The 90s were a great time for games. In between the ferocious (and, looking back, hilarious) console war between Sega and Nintendo, and the rapid advancements in gaming technology and design, came a little game called Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.
Coming during what could be considered as the best era for Disney games, not including Kingdom Hearts or the smattering of fantastic titles on the original Playstation, Castle of Illusion stands out even arguably amongst The Lion King or Aladdin for quality.
In this game, the player takes control of Mickey Mouse (shocking, I know) as he is forced to enter the aforementioned Castle of Illusion in order to rescue Minnie Mouse from an evil witch named Mizrabel, who wants to steal Minnie’s youth for herself.
He meets and has a quick chat with the castle’s true owner and king, discovering that in order to defeat Mizrabel he must find the Seven Gems of the Rainbow within the various rooms of the Castle, that disguise themselves as various mysterious locations.
This is where the game kicks off, with the first door revealing a forest locale that slowly transforms from a bright and colourful forest of sentient mushrooms to a creepy haunted wood complete with ghosts for Mickey to jump around and explore.
During the journey, Mickey also plunges into a life-sized toy box, a castle, and a land made entirely of cakes and other kinds of sweets. There’s some minor level repetition, but the introduction of new enemies and other threats keeps the challenge up.
Our personal favourites include the tea sections, where you’re swimming through giant cups of tea with a sickening amount of sugar cubes floating in it as the obstacles. It was just such a different section of gameplay and really added to the mystery of the castle.
Speaking of enemies though, you do actually have the ability to fight the hordes of Mizrabel through one of two attacks. The first is that classic platformer mainstay, the drop on enemies from above (taking the guise of butt drop) and the throwing of items.
These items can take different guises but are usually spherical objects like apples or orbs, but shouldn’t be thrown around without thinking as sometimes these are needed to throw at obstructing objects and barriers, so you need to be cautious not to block yourself.
As well as these threats, you have the bosses that are protecting some of the Seven Gems of the Rainbow, the Masters of Illusion. These are actually quite wonderful in their variety, including a dragon that looks a lot like Pete’s Dragon, and can really test the player’s reactions.
They’re not impossible by any means, but they give a game that is aimed at children a definite challenge, especially when combined with the fact that Mickey only has five hitpoints in any given level. They are simply a matter of working out the pattern and exploiting it.
Once you complete the five levels, collecting the Seven Gems of the Rainbow in the process, you can take on Mizrabel and save Minnie. And that’s it, unless you’re playing on Easy, which only allows you three, shorter levels with no bosses, and a disparaging note at the end. Ouch.
Really, one thing that cannot be denied is that Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse has held up remarkably well. All of Mickey’s animations are fluid and full of charm, all the levels are visually interesting, and the enemies striking enough to stand out against the background.
The music too is incredible, with the boss music in particular still sounding pretty good all these years on (even if the toy box level is our favourite music). As a combined package, Castle of Illusion really is a testament to how good and polished Disney titles were in the era.
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a fantastic title, and it isn’t just us that think so, with it being named on “Best Mega Drive Games” lists since its release. Pick it up and play it again if you have it, it’s still as enjoyable now as you remember – we promise.