Google Wave wasn't a huge success. In fact, one might call it a sizable misstep for one of the world's biggest the tech companies, especially one that has a track record for setting industry standards. But, for whatever reason, it tanked. So, what does Google Wave have to do with Mickey Mouse and his Castle of Illusion? Well, during the announcement for the fateful messaging system, its development team noted that they set out to (and I'm paraphrasing here) approach email as if it were invented today. Technological leaps forward aside, it's an interesting way to approach a product that people are familiar with in order to move the marker forward. It's that type of thinking that was clearly behind Sega Studios Australia's re-imagining of the 13 year-old Genesis classic, "Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse," but fortunately their software is much more appealing.
Mickey Mouse's latest release, which is available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, pulls inspiration from, but is not a direct remake of, one of his most beloved games "Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse." Originally released in 1990 on the 16-bit Genesis, it was followed by 8-bit versions on the Master System and Game Gear, where each edition had their similarities and differences. While the story of Minnie being mouse-napped by the evil witch Mizrabel which leads to Mickey exploring the Castle of Illusion to save his beloved remains the same, the rest of the games borrow from each other instead of directly copy, making each release feel noticeably different. This same format remains true for the latest release as well, with inspiration coming from the original game, instead of setting it up as a direct port.
The source material for "Castle of Illusion" is as standard and basic of a 1990s platformer as you can find. Mickey moves from left to right, he jumps, and can bounce on or throw projectiles at enemies to kill them. The updated "Castle of Illusion" maintains exactly that same formula, recreating an almost one-to-one game play experience, so fans of the original should feel right at home, just be prepared for some serious platforming throughout the game. However, that's basically where the direct port ends, and the re-imagining begins.
Each of the castle's worlds are the same as in the original, and you unlock them in the same order, but the development team has updated each levels' designs and graphics to extend the play, and make it feel like a new experience. For example, Mickey now has way more diamonds to collect, which are needed to unlock the door to the next set of levels back at the Castle's hub, which is something else that has also been drastically expanded. The developers even incorporated a bit of 3D into the game as well - not enough to consider this a 2.5D game, but enough to give some depth to the world. A lot of time and effort has gone into the recreated the look and feel of the original, and everything looks gorgeous, with clear inspiration from the original game.
The care that was put in to the updates for the new version of "Castle of Illusion" shines through in more than just the visuals: the rest of the bells and whistles throughout the game are pretty impressive, too. The voice over work that tells the tale of Mickey, Minnie, and Mizrabel helps to bring more of a storybook feeling to the adventure, which is nice since that's really the sweet spot for these Disney characters. The actual Castle of Illusion itself is well done as a more fleshed out, 3D, central hub for the game, offering up unlockable statues of the bosses for each area, as well as bonus diamonds and helpful extra continues. These small touches help to make the overall package feel fresh and new while retaining the nostalgia of the original.
One thing that the developers clearly made a conscious decision to carry over from the original game is the game's difficulty curve. While "Castle of Illusion" on the Genesis wasn't the hardest game released for the system, it didn't shy away from being challenging. The PSN and XBLA "Castle of Illusion" versions somehow managed to create just about the same difficulty curve, even with all of their design changes. That is to say that some players may hit a wall while playing the new game, in the same way they may have hit a wall playing the old game. On the plus side, the updated game includes a lot more continues and life stars, making it a little bit easier to keep going, time and time again.
You have to give Sega Studio Australia some credit; they did a solid job with this update to "Castle of Illusion." The new graphics and gameplay really do make it feel like a modern game, while still managing to retain the essence of the original. If you remember playing the Genesis version of "Castle of Illusion" you will appreciate the time and effort that the developers have put into this release specifically to appeal to the nostalgia that overtakes you as soon as you hear the name of the game. A classic 2D platformer in every sense, the latest update to "Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse" is a worthy entry into the franchise, and a game that Mouseketeers of all ages can appreciate.
Score: 8 out of 10