PCPlayStation 3Xbox 360

Castle of Illusion HD Hands-On: Walt Would Be Proud


When Capcom announced that they were reviving and updating the beloved NES classic DuckTales for today’s consoles, many thirty-something gamers were delighted by the news. For them, a cornerstone of their childhood was helping Uncle Scrooge traverse the globe, and collecting treasure to help fill his money bin. Yet, there are plenty of other strong memories, too, of other Disney platformers from that approximate era.


One of these is Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, which graced the Genesis. While never reaching the heights of popularity that DuckTales and similar offerings achieved—mostly due to the fact that it pre-dates the first Sonic the Hedgehog, which is when people finally began embracing Sega’s 16-bit console—it still has an intensely loyal following. And also did well enough to inspire follow-ups, plus a tribute in the form of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.


And like DuckTales, Castle of Illusion is getting the HD treatment as well. Castle of Illusion HD as it is called appears to be another straightforward port of a beloved classic, with some added, more contemporary gameplay elements added for good measure. It’s also a 2D platformer that has been given the 2.5D treatment, which is to say that the backgrounds are fully rendered in polygons and have a considerable more degree of depth than what was allowable before.


Though the revamped Castle of Illusion pushes the envelope a bit further, mostly in the form of dramatic camera movements. Instead of going just left and right, or up and down, the viewpoint will move diagonally or do 45-degree turns. Some gameplay trailers show a segment in which Mickey runs towards the camera, which is something the original game did not have (and which I did not personally participate in). There’s another in which the entire environment is turned upside, but that’s actually present in the Genesis game.


Mickey, much like Scrooge in DuckTales Remastered, has clearly benefited from modern tech, with his animation being a bit closer to Disney’s level of quality than what was feasible on technology at the time. Though whereas the new Scrooge is actually a 2D image, something exceptionally similar to an actual cartoon, the new Mickey is made of polygons, like the rest of the game. Yet despite this key difference, Mickey’s mannerisms would make Walt proud. Despite the stable of DuckTales HD being rendered in a far more authentic fashion, Scrooge looks a bit disconnected, even lifeless at times.


The E3 demo had Mickey in a castle, the fifth level of the game, and involves him trying to navigate very treacherous (and cramped) hallways, far more so than in the original fifth level. Lined up against the wall are suits of armor, some of which will swing at Mickey if he gets too close by. A few also will become animated and move around, as well as throw projectiles towards our hero. You also have odd bats flying about, who show up when you least expect it (usually when you’re trying to jump to a safe spot).


While the original castle interiors were extremely drab, and hardly looked what it was supposed to in the first place… the knights were the only real indication… there’s little mistaking where you’re supposed to be in the remake From the hallways of the upstairs part of the castle that kicks things off, which is filled with paintings that were borrowed from the haunted castle in Disneyland, to the low hanging ceilings and wine caskets in the basement.


You have two primary actions: jumping is used to navigate the environment, as well as to subdue certain enemies, though in the case of the latter, it doesn’t work all of the time. Collecting diamonds is also the name of the game (they’re basically the coins and rings you need to get in Mario or Sonic games). You can also throw projectiles, which is the primary means to eliminate foes, which in this level’s case are candles (they vary, from stage to stage, I believe). But they, too, need to acquired; each candle you nab equates to only one candle you can throw, so you have to be extremely wise when choosing to shoot.


In addition to dealing with foes, you also have plenty of disappearing platforms to deal with. This is the part in which the remake differentiates itself from the original the most, which only had just a few unstable surfaces to deal with. In the new game, they’re a stronger force to be reckoned with; there’s an entire section in which Mickey must traverse up a semi-circular environment and it’s tricky to say the least.


The makers of the high-def update not only spared no expense in the looks department, they didn’t do away with the challenge either. Again, Mickey’s arsenal is limited, plus he’s a bit on the weak side as well. In recent years, Mickey Mouse has become synonymous with kids games, or simply titles that are not all that challenging. Not here, though. It’s like the days of old, in which platformers were tough as nails, and I simply can’t recall the last time I played a game starring Mickey that was so tough. I died, a lot.


I had zero expectation before picking up the controller for Castle of Illusion HD on the E3 show-floor. Mostly because I didn’t pay the original much mind, despite being a hardcore platforming junkie for the Genesis. But, from my admittedly limited exposure to both, I find myself looking forward to more of Mickey than that other Disney revamp.


Matt Hawkins