"What weíve got here is a bridge too far, but itís nothing that seven special gems canít fix. You see, as you and Minnie pranced about in the meadows of tranquil Vera City, the evil witch Mizrabel was plotting an evil scheme to attain Minnie-esque beauty for herself. Mizrabel swoops down on her broom and mousenaps Minnie from under your nose. Guilt overcomes your reluctance, so set off after them expeditiously because thatís what your buddy Master Higgins would have done. You must find the gems a..."
What weíve got here is a bridge too far, but itís nothing that seven special gems canít fix. You see, as you and Minnie pranced about in the meadows of tranquil Vera City, the evil witch Mizrabel was plotting an evil scheme to attain Minnie-esque beauty for herself. Mizrabel swoops down on her broom and mousenaps Minnie from under your nose. Guilt overcomes your reluctance, so set off after them expeditiously because thatís what your buddy Master Higgins would have done. You must find the gems and build the rainbow bridge to reach Mizrabel and Minnie, and then, take care of business.
Welcome to the wondrous Castle of Illusion for the Sega Genesis. As splendid as the game is, I like the 8-bit version better. Itís not often that this circumstance arises, but despite Mickey looking and sounding quite a bit more polished here on the Genesis in comparison to his scaled down Master System presentation, all the more refined ingredients somehow add up to a slightly less compelling adventure.
To be fair, though the game with less bits has more bite, it was released after the Genesis beauty. And yes, this game is beautiful. Many of the charming orchestrations feel as if they have been lifted directly from a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon. The first level forest and second level toy world sound all the appropriate notes, but seem like a warm up. Things get a bit harder and more harried as the third of five levels opens with soul-charging chords and an eye-opening fiery sky. The fourth level library has Mickey swimming in coffee and avoiding the marshmallows that patrol the teacupsí hallways. The comparatively tough level five castle stage, followed by the giant gear jumping area culminates in a final battle that is reminiscent - and certainly worthy - of a Dracula encounter from any Castlevania game.
The animations are understated excellence. They seem to have reached a level of fluidity where you donít even notice the quality because your eye takes the motion for granted; this is how motion should be portrayed in a game, your eye tells you as the charismatic mouse leaps about. Mickey can duck, literally for cover, his face washed with fear. Also, he often finds himself on the brink of a precipice, thanks to your cack-handed control - this is not what is meant by keeping on your toes.
In old school Disney non-violent fashion (yes, old school; have you seen the more recent nightmare-incurring Hunchback of Notre Dame?) Mickey dispatches foes by either bouncing on them with his bottom, or by throwing various collectible, limited-use projectiles. From acorns to candles, hurl them at foes when foes wonít stay still enough for you to sit on them. You will find tossing to do less damage on the bosses than butting, however in one particular case, you will be quite frustrated if you donít use the secondary attack; the third level bossí agility demands its use.
All of Mickeyís enemies - whether they be leaping trees, unicycling clowns, goofy dragons, dancing letters, or bookworms - can be reverted to the pixie dust from whence they came with a single hit. The pace of the game seems strangely slower and more drawn out than the Master System version. As cutesy platformer games go, this one falls into the Bonkís Adventure category, never attaining the speed of a Mario or Sonic game. This isnít a bad thing in and of itself, but whether itís the amount of enemies that is generally lacking, or something less immediately apparent, the game never reaches even a reasonable level of intensity. Granted, Castle of Illusion features a childrenís cartoon character, not Lara Croft - but it doesnít pick up even in the later levels, and much of its engaging quality is effected by its beauty and not its gameplay. Once again, the quaint Master System version raises its head to inform us that this is why it, and not its big brother, is the more entertaining game.
Still, if you have access to both, play them both. And if you own a Genesis, and want a cutesy side-scroller, pick up Castle of Illusion (it wonít cost you much) and prepare for an enchanting, good looking - and sounding - ride. Younger children will undoubtedly be enthralled by Mickeyís magic, as well as the 'secrets' scattered here and there. For them, the lack of immediacy and intensity will be welcome omissions. Old folks: for best results, play the game on the hardest difficulty level, though that still wonít bring about the intensity that is absent.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 19, 2003)
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