I love watching the classic Disney cartoons with my oldest son all too often. Those moments are always double celebration, as he enjoys watching them and yours truly enjoys the nostalgia, as I used to watch them all the time when he was his age too. Recently, we discovered a new series of cartoons starring Mickey and his friends. The drawing style reminded me very much of the early versions of the Disney cartoons, think Steamboat Willie, but in color.
When I saw the first footage of Disney Illusion Island come along it also immediately caught my attention, this looked suspiciously like those “newfangled” Disney cartoons that I had by now been binging quite a bit with my little son. And of course, if I can find an excuse to show him the wonderful world of gaming together, that is always a good thing.
I just have to honestly confess that – apart from the Kingdom Hearts series – I have played almost no more recent Disney games. The last platform titles I’ve played are still from the 16-bit era. For example, I have very fond memories of The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse on the SNES. So I went into this review full of expectations powered by my nostalgia. Having now reached the credits, I sit with a smile on my face.
Trouble in Monoth
Illusion Island is set in Monoth. In this particularly colorful setting, Mickey and Co are asked to retrieve three magical books. This is because these have been stolen from the cute Hokuns, and without them, the world of Monoth is in great danger. The cheerful setting lends itself well to a somewhat simpler plot, besides, in terms of target audience, the game is also intended for the somewhat younger gamers among us. So it was with a sense of urgency – and the occasional wink – that I began Mickey’s adventure.
Illusion Island rightfully feels like a playable cartoon. The presentation is one of the biggest pluses to the game. The game world is very nicely designed and the whole thing looks colorful and cheerful. Monoth is divided into different areas that each have their own character. Especially through the use of color and different elements, this is well clarified.
In addition, the game world is full of crazy details. For example, in certain areas you will encounter robots at work or sleeping cats. But you have to stop proverbially to smell the roses because if you are not careful you will miss them. In terms of presentation, this is a minor drawback since the game screams to fly smoothly and especially fast over the various obstacles.
My First Metroidvania
In terms of expectations, I had to switch gears a bit, because Illusion Island is not a linear platform game as we know them from before. No, this game would best be described as an entry-level Metroidvania starring Mickey Mouse. It shouldn’t spoil the fun, but know that this game is a little different in terms of setup.
That said, Illusion Island certainly can’t measure up to the snappier Metroidvanias we know in terms of difficulty and design. The game has a non-linear design and certain areas only become available after you unlock new upgrades, but I didn’t really encounter the frustration of endlessly wandering back and forth or getting lost here. This is because the game is quite generous with direction. For example, the game is packed with signposts that show you which way to go, and there is a constant objective marker that also indicates the correct direction quite clearly.
This “Metroidvania with side wheels” approach also makes the game very suitable for the younger gamers among us. Illusion Island does present some challenges, but the large amount of checkpoints makes the game quite forgiving. The seasoned gamer will fly through it a little faster, but for those who like a challenge there is also an option to turn up the difficulty slightly. In addition to being able to choose a character at the beginning of a run, there is also an option to select the number of hearts. So if you want a more challenging run you choose 1 heart, if you want the opposite you choose more hearts.
Running, flying and jumping
I just mentioned that you can fly through the game quite smoothly. Besides the somewhat compact and forgiving setup, the gameplay also plays an important role in this. Indeed, the game – especially after some unlocked upgrades – invites you to move forward with nice fluidity. The level design reinforces the forward momentum of the characters. Illusion Island has a nice flow that makes you want to keep playing. This is largely due to the clever level design, but also to the fact that the whole thing feels nimble.
The above then applies especially if you play the game alone. Illusion Island also includes the option to face Monoth together. Here you do often get pulled out of rhythm as the camera follows player 1. If player 2 is not playing along as nicely and smoothly, he or she will often get stuck. The flow is broken if you don’t play together at about the same pace to master the challenges and I found this a disadvantage for an otherwise smooth game. Personally, I think Illusion Island is better enjoyed as a single player experience and the multiplayer option seems more like a fun extra.
The charm of the game is further enhanced by the fact that there is no combat in the game. Somehow this makes the game very refreshing. The many – also originally designed – enemies are impossible to defeat. All you can do is dodge them. At the beginning of the game, this is not so bad. Because the creatures move horizontally or vertically, it is a matter of timing the jump well. As you progress, the difficulty increases slightly with other critters that can also fire projectiles. Often it is the combination of multiple enemies that does bring something of frustration. That’s where I personally missed the option to just jump on top of them á la Mario so I wasn’t bothered by them anymore.
Illusion Island is a successful new adventure for Mickey and his friends. The game clearly has to rely on its charm. The beautifully designed game world, cheerful soundtrack and amusing cutscenes certainly contribute to this. The game is on the short side, though; I reached the credits in about seven hours. On the other hand, there is plenty to collect for the 100% players among us. So perhaps the playing time can be stretched a bit more. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with a good compact game and I am only too happy to place Illusion Island under that category.