Why Mickey Mouse used to be at the cutting edge of video game entertainment. No, REALLY...

Mickey Mouse hasn't been relevant to anything for a looong time...

Nintendo Power Epic Mickey 2 cover

Not unless you're two years old and addicted to Disney Junior's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (say "hot diggedy dog" one more time and someone's going to get hurt, I swear). Sure we had Epic Mickey on Wii which was cleverer than a lot of people gave it credit for, but even that lacked something magical. Now, I know you probably won't believe it when I say this, but Mickey Mouse games used to be at the cutting edge of gaming. So the news that the 3DS side-scrolling Mickey Mouse game is daring to use the 'Illusion' brand and claiming to be a 'spiritual sequel' is incredibly exciting (Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion revealed for 3DS ). Because the Illusion name means one thing: Triple-A quality. Here's why

There were five great games in four years

It all started in 1990 with Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse on the Genesis/Mega Drive. Huge sprites (for the time), smooth scrolling and a colourful fantasy game world made 16-bit gamers feel like they were finally playing a cartoon. A superb re-imagining on Master System and Game Gear cemented Mickey's position as Sonic's right-hand man (mouse) in the Sega platforming hierarchy. World of Illusion on Mega Drive and Land of Illusion on 8-bit machines in 1992 and 1993 were both incredible, before Legend of Illusion completed the set on 8-bit Sega machines in 1994. And the box art was AWESOME.

The little touches are magical

Walking down a giant piano keyboard in the clouds, walking up a rainbow, feeding a giant snake an apple, riding a champagne cork through stardust-sprinkled orbit every game has something special to remember. The equivalent today would be Super Mario Galaxy. The Illusion games were in that league of awesomeness in the early 1990s.

Mickey had the moves

Land of Illusion in particular stands tall as one of the greatest examples of deep level design. Considering the whole game can be finished in around one hour, there's a phenomenal amount of hidden content to find through revisiting old levels with new abilities. From the climbing rope to the adorable Micro-Mouse, Mickey's repertoire is still exemplary.

Co-op truly shone

World of Illusion didn't just have two different main games to give Mickey and Donald their own adventure there was a third version too when you played in two-player. Better still, you literally could not progress unless you co-operated. Best bit? Donald's tail getting stuck in a tight crawl-space and Mickey pulling him roughly through, resulting in a pop like a cork from a bottle.

The animation was incredible

While the original Castle of Illusion's visuals aged badly even during the 16-bit era, it had been a huge step forward for home console graphics on its release. But come 1992, developers had got a handle on the 16-bit technology and World of Illusion (pictured here) was spectacular. Multiple layers of parallax scrolling gave depth to the scenes as Mickey and Donald walked around with Disney-esque quality.

The 8-bit games felt like 16-bit games

Imagine the near PS3-quality graphics of God of War 2 on a PS2. Land of Illusion on Master System and Game Gear was as impressive as that in its day. When you were used to seeing games like Alex Kidd running on the underpowered hardware, Land of Illusion was a revelation. The screenshots were so good, at 10-years old I truly believed I was reading about a new Mega Drive game when I first saw it in Sega Power magazine.

There are cameos everywhere

From the Alice in Wonderland caterpillar to Hewey, Dewey and Louie, there are Disney cameos everywhere you look. Also, Land of Illusion even introduced this writer to Horace Horsecollar. I still have no idea who he is.

The music was superb

From the 'We dig, dig, dig' from Snow White in the spider-filled mine to the 'What am I doing Hangin' Round'-esque melody of the forest level in 8-bit Castle of Illusion, the audio quality is superb. Here's hoping the new 3DS game continues the tradition.

The games were family-friendly without being casual crap

The Illusion series came from a time when most games were for children. But unlike kids' games today, they weren't dumbed down in the slightest. Sure, World of Illusion is probably easier than it should be, but completing Land of Illusion or even Castle of Illusion takes some serious dexterity, even today. And look at this picture from the final battle in Castle of Illusion. That's classic Disney drama right there.

So the new game has a lot to live up to

But it might just do it. US mag Nintendo Power has the first preview, which is available for non-subscribers on April 3. It's been an incredibly long time since we got excited about a side-scrolling Mickey Mouse game. But it feels good. We truly hope it can still deliver that timeless magic.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.