Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Gen): Does It Hold Up?
When people talk about Disney games — more specifically, games featuring Mickey Mouse — one retro title that gets a lot of praise is Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. It was a critical success at the time of its release, giving Disney fans and Sega Genesis owners a solid platforming adventure. It wasn't original, but it was a good game nonetheless, and it radiated that unadulterated Disney charm that everyone goes crazy for. These days, however, that same charm doesn't do a whole lot to make the game stand out in a market with much, much better games.
It's worth mentioning that I never played Castle of Illusion up until about a week ago. That means I was able to go in completely unbiased and without the proverbial nostalgia goggles impeding my vision (and opinion). I was excited to play Castle of Illusion, and by the end, I wasn't completely let down, because I still had a bit of a good time, but I was massively underwhelmed. I also felt that I probably could've gone the rest of my life without playing this game and having not really missed out on anything.
The first glaring sign that this is an old game built on archaic design is its terribly sluggish pace. Mickey doesn't run in Castle of Illusion. Instead, he walks ... slowly. I get that this was probably a game primarily geared toward children, but at the same time, a lot of kids also played games like Super Mario Bros., which had a freakin' run button! These days, the ridiculously slow movement in Castle of Illusion sticks out like a sore thumb, but quite frankly, I'm surprised more people didn't find it annoying even during the game's heyday.
While it's not incredibly challenging by any means, a few parts are at least tricky. There are precarious jumps and fiendishly placed enemies that are bound to cost you a couple of lives here and there. Sometimes it can get frustrating, though, mainly because the game is easy most of the time and these bumps in difficulty feel out of place. In any case, you should be able to get through the game in about two or three hours.
Despite its awfully slow animation, weak difficulty, and short length, there's still something to truly appreciate about Castle of Illusion: its graphics. The game looks great to this day. The signature Disney look shines through in true magical fashion. It's about as great a look for a pixelated Disney game as you're going to get. Heck, even though it's a 16-bit title, you could argue that it's the best-looking Disney game of all time as far as aesthetic design goes.
The verdict: Castle of Illusion doesn't really hold up unless you're wearing your nostalgia goggles
In the end, I wasn't impressed with Castle of Illusion. It may have been a nice game at the time of its release in 1990, but these days, it falls behind countless better games that have followed. It looks great, but the bright pixelated look doesn't save it from feeling like a poorly aged platformer. You're better off playing the 2013 remake, which isn't perfect either but offers up plenty of improvements and enjoyable enhancements.
Castle of Illusion is the kind of game that most fans who played it when it first hit the scene will swear by. I didn't have fond memories of it going into my play-through, so I got a fresh perspective. Simply put, this isn't a bad game, but it's nowhere close to being great or even good. And it's certainly not worth saving up a good $500 to get a brand new Genesis cart on Amazon. That would be plain crazy.
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.