A tight, responsive platformer adorned by beautiful hand-drawn animations and enchanting music. Humourous writing and great voice performances spotlight the whole cast and a good selection of multiplayer options make it a joy both alone or with friends in co-op. A short, fun jaunt through a modern fairytale world, hampered only slightly by some occasionally tedious Metroidvania back-and-forth and a little more ‘magic’ than I needed.
Disney Illusion Island had my attention the first time I saw it. As a huge platforming fan, I was really happy to see a game starring Mickey and the gang that oozed charm and had clearly been made by a team that loved the characters (after a series of rather bland and formulaic games that had sadly become the norm) and the ‘Illusion’ moniker carried some weight. That being said, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the modern style the cartoons now had and so I jumped in with equal measures of excitement and concern. Happily, that didn’t happen and after spending just under ten hours on the island of Monoth, not only am I really quite pleased with the overall playing experience, but I’m also thrilled that it provides a punchy co-op experience – a genre of gaming that I love but is becoming harder to find these days.
Ol’ Big Ears, Big Eyes
A deceptive picnic invitation gets Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy to travel to Monoth. They soon meet up with Toku, the leader of the Hokuns (a group of weird book hamsters?!), and are quickly tasked with exploring the island in search of three remarkable tomes representing Botany, Astronomy and Engineering in order to save their world. It’s a simple, but fun new take on a fairytale, and thanks to funny writing and some great voice performances, the flurry of cut-scenes that mark important story beats are always welcome and I had a great time watching them. The voices are somehow just how you remember them while still feeling contemporary and the consistently angry Donald Duck was definitely my favourite. That being said, Donald’s trademark sputtery lisp does occasionally make him quite hard to understand and for some reason – the fully animated cutscenes don’t have subtitles on as a default (while they’re there everywhere else) – which is definitely a bit of a bummer.
…aesthetically there’s a lot to love here.
As mentioned above, I was a bit weary of the art style. I’m quite partial to the look Mickey, Minnie and others had when I was growing up and watching Disney’s Cartoon Cafe for two hours every afternoon. The new look felt a little to chaotic to my taste. That being said, it definitely grew on me. And the fact, that it was all hand-drawn makes a huge difference; The characters in particular looked really vibrant and emotive. I would’ve loved it if the different biomes felt a little more unique, however, they were still really pretty and dreamlike and when combined with the simply outstanding music (by David Housden) aesthetically there’s a lot to love here.
Minnie Mini Map
On the gameplay side of things, platforming fans will be happy to hear that controls are tight and responsive. And while the game takes place across three main areas – these are all interconnected in a map that gradually reveals itself as you progress through the story. There are some Metroidvania elements as well – where certain areas are visible but inaccessible until a new ability is unlocked. I found this particular dynamic a bit hit-and-miss. On the plus side, the new abilities are great. These range from adding double-jumps, hovers and swimming skills. These not only bring variety to the gameplay, but each character actually has a slightly unique visual for each ability – Goofy’s abilities, for example, all revolve around food, while the curmudgeonly Donald gets whatever is left over. This often leads to some pretty hilarious moments, including giving the duck two big wings which he needs to flap wildly in order to hover. It’s great!
I often found travelling around the map a little cumbersome and unenjoyable.
Unfortunately, while I really enjoyed the series of skill acquisitions, I often found travelling around the map a little cumbersome and unenjoyable. It’s probably an unfair comparison to make – but when returning to areas I had previously visited in Metroid Dread, for example, it always felt like I was discovering something hidden. There was a sense of surprise and adventure. In Illusion Island, it often just felt tedious. Hit a new area, get a new ability, and now go back to the other side of the map to the new section you easily saw before but can now reach. Then, search around that area, and repeat the same process before travelling back to the other side of the map. Let’s just say traversing the map was not as much fun as I hoped it would be – and I would’ve probably been just as happy if there had been a more traditional level-based design – although this becomes a little easier when fast-travel opens up – but that arrives little too late in the game to make a big enough difference.
Now, while I played the vast majority of the game as a single player – the game is designed to also be enjoyed by up to 4 players cooperatively. In that way, it’s a genre we just don’t see enough of anymore in my opinion and while that would be a plus on its own, the fact that the game goes a little further to make the gameplay for a range of skill levels is really great. As an example, when selecting your character you can decide on whether you’d like 1, 2 or 3 hearts (basically how many touches you can incur before dying) or even a stone heart – making you invincible. Each character can make different selections – meaning my wife (who doesn’t play much in terms of 2D platformers) can select the stone heart while I can try up the difficulty with 1 or 2 hearts. Along with that, there are also to help fellow players along the way – by giving them a hug for extra health, dripping down a rope to help a less skilled player get to a higher platform or even working together to leapfrog for a higher jump. In fact, my only small gripe with all of this is that when playing alone, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to easily switch between the characters. And so, having selected Mickey early on, I only swapped over to Donald late on once I had saved the game exited and then returned. It would’ve loved an on-the-fly option.
…and who doesn’t love a 4-player couch co-op game!?
And talking about things that I wished were a little different – it might sound silly (especially considering the name of the game) but I could’ve done with a little less magic stuff. It’s obviously a personal preference but I’m not into the whole supernatural direction many games are going for these days, Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a Disney game and really the first half is very fairytale-esque when dealing with anything magic-related and actually plays a lot of it off for comedic purposes. However, the late game leans more heavily on these elements and it honestly put me off a little. That aside, little nods to previous Mickey games (and the design and development of this one) were great and are all over the place – from collectables that unlock concept art to memorabilia from older titles. I love this kind of thing and am glad to see more games giving us an insight into the development process while still within the game with little museum features like this.
Goofy and the Gang
Disney Illusion Island ticks a lot of boxes. It’s a great platformer with some unique powerups and some glorious audio and visual elements that make it a joy to play. There are also some great odes to previous games and it’s one of the few modern games that shines as a couch co-op title. Sure, there are some misses too, like a Metroidvania-style travelling system that occasionally feels like a chore, and a little too much magic for some tastes. However, if those don’t sound like big issues for you – there’s probably more than enough here to ensure that you’ll have some fun and it’s undoubtedly been created by a team that wants to see Mickey games back where they used to be. And as far as I’m concerned that can only be a good thing, right?
REVIEW CODE PROVIDED BY: NINTENDO
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