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Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse Review

Developer: Walt Disney Company Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1990 Also On: None

It’s games like this that make me really attached to the Master System. They
also make me well up in tears over its unfortunate history. Born into such
awful circumstances! Anyway, suffice to say this game is incredible. I was
quite impressed when I first played it and wondered why in the world it
didn’t receive due attention when it was released. Unfortunately for Sega,
this beauty came too late, two years before the SMS was retired in the NTSC
world of poorly selected releases. Had it come out earlier, it would have
done a bit of damage in the market. By that time though, the SMS wasn’t a
popular system, so this wonderful title was overlooked. If you’re familiar
with the 16-Bit version spare yourself the trouble and play this one

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Castle of Illusion is one of the most graphically impressive games I’ve ever
seen. Of course, you have to consider system specs and all that, but the
programming here has clearly milked the Master System to its limit. However,
though Tec Toy would eventually release 8Meg titles a few years down the
line, this title pushes the limits without ruining the gameplay in the
process through, say, glitches, flickering, or the notorious graphical
slowdown found in later Brazilian SMS games. Here the programmers have done
absolutely everything in their power to make this game look perfect without
affecting anything in the process. The sprites are superb, an incredible
array of colors and detail. Mickey’s movements are animated so well he
simply looks like a cartoon character. Large, detailed bosses, lush, living
environments to run amongst, this game has it all. It looks wonderful. Throw
in a detailed cool opening and ending and it all ties together. The only
real problem here is it may be a little too ‘cartoony’ for the likes of some
gamers. It almost feels a bit childish, but it still looks great.

Ditto on the sound. Excellent, and this is quite surprising for a Master
System game. When I see something like this I wonder why some of the earlier
releases didn’t sound any better. If they were able to do this, surely a few
years prior they could have achieved more with certain titles? Who knows. At
any rate the sound is perfect here, very fitting and fun, creates a smooth
atmosphere and great moods. The sound effects are nice as well, everything’s
been done perfectly. High marks again, but yes it still carries the same
fault of the graphics. It may sound too childish for some players. It’s
hard to say so entirely because since this is a cartoon-type game, you’d
expect such music and such, but some may find it too happy at points.

Has Castle of Illusion passed my classic test? Does it play well and not
merely present well? You bet it does. It’s a basic platformer in many
respects, you control Mickey and have to capture the six magical jewels in
the castle in order to take on the evil witch Mizrabel and save Minnie.
Mickey can jump, throw objects, collect different items and so forth. His
abilities are somewhat limited, but this is overcome by throwing in tons of
secret areas and designing the game so in spite of having only a few moves
to pull off, you have to truly master said moves to progress through the
entire game. There are two methods of play, practice or normal. The practice
mode is essentially worthless unless you want to let your three-year-old
spend some time in retro land. I’m not sure why they put it there. It’s not
practice, it’s beyond practice. More like “demo.” You complete all three of
the levels in under three minutes. Seriously. It was really stupid of them
to put this feature in the game, drops the score a bit. However, it’s the
normal mode where this game really shines.

You have six levels in all in the castle to go through, collecting all the
gems in order to access the final level. Two are hidden somewhere in the
levels, so you have to find them, the others are captured after defeating
the bosses. Lots of variety in the stages, each one has a different theme to
fit the “illusion” concept. You have a world of cookies and cake where you
get to swim in a giant cup of coffee and avoid giant doughnuts of doom and a
world of toys where you have to complete various puzzles, just to give two
examples. There’s a different direction to each of them, and this really
gives you a ton of variety to fool around with. You never see the same
enemies twice in the other levels, face giant bosses that usually require
you to figure out a specific weakness in order to defeat them, avoid
numerous traps and tricks and so forth. Excellent overall, no control
problems, very intuitive, and with a decent difficulty level. It’s not too
hard, for the most part, but it does have it’s moments where you’ll have to
practice a bit to advance. One or two of the bosses may waste you when you
first take them on, such as the tree boss in the forest world. No problems
at all, it plays great, there’s really nothing more to say, and the issues I
mentioned above in the graphics and sound categories don’t apply here.

Castle of Illusion is definitely a creative game; perfect example of a
well-utilized, basic game format with an incredible amount of ingenuity.
The amount here is nearly through the roof, with plenty of surprises,
secrets and interesting features to every level. You may seem some hints of
borrowed ideas, but they’re all used well and not entirely borrowed. All of
the ones I can recall were found in this title first. For example, you’ll
ride on giant pendulums in the clock level ala’ Castlevania III: Dracula’s
Curse, but that was released two years later. Of course, due to this not
being a common game, not many people would be aware of it. As a whole, this
is one of the most creative platformers of all time, too bad it didn’t make
a better place for itself in video game history.

You’ll definitely come back to this title in the future, it has plenty of
replay value. Most of the difficulty is gone when you come back to it, but
regardless it’s a great game to sit down with and relax. The game length is
perfect too, just right, not too long and not too short. You can finish it
in one sitting without the need of a password feature, but you don’t have to
spend a whole day doing it. A bit more challenge would have been good
though, to take away from the childish feel of the graphics and sound.

In conclusion, it’s yet again a sad state of things when such a brilliant
title is hardly recognized in the history of video games. Due to Nintendo’s
domination of the 8-Bit market, it’s not surprise. The Sega Master System
was nearly dead by this point, but I must say I’m surprised this little
beauty didn’t breathe some life back into it. Perhaps they thought it would
without marketing, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A great
game can only make waves when you let people know about it. Never will a
title come along spread by word of mouth alone. I take that back, I’m sure
there are a few, but this, to the poor luck of Sega, was not one of them.
It’s time then for you to see what you’ve been missing. I’ll place a bet
after you play this you’ll find yourself a little more drawn to the
underappreciated SMS, or will at least give it due credit, and then find
other titles even better.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 9.2
Written by Stan Review Guide