Castle of Illusion has been trending on Twitter recently, thanks to the fact it’s just one of a clutch of games from my childhood that are getting remade. So I thought I’d get out my Mega Drive copy of the original and have a go on it. Normally, it would just be a blast from the past in terms of how Mickey looks, but still the same feeling as the game's always had. But it wasn’t, not this time. This time… it was old.
Not ‘a bit outdated’, but properly ancient. Archaic. Antiquated. A whole load of words starting with ‘A’ and ending in sadness. What the hell are these things on my shelf? Fat plastic boxes with anthropomorphic animals on the front. Great big cartridges inside. And what the hell is this where the HDMI cable should be? A coaxial cable? Really?
Does my TV even have one of those on it? Oh, yes it does. OK. Well let’s play some Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse then.
So I tuned my TV to the analogue signal from my Sega Nomad (my Mega Drive is somewhere in the garage so I brought out the big guns) and went to sit down on the sofa.
But I couldn’t. The aerial cable was too short. Sure, a 'proper' Mega Drive would have a pad attached to the console with a longer lead, but even so, the experience is restricted by cables. Cables that in my case now could only deliver a black and white picture that wobbled and flipped out if I moved. Probably because something had taken a big gash out of the flex. So I tried some DIY repairs.
That’s not a comedy mock-up; That was my genuine effort to fix it. It almost worked. But not really. So I gave up with the TV and sat back with the Nomad. A level into the game, the battery light came on, indicating it was running out. That’s fine. These batteries have been sat in the battery pack for a few months.
Six new AA batteries and I’m back in the game. But this time, level 2 was again interrupted by the battery light coming on. What could possibly be wrong with these batteries? I bought them from Poundland last week... oh, right. Hmmph. So out comes the AC Adaptor. And *finally* I can play.
Mickey looks weird. His face is too white and his animation is pretty poor for a Disney game. And the Nomad’s screen isn’t even the same resolution as a 480i TV. Plus the edges of the picture are straying into photographic negative territory. I can’t find a decent compromise between brightness and deep colours.
So I move onto Virtua Racing. After a few non-responsive boot attempts and a few good ‘blow on the contacts’ reps, I’m in. On the small Nomad screen, it looks acceptable – god knows what the chequerboard shading effects would look like now through HDMI. I’m getting good lap times. In fact, I’m getting incredible lap times. My old personal best of 37.70 on Big Forest (indelibly stamped onto my long-term memory, it would seem) gets smashed by almost half a second. Woot.
But before I can take a picture of my first new record, I have to finish the Time Attack, which I’ve set at 20 laps. Of course, it all goes wrong. As I'm sure you're (almost certainly not) aware, Virtua Racing on Mega Drive has an interesting mechanic where too many directional inputs in quick succession makes your car lose traction. But if you’re good, you can use four swift re-applications of ‘right’ to get around the final turn of Big Forest flat out.
But on the fourth, excited push on the fastest of fast laps, my game freezes. My over-exuberance at seeing the outside of the corner approaching with a full press left in the bank has made me jog the Nomad somehow and it’s stopped working. Frozen.
I haven’t had my time uploaded to an online leaderboard. There is no such thing as flash memory. It’s gone. In fact, Virtua Racing never even had battery back-up in the first place, unlike F1 from Domark, the save files for which (incredibly) still work on my cartridge. In VR's case, the game probably expects me to write the time down with pen and paper. But instead, when I finally post an even better lap, I take a mega-high res photo and upload it to Twitter using my mobile telephone. That's a pretty major lick of technological progress we've seen in 20 years.
Head on over to page two and see Mickey Mouse as an old man... er... mouse.