Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse review

  • Gorgeous levels that take full advantage of the 3D engine
  • Some creative platforming challenges in the second half
  • The narrator
  • Sluggish controls on some TVs
  • Poor hit detection
  • Finishing story in less than three hours

Playing a modernized version of Sega's Castle of Illusion makes it difficult to believe that it was formerly a Genesis title. And that's a great thing for a remake to do--to feel like a unique product while simultaneously honoring the source material. This new Castle of Illusion is vivid and charming in ways that the original wasn't. It also preserves the game's severe brevity and adds a few new mechanical issues of its own, which is not as endearing, but it's generally an enjoyable platformer nonetheless.

The biggest feat of Sega Studios Australia's reimagining is the presentation, which absolutely nails the distinct vibe of a Disney production. The most notable addition is the narration provided by Richard McGonagle (or said another way, Sully from the Uncharted series), who sounds as if he's reading fairy tales from a children's book. His calm, reassuring voice makes even the relatively trite setup--this is, after all, a game about collecting seven colored gems, climbing a castle, and saving a love interest--feel just the slightest bit whimsical.

"...absolutely nails the distinct vibe of a Disney production."

Mickey himself is also exquisitely animated, as is absolutely everything else in Castle of Illusion. It's a game that exudes personality even in places where it needn't, and it helps that the level themes almost never take the easy route. Outside of a relatively bog standard forest world at the beginning of the game, nothing here could really be filed under "generic." Toy fortresses and enormous libraries manage to make mundane objects both awe-inspiring and menacing, and a fully revamped Candy Land, featuring milkshake rivers and a licorice dragon, could win the award for the most colorful set piece of the year. Castle of Illusion may be short, but its abundance of ideas never runs dry, and that's never been more evident than in this HD remake.

As a platformer, it's fairly standard, benefiting from a rapid-fire pace and hampered by some newfound control issues. In particular, while the 3D segments open up a few new possibilities that weren't feasible before--one puzzle involving a checkerboard and a mirror is pretty inventive--these sequences don't control as fluidly as they should. The lack of camera control hurts, as does, oddly enough, Mickey's barely visible shadow, which often makes it extremely difficult to tell where he's going to land. The transitions between 2D and 3D movement can awkwardly send you lurching in unexpected directions, as well. The boss battles have a nasty habit of changing perspective without notice, and it'll throw you off a few times.

Even when Castle of Illusion is sticking to its side-scrolling roots, however, Mickey doesn't handle as well as he should. His movement is both sluggish and imprecise, which can make some of the timing-intensive obstacles more frustrating than they should be. The worst is Mickey's bounce attack, which is often required to reach higher platforms but almost always has a split-second delay. Not helping is the harsh hit detection, which will often cause Mickey to take damage from enemies that he hasn't quite come into contact with. All of this said, the movement issues may only impact those with certain HDTVs, and switching to Game Mode in your TV's menu options (assuming you have a TV that supports this option) should resolve these problems.

"Castle of Illusion won't last you very long."

For a while, Castle of Illusion's primary source of challenge is wrestling with the controls. But the game finds its rhythm in a big way during the game's last few levels, when you must outmaneuver enormous books and mace-wielding suits of armor. The game also leaps from one eye-catching set piece to the next--outrunning a giant apple here, swimming through an ocean of tea there--so quickly that it's never dull. That the game can be completed in less than three hours is both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, Castle of Illusion won't last you very long. On the other hand, it certainly never runs out of steam along the way.

The game also succeeds in feeling like a faithful homage not just to the Genesis original, but to old-school platformers as a whole. The completely redesigned hub world, which has Mickey exploring a witch's castle and using amassed collectibles to unlock doors, feels like something out of a Nintendo 64 game. Even better, Sega employed Grant Kirkhope, who wrote the music for games like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, to remaster Castle of Illusion's soundtrack. He has the ability to make music that's simultaneously playful and grandiose, and his work here is magnificent. Even if you hold no affinity for the original title, this version will likely make you nostalgic for something.

Castle of Illusion is a solid remake all-around, offering a unique vision of the core design that will give fans something fresh to delve into while modernizing the experience for newcomers. The controls do need some work, but while Castle of Illusion is high on mechanic problems, it's even higher on whimsy. It's too charming to dislike.

This review was conducted using the Xbox 360 version of the game.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Disney Interactive Studios
Developed by: Sega Studios Australia
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Mild Fantasy Violence


  • MGFanJay - September 22, 2013 11:50 p.m.

    I really don't have much nostalgia for this having played more NES and SNES Disney games than Genesis ones, but I love this remake a lot. The emulated pre-order bonus of the original game gives you a ton of play options which is nice and this re-imagining takes everything good about it and improves upon it. I could do without the hub world though - it's a bit too N64 for my liking since this is a 16-bit remake. The graphics are amazing and the soundtrack is great too. The only issue I have with the visuals being so good is that it can be really hard to judge depth due to Mickey's shadow not appearing to be very large, and it doesn't cover all of the area it should. It seems to pop up mid-jump and not through the whole thing so you can get an idea for where you are in relation to stuff.
  • talleyXIV - September 8, 2013 7:53 p.m.

    Gone Home - It's short and has no replay value but that doesn't matter. Every other game - It's short, you won't like that. Stop with the double standards!
  • Darkhawk - December 14, 2014 1:27 p.m.

    I'd argue that Gone Home is deliberately designed as a short experience, in the way some films work better at 90 minutes than 180: you get in, you wander in awe, and it ends before anything overstays its welcome. For a platformer, though, where the joy is in each new level and each new challenge, brevity can be disappointing. See the recent Raymans for how a "Castle of Illusion 2" might work.
  • t_skwerl - September 6, 2013 3:26 a.m.

    "Castle of Illusion is a solid remake all-around, offering a unique vision of the core design that will give fans something fresh to delve into while modernizing the experience for newcomers. The controls do need some work, but while Castle of Illusion is high on mechanic problems, it's even higher on whimsy. It's too charming to dislike. " This paragraph says it all. I've only played through the first two areas (Forest, Toyland) and I'm having a ball. I guess you could chalk that up to nostalgia, but the game isn't that expensive and if you're a fan of the mouse, it's a no brainer. IMO, great stuff.
  • popeyito2000 - September 5, 2013 4:35 p.m.

    I think that is an added value to these games. I used to play Castle of Illusion at least once every couple of weeks when I was a kid. You played it repeatedly because you enjoyed the music and scenery. Then again, back when I was a kid we didn't have as much of a myriad of good games as we do now.
  • Redeater - September 5, 2013 2:32 p.m.

    "Castle of Illusion won't last you very long." This is the same complaint I heard about Ducktales. I realize this game has problems but when are people going to realize that most NES/SNES/Genesis era games were incredibly short and that shouldn't be held against them when they are supposed to be "remastered". I'll probably skip out on this one but I look forward to more of these type of remasters. Ducktales was fucking amazing.

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