"Following the primitive flop that was Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle but prior to Sonic’s high-speed assault on the gaming market, Sega released another cute platformer, a slow burner that won over many a player’s heart without the slightest bit of hype. Sales didn’t tell the whole story: Castle of Illusion received the same sort of lavish praise that Sonic the Hedgehog garnered, and is thought of in the same fond light to this very day by those who were prudent enough to..."
Following the primitive flop that was Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle but prior to Sonic’s high-speed assault on the gaming market, Sega released another cute platformer, a slow burner that won over many a player’s heart without the slightest bit of hype. Sales didn’t tell the whole story: Castle of Illusion received the same sort of lavish praise that Sonic the Hedgehog garnered, and is thought of in the same fond light to this very day by those who were prudent enough to purchase a cart that drove away many with its archaic main character. The effort did well enough to warrant a follow-up, but Sega wasn’t willing to let Mickey Mouse shoulder the entire burden this time around. The moment had arrived for Donald Duck to enter the fray and aid our friendly but gamer-repelling rodent. Sadly, World of Illusion went about its business even more quietly than its predecessor--meaning that old-timers who passed this game up the first time around have a little bit of catching up to do.
Not to say that World surpasses Castle or is even its equal. Mickey now dabbles in magic, discarding his reliable head-stomping and apple-throwing techniques in favor of an enchanted cape that releases streams of glimmering star dust when waved. Of course, you can use Donald if you prefer--as you probably will at first, since the duck’s grumpy disposition and deep-throated complaints make him a far more appealing protagonist than cheerful Mickey, unleasher of high-pitched sissy talk. However, even mighty Donald has shunned the ways of traditional run-and-jump cutesy combat in favor of this magical cape business, and both characters plod along as if they don’t have a care in the world (much less an evil sorcerer to defeat). Sure, you can perform the obligatory “dash” to speed things up--if only a tiny bit--but there’s no getting around the fact that World is a very slow affair, and can feel quite methodical at times.
But that’s okay.
Although the adventure will remain the same for the most part regardless of which character you choose, Mickey and Donald do occasionally travel down their own preferred routes (resulting in about one different strip per level). Mick’s adventure is certainly the more eventful of the two, as will become evident during his second-stage mountain climb, when lightning strikes the rocky overhangs and produces flaming beasts, while boulders crash down from the heights and the solid ground quakes and shifts beneath his feet. Donald, on the other hand, decides to take a trip down the rapids, performing the typical “duck beneath this obstacle, leap past that obstacle” routine. But while Donald’s experience won’t impress you with screen-shaking events and flashy adversaries, it will definitely prove to be the tougher of the two strips. Subsequent alternate routes follow suit: Mickey’s travels will allow you to experience World‘s prettiest sights and most intriguing villains, while Donald’s paths will do more to test your skill.
Now, should a friend join you on your quest via two-player mode, there will be even more new locations to traverse and tasks to complete (a mining-cart ride past the shimmering walls of a spider-ridden cave can only be enjoyed when both Mickey and Donald are present to work the vehicle). Unfortunately, most of the situations that require “teamwork” involve perfunctory tasks and do little but slow down an adventure that never picks up much speed to begin with. When Donald’s large posterior prevents him from slipping through a narrow passageway, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Mickey must crawl through first and subsequently aid the disgruntled duck (and don’t kid yourself, the method of “aid” will be easy enough to discern). Some puzzle-solving elements would have done wonders for the two-player mode, but instead, mundane sequences mean that inviting a friend along will ultimately impede your progress.
But that’s okay.
It’s okay because, despite the game’s tendency to take its time with most every element of the adventure, World will still manage to captivate you with its gorgeous imagery and imaginative foes. The slow pace of play will hardly detract from the sense of wonder you feel when leaping through an enchanted mirror and on to the bright sliding floor of the magician’s own kitchen, inanimate objects suddenly hurling themselves straight for your head, forcing you to quickly devise ways of countering your enemy’s works of enchantment. You also won’t be concerned with the leisurely pacing when you’re carefully making your way through the booby-trapped cabin of a sunken pirate ship. And certainly, the beautiful transition from quiet library to chaotic candy-land will fascinate you enough to diminish thoughts of game-play flaws.
But then you’ll think back to Castle. And you’ll realize that you’ve seen that old trick before.
And you’ll think back further. You’ll think of Sonic’s methods of handling malicious robots by turning them back into kind creatures of the woodlands, and you’ll realize that Mickey and Donald perform the same noble act with their magical capes. You’ll think of previous trips you’ve taken on magic carpets, previous journeys that required precise swimming patterns through underwater passages lined with sharp objects and patrolled by fierce piranhas. You’ll think of all the old, reliable ideas at work here, all of the times that you’ve been through these battles already.
And once again, it’ll be okay.
Okay because you’ve never soared past such majestic layers of lavender beauty, never-ending waves of gorgeous clouds providing the backdrop for a breezy carpet ride. Okay because never before had subaquatic treks allowed you to be privy to the images of magnificent undersea castles calmly undulating with the tide of the gentle blue sea. Never have you set foot in a forest where the trees shone with such golden beauty, lighting up the land with their aura, brightening the scene of a caterpillar leisurely making his way up the tiny plant that stands as his domain.
It’s okay to be leisurely sometimes--particularly when you’re immersed in the prettiest of storybook adventures, one taken straight from the fairy tales that most all of us were captivated by during our younger years. An adventure that augments the attractive imagery with the calmest of tunes that embrace the pacing and encourage you to hum along as you journey. An experience that will take you back to 8- and 16-bit wars of yesteryear. It’s your childhood presented in the prettiest giftwrapping.
World of Illusion will make for solid action gaming for most anyone who still appreciates a good sidescrolling trek, but it will be of greatest worth for us mid-twenties geezers who can look back on the days past and yearn for personal Rosebuds. For those folks, now presents the perfect time to do their catching up and acquire a game which has worth beyond the usual mechanics. Slow it down, and take it back.
Featured community review by darkfact (February 04, 2005)
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