Sometimes a trip down memory lane is exactly what’s needed. It’s important that in an age of cutting-edge technical innovation we remember, and celebrate, what made many of us fall in love with gaming to begin with. Sega Studios Australia have recreated a 90’s classic with the intention of doing exactly that.
Castle of Illusion does a fantastic job of twinging the nostalgia nodules on even the most hardened gamer. Lovingly recreated with gorgeous HD visuals, it transports you back to an era when Sega were duking it out with Nintendo to be console kings. Although the primary market is clearly older gamers with fond memories of the original, there’s also plenty for new players to enjoy in this whimsical fairy tale about a cartoon mouse rescuing his girlfriend from a menacing beauty-stealing witch, appropriately named Mizrabel.
To rescue his beloved Minnie, Mickey must collect seven colourful gems from various magical worlds. It’s within these worlds that the best of this revamped version of Castle of Illusion is on display. One minute you’ll be carefully avoiding shuffling books that are determined to knock you from your platform, the next you’ll be dodging sugar cubes while swimming through a giant cup of tea, before tumbling into a sugar coated world of deadly ice cream and menacing candy dolphins.
The imaginative mostly 2D worlds are peppered with occasional 3D sections. Whether it’s turning a corner, hopping into the distance on disappearing platforms or scaling a spiral tower, these moments always bring a sense of freshness to the platforming, and to the boss fights. The combination of visual styles works well throughout, with spats of magnificently rendered detail constantly catching the eye.
Audio matches the high-standard of the visuals. A newly added narrator gently tells the story in the manner of a children’s audio book. The original 16-bit soundtrack is gorgeously recreated in orchestrated versions that you’ll find yourself humming for days after playing.
Mickey has two methods of attack. He can jump on enemies heads, which not only vanquishes them but can catapult Mickey to higher ground, or he can throw projectiles at them. There’s no enemy that isn’t vulnerable to head stomps, and often it’s the best way to go. Projectiles range from apples to giant marbles. There’s a limit to how many can be collected in each stage but level design ensures that whenever they’re readily available. As well as taking down enemies, projectiles also open chests. It’s difficult to exhaust your supply, but worth being wary of just in case you frivolously throw them away.
Walking, running and jumping in Mickey’s mouse-sized shoes is incredibly enjoyable. Controls are tight and deliberate, making any error in platforming entirely your own fault. While responsive and intuitive controls are welcome, they do contribute to the unfortunate lack of challenge found throughout the fairly short experience.
The issue is not that the controls are too tidy, but that the pace of the game is very slow. Recent platform games tend to move at rapid pace, forcing snap decisions. It’s rare that you are rushed in your decision making. So generous is the given thinking time, that even trickier moments can be easily overcome by simply waiting a few seconds, identifying the patterns of the obstacles, and cautiously conquering them.
To extend the fairly short campaign, which runs to about 2 hours, a host of collectibles such as new outfits to unlock, statue pieces to find or time attacks to conquer have been included. These add extra incentive but most people won’t be too bothered and those that are will probably find they don’t extend the experience by much.
A few minor irritations occur, such as enemies spawning right next to you or the fantastic background visuals obscuring the foreground, but they don’t hamper the overall enjoyment. More annoying is many auto-saves are made just before an unskippable cutscene. Any time you need to retry you have to endure the same scene you’ve already watched. During a rare moment of genuine challenge I had to endure the same scene so many times that by the time I got my act together and beat it, I’d memorised the cutscene word for word.
Despite it’s flaws Castle of Illusion is a stunning recreation, loaded with charm and imagination. I’d have liked to have seen more from Sega Studios Australia, but sadly they have closed their doors.
Because of it’s short run time and being largely without much challenge it’s hard to strongly recommend Castle of Illusion, however, if like me you grew up in the 90s it’s a welcome update to a wonderful game.