As both a new mom and video game enthusiast, I often find myself thinking about when and how I can introduce my son to certain games and series. Naturally, I reflect a lot on the games I grew up with--the days spent curled up on the couch playing Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart 64, and Goldeneye with my mom, and the nights hunched over the computer running through Diablo with my dad. Nowadays, however, it feels a bit harder to find a solid split-screen co-op game to play alongside someone with small hands and an even smaller attention span. And if you can find one, the chance that you'll enjoy the experience just as much as your kiddo is a bit slim. This is precisely where Disney Illusion Island has the potential to shine.
I recently got the chance to sit down and play about 20 minutes of Disney Illusion Island alongside the game's creative director, AJ Grand-Scrutton. While I initially went into the game expecting a sort of baby's-first-Cuphead experience, I was delighted to find out the game is far more akin to Metroid, a series I have far more familiarity (and success) with.
The game begins with you selecting from four characters: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. Despite their differences in size and animation, each character has the same skill set and movement speed. Grand-Scrutton told me that while the team was focused on making each character feel different--Goofy has a bit more heft to him whereas Minnie is a bit more floaty, for example--the reality is they all function the same. After you and your fellow Mouseketeers select your characters (the game allows up to four players to play together on the same screen), you can then select if you want to play through with one HP, two HP, three HP, or an iron heart granting you invincibility, with each player able to choose their own HP amount. It's a fantastic feature that prevents less experienced players from getting frustrated, while also allowing experienced platformers the opportunity to challenge themselves.
After seeing her absolutely adorable character design, I decided to play as Minnie, and gave myself the standard three HP Grand-Scrutton recommended. Grand-Scrutton then told me that Minnie was designed with a paper airplane in mind; this is reflected not only in graceful movement, but in her double-jump as well, which sees a paper airplane appear out of thin air and carry her across wide divides. Grand-Scrutton then selected Mickey Mouse, whose movement he compared to a bouncy ball and did seem more energetic in comparison.
However, while the Metroidvania genre might form the core of Disney Illusion Island, good ol' 2D platforming takes center stage once you begin playing. In Disney Illusion Island, there is no attack button or combat abilities of any sort to help you blast through enemies or take down bosses. Instead, you will have to rely on jumping, evasion, and gathering up tools and abilities that change up your mobility in order to survive. In the portion of the game I played, Minnie and the team had just unlocked the ability to wall jump. As such, much of the area I was exploring required me to use that skill to reach new locations and gather up keys to enter the boss arena. After collecting all three keys and entering the arena, my prowess with this upgrade was put to the ultimate test in a multi-phase boss battle that required me to evade attacks and belts of electricity while jumping up to a series of buttons that would impact the flow of power going to the boss.
I found this battle--and my time with the game in general--incredibly satisfying. As someone who is merely "okay" at 2D platforming, Disney Illusion Island presented me with a light amount of challenge that I could have easily upped by decreasing my HP, or lessened with an iron heart. The game's difficulty could also be altered depending upon how many players you have--pressing buttons during the boss battle I encountered, for instance, probably would have been a bit easier with two characters on each side of the arena rather than just myself on one side and Mickey on the other. In addition, characters can perform helpful interactions, such as throwing down a rope if their teammate is struggling to reach a platform, or hugging them to help them recover one HP. But regardless of ease or difficulty, platforming in Illusion Island felt fantastic. I didn't find myself repeatedly overshooting my jump or frustrated by the need to precisely time my wall jumps--everything just seemed to flow.
All of these qualities are only made better by Disney Illusion Island's style and charm. The game's art is vibrant and playful, and feels Disney without being too derivative of any particular era. While you do get this classic Steamboat-Willie-but-colorful feel from its character design, it pairs that quality with more modern-looking environments and a cartoon look that reminded me of the platformers I used to play on my 3DS. The game also has a nice sense of humor to it, with Donald's ill-temper and complaints getting a few laughs from me. Overall, Disney Illusion Island has the potential to be a fantastic family game and a great option for a game night with people of varying ages and skill levels.