levels are more constrained, with tight, jellyfish-filled tunnels and rows of spikes requiring precise movements to make it through safely. While Mickey has unlimited lives and can take multiple hits before his health bar is depleted, getting killed during a level sends you straight back to the beginning. That can be frustrating, particularly during some of the extremely challenging levels in the latter half of the game, but the sweetness of the platforming inspires you to give it just one more go.
Aside from traditional platforming obstacles such as spikes, fireballs, and moving platforms, Power of Illusion also makes use of the touch screen in some inventive ways. It shows an outline of the platforms on the level, as well as objects you can interact with. Some, like cannons that fire you into the air, can be drawn in by following a specific outline, giving you access to new areas. Or you can remove obstacles like blocks by using thinner. The puzzles aren't overly taxing, but the fact that you have to stop what you're doing and peer down at the touch screen to solve them means they sometimes interfere with the smooth of flow of the platforming. There are bonuses for solving them, though, with a neat reward system giving you bonus paint, thinner, and a temporary speed boost for accurate drawing or erasing.
Drawing also plays a key part in rescuing Disney's finest. Tucked into hard-to-reach areas are select Disney characters, who are often hidden behind walls of spikes, enemies, or blocks that you must erase. Some characters have to be drawn into the game, many of whom go on to give you a helping hand throughout the level by killing enemies or revealing stashes of health. Stumbling upon a young Simba or drawing in a lost Ariel always raises a smile, thanks to some neat dialogue and the colorful animation. Even finding bad guys like Captain Hook and Jafar is a pleasure, and the ensuing boss fights mix multiple drawing and platforming elements for some tense, strategic fights.
Succeed in finding lost toons, and your newfound friends are sent to The Fortress, a sanctuary at the edge of the castle. There you can speak to any characters you've rescued, who are located in their own themed rooms, which match the films they were featured in. Those rooms can be upgraded by completing side quests, such as finding objects hidden in levels you might have already visited, or by completing simple fetch quests by speaking to other characters within the fortress, and these actions lead to even more side quests and rewards. These aren't complex missions, but they encourage you to revisit past areas and explore hidden rooms.
Some characters, such as Scrooge McDuck, even set up shops within The Fortress. There you can buy upgrades for Mickey using money you've gathered from fallen enemies. There are boosts that make paint last longer, cause more damage, and give Mickey extra health. You can also equip sketches to slots that let you draw in characters using your supply of paint. Depending on which sketch you choose, a character might wipe out all the enemies onscreen or give your jumps an extra boost. It's a simple form of character progression, but it works wonderfully with the classic platforming action and gives you a real advantage during harder sections of the game.
And boy are there some hard sections. This is not a fast-paced platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy and the like, but that doesn't make it any less of a challenge. Trying to navigate your way past enemies such as fast-moving sharks, unruly henchmen that throw watermelons, and fire-breathing specters, all while being surrounded by spikes and chasms, is challenging--even more so in the underwater levels where Mickey takes on a much more floaty feel. There are points where you might get angry, perhaps even a tiny bit frustrated, but the platforming is such an enjoyable experience, and the levels are so visually inviting, that you power on regardless.
Power of Illusion comes together brilliantly; the modern additions to the classic action are intelligent ones that invite you to explore, to replay, and to enjoy every last bit of this great platformer. And it helps to have some of the best, most well-known Disney characters around too. Who doesn't want to help out an angry Donald Duck, or rescue princesses, or get three wishes from Genie himself? Unlike its latest console cousins, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is an unqualified success--a deep, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable platformer that's the best thing to happen to Mickey in years.'