They don't make games like this any more. Except for the simple fact 'this' is a brand-spanking new side-scrolling 2D Mickey Mouse 'Illusion' game for 3DS on a 3D display and uses a touch screen and stylus to activate special abilities. It's got the same production values as '90s platformers but uses current-gen tech to stay relevant.
Above: No 2D platformer is complete without a sunny forest level
And so, despite being on 3DS, it's the loving attention to what made the original Mickey Mouse platformers so great that makes this so exciting. So let's take a look at what's new and what's brilliantly, heart-achingly old after our hands-on with Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion at Gamescom.
Mickey's traditional 2D moveset returns! Jump once and then push the jump button again while you're in the air and Mickey will hitch up his knees and bring down bottomnal (that's a word we just made up) justice to any enemy below. Some enemies require more than one bum-related strike, but that's OK – repeat bouncing is enjoyable.
Above: Enemy placement is quite wicked, leaving little room for error
You can also crouch – and we immediately recognised the pose he assumes as the one from Mickey Mania/Mickey's Wild Adventure. But what's even more instantly recognisable is the sound that plays when you collect an item – it's lifted straight from the original 16-bit version of Castle of Illusion. Shivers, meet spine. There are also swinging chains which Mickey can grab onto...
Above: The oldest swinger in town
...and while there are more animation frames in his swing in 2012-o-vision, he's doing so in the same body shapes as his 1990 self. But while the fan service even extends to the speed of movement and height of jump (at least in regular play - I'll come to that), there are some new aspects too.
Looking a bit thin
The paint/thinner mechanic of Epic Mickey is present, although judging from the demo we tried, it's mercifully underplayed. You can fire globs of paint at enemies if you like, but you don't have to – you can play 95% of the time in classic Castle of Illusion style, only pausing for touch screen paint/thinner puzzles. These are refreshing for requiring you to actually use your brain without holding your hand.
Above: The Touch Screen is used for more advanced use of the pain/thinner mechanic
For instance, there are some barrels - a bit like Donkey Kong Country's - which propel you upwards, but you have to paint them in first. To do this, you tap the outline on the touch screen with your stylus (or thumbnail if you're feeling accurate) and then trace the outline of the shape that appears. Do it right and a platform, or in this case the barrel, will appear.
However, after painting in two barrels, we're propelled into a third barrel, which chucks us back down the other way. A few more goes but with the same result. Then we remember the thinner – the barrels can also be erased from the world using the same method, only scrubbing out the object on the touch screen. It's simple enough, but the fact the game doesn't spoon-feed you the answer makes it feel so much more rewarding when you finally progress.
There is another use of the touch screen – a small icon in the top-right corner that shows a thumbnail of another Disney character. This depends on which ones you choose at the start of the level, up to three from a selection that widens as you unlock more. Each one has their own unique special ability. For instance, Tinkerbell sprinkles fairy dust on you, allowing you to jump higher for a limited time.
Above: We didn't see Rapunzel during our hands-on. Reckon her hair's climbable?
The 3D effect looks superb, even when the slider's all the way up to the
top. A lot of 3DS games' maximum settings are too deep, but the three
or so layers of 2D parallax just look beautiful on maximum. The game
still runs at 60fps in 3D mode, making it feel like a solid cartoon
world that you're peering at through a window. And the art style looks
how you remember the original looked, not how it actually looked. In other words, really good.
Above: London Skies is an early level. Relatively easy, but pretty in 3D
Crucially, the game plays like a classic platformer with only the paint/thinner mechanic really affecting the core gameplay. And don't be fooled into thinking this is a child's game. It's child-friendly, certainly, but it's no cakewalk – we were 'out' a couple of times during our hands-on. It's as hard as the old Castle of Illusion, which should be great news for fans of the old games.
2D platformers are rare these days, at least in terms of boxed releases. But if the final game turns out to be as good as it looks like it will be, this could find a new legion of Illusion fans… and then perhaps we can have some more. Welcome back, Mr Mouse.