Poor Mickey, Minnie has been absconded by the horrible Mizrabel — a powerful master of the arcane arts — whom now hopes to use her dark magic to steal Minnie’s beauty for herself. However — just when all seemed hopeless — a strange old fellow informs Mickey that Mizrabel could be defeated if he had the seven rainbow gems, but warns him that they are protected by the witch’s fiendish Masters of Illusion! With hope once more in hand, Mickey then set forth into the ominous Castle of Illusion with the full intention of bringing Minnie back home before a horrible fate could be cast upon her.

COL_MM7Thus goes the set up to Sega’s Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse (out now, $9.99) a modern-day 2.5D re-imagined remake of the 1990 Sega Genesis side scrolling classic. The first thing I should probably immediately cover is that while you do indeed face all of the same obstacles — environments — and enemies from the 16-bit original, this game is a far more liberally handled remake than WayForward’s DuckTales Remastered. Now while this doesn’t make the game bad at all — and I would, in fact, even argue that this rendition is actually quite good — those hoping for a stricter adaptation, where enhanced visuals were the only change, might be sorely disappointed with this offering.

Moving forward, the bulk of your time in Castle of Illusion will be spent upon a 2.5D playing field (which — for those of you yet not aware — basically means a game with 2D based game play, that otherwise contains 3D graphics). On your iDevice’s left hand side will be your virtual analog joystick, which — depending on the settings — will either be free-floating or have a rigidly fixed location (I personally preferred the latter of the two). Meanwhile — on the other end — are your jump and toss projectile buttons, with a selectable option to have the jump button either be a specific location or the entire right hand side of the screen (save for the location of the toss button itself).

Using these controls you’ll command Mickey to run, swing, jump, duck, swim, enemy head stop, and projectile toss his way to victory across the various segments of Mizrabel’s castle. In this regard the controls work extremely well, especially if you turn off the floating analog stick option, leaving me to only ever feel as if I alone was to blame whenever Mickey suffered an unfortunate demise. This is a rather good thing since — despite this being a Disney game — Castle Illusion is actually a rather challenging experience, wherein you’ll become quite well acquainted with the Game Over screen.

CastleofIllusion2Appearing less often is a slightly alternate control scheme that occurs whenever Mickey moves into a segment featuring true 3D game play, wherein Mickey trades his ability to crouch for movement in all 360 degrees. For the most part the controls work wonderfully here as well, although there’s a few parts in the game’s latter half where some practice is required to get your jumps to line up just right (praise be to having infinite continues). Most likely this option worked far better on the controlled-based consoles that this remake was originally designed for, but — slight clunkiness issues aside — I still managed to finish the entire game using nothing more than the virtual analog-stick.

Anyways — with the controls now covered — it’s time to start discussing the rest of Castle of Illusion in more detail, starting with a better detailing of how intact this remake truly is. Right off the bat I can assure you that Mickey goes all five of the same illusory realms that you previously remembered: the Haunted Forest, the Toyland, the giant Library/Cakeland, the Stormy Cliffs/Ancient Temple, and the trap-filled castle area too. If you remembered an enemy — a game play mechanic — or an obstacle from the original game, then I fully assure you that each and every last one of these things are here as well (except now that many of the areas’ layouts has been heavily revised and/or expanded).

Every last boss you remembered from the original game is back once more to thwart Mickey’s efforts to save Minnie from Mizrabel’s magic, although this time most of them have quite a few new tricks up their sleeve (often utilizing the new full-3D mode). In particular, the dreaded Licorice Dragon — the Master of Illusion protecting Cakeland’s rainbow gem from Mickey’s clutches — is now an impressively towering sight to behold. The game even still gives you two of the seven gems halfway through castle’s last two major areas, still sans a boss fight even, but now presented in a way that doesn’t feel quite as oddly unfinished as it did back in the Sega Genesis original.

castle_illusion_mickey2This now brings me to something of which I feel must be said, yet I fear is not exactly likely to endear me to anyone whom fiercely cherishes Sega’s original offering from 1990. No matter how I look at it, the classic edition — which I truly did play back when it was still new — has this feeling of becoming more and more rushed, and utterly generic, the further you delve into the castle (such as gems just being tossed at you near the end). This isn’t to say that I’m calling out the team whom worked on the original version as bad designers, I rather instead believe it far more likely that they ran out time — and possibly even resources — after finishing up the game’s far more polished early segments.

But I won’t beat around the bush about it any longer: I simply prefer this enhanced remake to the original.

Whether it’s the lush — and often changing — background scenery, the much longer levels that now include a far greater mix of challenges and puzzles (especially in the game’s later portions), or the bosses that are now far more varied, this just feels more complete. Some of this is probably the result of having far more powerful hardware to work with, some of this is probably the result of not having to work within hyper-restrictive storage space limitations (i.e.: cartridges), and some of it is likely the benefit of a better budget. Despite the fact that it deviates from the original’s level layouts in many ways, I feel that if you openly approach this remake that you’ll find it’s both enjoyable — filled with many well implemented new ideas — and (even more importantly) still 100% old school hard.

Perhaps the freshly included game play addition that I enjoyed the most is that the final confrontation with Mizrabel is now far more involved than it ever was in the original Sega Genesis edition. Rather than merely confronting Mizrabel immediately after that the final gem is collected, you now must chase her to the top of her personal tower — as it either collapses from age, or is blasted apart by exploding apples — so as to reach her lair. After reaching her you are presented with a far more involved fight than previously faced, with Mizrabel tossing complex patterns of ghostly apparitions — changing each and every time she’s hurt — at the player (all while she chants rhyming hexes of destruction).

CastleOfIllusion-8Other additions include an actually explorable hub area, from which earlier stages can be replayed; hidden artifacts that unlock profiles detailing the games various bosses, or even alternate costumes for Mickey; as well as a greater incentive to find hidden treasures.

As for the game’s presentation, this is quite possibly the most lavishly beautiful fully-3D iOS game that I have ever played (and it never once suffered from major slow down issues either) Sega’s Australian team has officially called out all those people making janky iOS games — with bad looking 3D graphics, that seem to somehow always suffer from constant bouts of slowdown — and found your optimization skills to be wanting. From start to finish everything here in Mizrabel’s Castle of Illusion is a pure feast for the eyes, finally giving iOS gamers a platforming title that doesn’t just have the challenge of a full console game — or even the breadth of content — but the utter spit and polish as well!

This expanded visual presentation also exemplifies why Mickey Mouse might possibly be the absolute perfect licensed character to build a classical style platforming experience around. While having a wide variety of diverse and fun situations to overcome is certainly important for any top notch 2D side scrolling game, it is even more important that the player be entertained the entire way through as well. During their entire time — more than anything else — they’ll be stuck watching the hero, and every last bit of how Mickey runs forward — ducks under dangers — and even leaps around is a delight to watch.

You also don’t have to suspend disbelief — or even create a convoluted plot — to explain why Mickey would ever be jumping off of forest ghosts, fighting with Licorice Dragons, or collecting Chili Peppers (making it easier for the game to cut loose and go hog wild). One of the greatest parts of classical side scrolling games is that they weren’t the least bit concerned with any of their ideas making sense next to each other; readily sending players up to the clouds in one area, and then deep inside a volcano on the next stage. Thusly no one will ever bat an eye when they meet an enemy only found in the enchanted library — that are quite literally the “Letter A” — whom go around chanting “A! A!” as they jump and muck about, and then afterwards scream out “Aaaah!” upon being defeated.

CastleofIllusion4However, perhaps the most important addition to Castle of Illusion’s new presentational style surely has to be the inclusion of a narrator whom describes Mickey’s on screen action in a manner that’s quite a bit like Bastion (and most often is alliterative as well). More than anything else, this narrator really helps to bring together the disparate sections of Mizrabel’s castle — and the trials that Mickey must go through to traverse them — into one solid cohesive narrative. My absolute favorite quote from the narrator surely has to be a particular line that happens as you explore the ancient ruins: “As Mickey swung past the giant carved duck, he remembered Donald’s advice on adventures: Never have’em!”

In conclusion, anyone looking for a positively beautiful platformer — filled with both whimsy, variety, and old school style difficulty — should definitely check out Sega’s recently released re-envisioning of Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse.

iFanzine Verdict: The recent reimagining of Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse is — to put it bluntly — simply gorgeous, bringing the original 1990 Sega Genesis classic to life like never before! In this 2.5D adventure players will take Mickey through 5 different realms — each of which are filled with many imaginative traps, as well as old school difficulty — in an attempt to save Minnie from Mizrabel’s magic. While some purists might be upset by the fact that this rendition of Castle of Illusion doesn’t strictly follow the original game’s level structure, I would argue that the end result is utterly solid all on its own and thus shouldn’t be missed. Finally, toss in a well handled narrator — whom, in a manner similar to Bastion, comments on Mickey’s actions — and you have what I feel is the greatest Mickey platforming experience ever.