A retrospective on a 16-bit classic
Throughout the years, officially licensed games have resulted in some of the best and worst games. But in the 90’s there was a streak of great games based on popular franchises that featured groundbreaking gameplay with gorgeous graphics and sound. One of my personal favorites is Castle of Illusion, Starring Mickey Mouse.
Note, there is an 8-bit version of this game that was available for the Master System. This deviates from the Genesis / Mega Drive version and would require it’s own retrospective.
This game starts, like so many games of the era, with a kidnapping. The evil witch (always an evil one) snatches Minnie Mouse and now Mickey has to go through the Castle of Illusion to rescue her. The witch wants to steal Minnie’s youth, kinda funny considering that Minnie was at that time 62 years old, being created in 1928. The castle consists of 5 doors that magically takes you to levels with a variety of themes: The Enchanted Forest, Toyland, The Storm, Dessert Factory, The Library, and finally, The Castle.
The execution — Graphics, Music and Gameplay
The graphics are colorful and detailed that still looks great today. Every level has a unique look to it, ranging from a sort of childish cuteness to dark and sinister. The fluidity of the animations draws you in, sometimes even forgetting that you are playing a game with limitations when it comes to graphic power. A true example of the ingenuity of the 16-bit era.
The game also has great controls and gameplay, making this a game you can play over and over again for years. I guess the fact that I still play this in 2020 is proof of that. On paper it resembles any Super Mario clone from the period, but perfectly executed. You attack enemies by jumping on them, but at the same time you can bounce from one enemy to another, which you again can use to jump higher to reach places you otherwise wouldn’t or to get through the levels quicker. You also pick up items that you can throw, but I honestly rarely use it. I’m a bouncing kinda guy, I guess…
The music has been stuck in my brain since playing this when I was a kid. One of the selling points of the 16-bit games was the stereo music, and the Genesis / Mega Drive with its Yamaha YM2612 sound chip can deliver some great tunes. Castle of Illusion really uses the sound chip to its fullest, with a layers of details. Much like the graphics, the music does all kinds of different moods from cheerful to dark, from relaxed to urgent.
The boss music makes me want to pick up my guitar and record a metal cover. You hear it once per level and every time you do it totally psyches you up. The water caves levels has some Egyptian-style progressive rock thing going on that could just as easily have been on a Symphony X album. I could probably go on about the music, but music should be listened to and not read about so sit down with the game and experience it.
In 2013, Sega released a remake of the game on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Reception is positive, mostly getting relative high scores from critics. The game features 2.5D gameplay, modern game tropes likes collectibles and unlocks and reimagined music. The game was supervised by the original game’s director, Emiko Yamamoto, so they absolutely treated this remake with the respect it deserves. But, here at 16bitcity, we stick to the classics and even though the new version is a fine game itself, the original is the one that will be revisited on a regular basis.