I’m as much a fan of Disney as I am of gaming. Yes, I am one of those heinous “Disney adults” that the news warned you about. But before I was a Disney adult, I was a Disney kid. I grew up playing amazing 8-bit and 16-bit games licensed from the Mouse House like DuckTales for the NES and QuackShot for the Sega Genesis.
Disney has gone hot and cold for gaming in waves over the decades. Right now, we are in something of a heatwave. We’re actually getting fun, new games again like Disney Dreamlight Valley. And now we have Disney Illusion Island, a new 2D platformer starring Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy.
Disney Illusion Island is launching on July 28 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Although its 2D mechanics might make you think that it’s something of a throwback, Illusion Island also looks modern.
A mouse that can move
I had a chance to watch a good chunk of Illusion Island gameplay during a presentation helmed by AJ Grand-Scrutton, the title’s lead developer and CEO/creative director at Dlala Studios, the company behind the project.
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The first time I saw Disney Illusion Island, it reminded me of the last couple Rayman games. Like those, this a 2D platformer with colorful hand-drawn art and four-player co-op. Illusion Island does stand out in a couple of ways. First off, it focuses entirely on platforming. During the off-hands demo, I did not see any attacks or combat, not even of the Mario-style jumping-on-enemies variety.
Instead, gameplay focuses entirely on movement. You run and jump through the environment, using maneuvers like wall-climbing and swinging ropes to help you avoid obstacles and collect goodies. Even boss fights are all about platforming. The one I saw did not involve the player fighting the boss directly. Instead, Minnie had to dodge attacks while using her acrobatic abilities to reach specific areas. It’s more like an obstacle course instead of a traditional boss fight.
“This experience is all around the joy of movement,” Grand-Scrutton told me, and I could see that intent in the game.
Also, while Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends are mostly linear, Disney Illusion Island takes place on a single, large map. Yup, it’s a Metroidvania, with the game dishing out new abilities that will help players unlock new areas.
Mickey and friends are cartoon stars, so it makes sense that Disney Illusion Island looks like an animated short come to life. That extends beyond the game itself, as the title features cutscenes featuring the classic characters (and their signature voice actors). The story sees the foursome summoned to Month, a island whose inhabitants want Mickey and pals to find three mystical books.
The cutscenes add a lot of personality to the game and help make them feel like a real Mickey story. Each character is true to form here — Goofy is clueless but well-meaning, while Donald is irritable and greedy. The in-game animations also help give each character a lot of, you know, character. Minnie uses a fashionable umbrella when she needs to glide, while Goofy uses a giant tube of mustard.
These characters can also interact with each other. While you can play the game solo, co-op players can help each other out in special ways. This includes dropping a rope from high above for others to climb, a direct refence to one of my favorite Disney games of my youth, World of Illusion for the Sega Genesis.
I also want to give a shoutout to the music, which is fully orchestrated. It adds both whimsy and, somewhat surprisingly, a bit of gravitas to the game. It’s a mix of the kind of tunes you’d hear from a Disney animated cartoon with the sort of ambient music that they play at the Disney theme parks.
Make mine Mickey
All of it — the music, the art and the mechanics — have the potential to come together to create something magical. Disney Illusion Island is looking like it’s going to offer a lot of fun for fans of Mickey and 2D platformers.
I’m hoping it can give a new generation of kids a Mickey game to obsess over, just like I used to with Castle of Illusion, Mickey’s Magical Quest and Mickey Mania. Of course, I’ll likely be playing right there with them.