Review: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (PS3, 1990 & 2013 Versions)

20140520_coi_gen_1I remember Sega’s Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse like it was yesterday. I played it for the first time at my cousins’ house around Christmas of 1990, and I sat there completely blown away by what I was seeing and hearing coming out of their Genesis. Its animation, music, and colorful levels made a huge impression on me, possessing all the qualities of a Disney animated feature. It was one of the first examples of a licensed videogame done the right way.

Last month, Sony released both this and the updated PS3 version from 2013 via their PlayStation Plus service. Today, I decided to play through each of them to see how they compared (and to relive my youth).

The original game is considered one of the standouts from the early Genesis years, following some of my favorites from 1989, including Ghouls’n Ghosts, Thunder Force II, and The Revenge of Shinobi. Sega and its developers got good at developing for it quickly, and Castle of Illusion is no exception.

20140520_coi_gen_2Playing through it in its entirety again today, I was reminded of all the things I loved about it, most notably the lovely animation found on Mickey Mouse himself. He is so full of life, and I was immediately transported back 1991, where I would obsessively study his various animation cycles and perfect sprite work. His walk is particularly good, and so different from the more mechanical walking animations in games back then. His overall look remains one of my all-time favorites, and it brought a big smile to my face today.

I forgot how big these levels were too, with lots of hidden areas and multiple paths to explore. My memory of it was that of a simple, linear game, but there is a surprising amount of variety to be had here. Each level is distinct, full of gorgeous color, parallax scrolling, and the soundtrack is one of the all-time greats, with bright, original instrumentation and melodies.

I struggled with the controls at first, which is a common problem for games that old, even the historically infallible Super Mario World. I got used to them by the end of the first level, but I still died a lot later in the game, where certain levels require precision platforming, else Mickey falls to his doom.

Overall, this is still as fun today as it was nearly 24 years ago. I also need to give proper respect to M2 here, who did an excellent job porting the game to PS3, with perfect emulation and a decent range of tweaks and options.

1990 Sega Genesis Version:
Graphics: A
Audio: A
Gameplay & Controls: B
Presentation: A
Value: C
Overall: B+



On the other hand, the 2013 version developed by the late Sega Studios Australia, is more of a mixed bag.

I enjoyed how it stayed true to its vision of re-imagining the 1990 classic on modern hardware. The characters are animated well, and the levels are beautifully constructed and painted. Many of them are sprawling, and like the original, have hidden paths to explore and hidden items to find. Their new 3D structure means that Mickey can now move in and out of the backgrounds, with some stages switching from side-scrolling to fully 3D on the fly.

The music — which includes both classic and modern soundtracks — is very familiar, and made me feel right at home. The game also has plentiful, context-based narration, which adds to its movie-like feel, as well as good voice acting throughout. These are nice touches that one would expect of a game starring one of the world’s most recognizable icons. Some key story segments are presented through semi-animated, storyboard-like sequences, which have nice art, but I think those would have been better fully animated via the game’s engine.

Unfortunately, this update suffers from a very average framerate. Running at about 30 fps, Castle of Illusion simply doesn’t look as polished as it should. The framerate drops even more when there are lots of objects on-screen, which is a big hit to its perceived quality, reflecting on its overall lack of optimization.

20140520_coi_ps3_2Controls are also borderline awful, with loose jumping physics, vague hit detection, near-nonexistent feedback when you take damage, and movement that makes it difficult to tell where you are in 3D space. This all makes traversal and precision jumping much more difficult than it should be.

The game provides a middling level of challenge and length, similar to the Genesis original. The new version adds collectibles, unlockables, and a decent set of Trophies for completionists, so replay value is better here.

As a free game included with PlayStation Plus, it’s passable, but I would have a very difficult time recommending its purchase.

2013 PS3 Version:
Graphics: A-
Audio: A
Gameplay & Controls: C-
Presentation: B
Value: B-
Overall: C


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