I once heard writing being compared to exorcising one's demons so since these writings are about games, I tried to find a game that must have some trauma attached. It turns out the trauma was entirely linked to pitfalls of the first console experience such as the concept of continuing from game over screens or difficulty settings. I apologise to the Disney trademark video game branch for any ill will up until the recent week or so. I await your apology in return.
Right off the bat I want to say I don't know if I recommend castle of illusion. It might be a good game. It is cheerful in sound and style. It's certainly not worth your time by the standards of platformers available today. The remake might be, you can skip to the last two blocks of text if that's what you want.
Castle of illusion is a basic platformer setup with save the girl mouse setup, defeat the evil hag as the end goal and conquer the castle as the means. The castle itself exists only in cutscene form to bridge these levels, a setting made up of transitions. The game is short, it being a castle with few rooms, the settings are traditional fairy tale disney style and it can be more frustrating than fun to play often. There were times where I feared revisiting this game to discover it had really come from a happy meal or a cereal box or among the sea of DVDs in that nice man's car boot. I apologise to my folks who did actually buy the game in a good honest way, that the Sega cover was real and this game had market value then and is sentimental now.
I attempted to psychoanalyse the concept of a castle of illusion with it's levels of self contained trials of torture hidden behind window panes, each a sinister turn on childhood trippy escapades. When phrased this way it sound slike this should stay in my therapy sessions. I hope this makes clear that I am saying I am bias in my opinion on this game and I am unsure I am the right person to be offering critique it. On with the blog.
Castle of illusion may be the first video game I ever played intending to do well or even win. In Sonic the hedgehog your goal was only to go fast and stay fast. Even if there was a beyond I only wanted to go there rushing by as a blue blur.. Castle of illusion, however, was the first game I remember knuckling down and trying to fight through the hyperactivity of youthful mindedness. Something only done by learning how this game ticked. I learned bad guys movements, I learned how to judge Mickey's jump and I learned which enemies to let go. And of course I learned about 'tries', which is what they called lives in this game. All things considered the game is both generous and forgiving in these areas.
I do not recall that I ever got past level 4 in all the years I pIayed the game. All the stages looked so happy when you enter until the walls could very well grow teeth, or so it made you believe. It was after an intense session of playing the game, pushing forwards and getting myself real worked up and ultimately dying at the stages final throwdown that I gave up and went to play Quackshot instead. Maybe this was also my first experience at quitting a game, I don't even know if I quit at the right time, a habit I still have yet to kick. It was only a week ago that I first ever saw level 5. That's like seeing a deleted scene from the original Toy Story in all it's freaky digital glory that's new to you and made up of the blocks you thought you knew every arrangement. What a strange age of digital memory affected media we live in.
The truth is I don't remember the first time I played a Sonic game, it was that early in brain development, in those early days before education and you were just allowing your newly working legs to carry you around at breakneck speeds, just like the blue pixled hero.
But I remember the first time I watched someone play Mickey, back then I didn't know how to work the equipment (later also learned by watching) and I seen how they bounced off a streak of enemies and got up onto the high branches to reach special items. Later when they had gave up or went to school or something, then I had my turn. I died very quickly. And did many more times before I understood more. He was slower and more floaty than Sonic. He collected apples instead of rings but the basics were there like jumping on enemies. You can also throw the apples as projectiles.
This mouses female friend whom he was fond of enough to dance with amidst the emerald woods, was my goal. Of course my goal quickly became to smash those toy soldiers enemies. Revenge against an enemy almost always equaled death and I never learned. Still haven't. But this bright lady mouse creature gets taken away by an old hag, an older woman with authority, with property and seemingly wealthy enough to kidnap freely. It was up to Mickey alone to rescue her. And you really really wanted to rescue her, for bragging rights.
Somewhere in this vast castle lay the real Minnie, infact more illusions would have been welcome, this was a game is short by design so to hell with those eager kids who are privileged enough for 'saves' or 'continues'. This game was rolled out to roll back kids aspirations. The levels are familiar settings with forests, spiders lairs, dark forests, school desks, cake lands and... toy factories. This game leans into the early 'innocent' looking, Walt disney still living, Snow White & Cinderella sort of era, as if the new game medium ought to stay traditional where Mickey was concerned.
The hardest part is coming to terms with how the game is about 2 hours long. Maybe four. So the two years I spent chipping away with it and I see now I never even saw the penultimate stage says a lot. All for an ending that does have a nice animation of their flight away from the castle followed by the reverse animation of the intro screen. The final boss is very typically Disney styled and has it's own dark and menacing paralex background that makes the fight feel epic and it would have been since a child could beat it. The boss fights in this were decent even if straightforward, Yoshi's island is the real successor to what this game aspired to. Again, this game is very short, that can be refreshing if you're used to the usual 6-8 worlds in 2D platformers or, the game can be a pleasant one evening long distraction.
The criticism that will be shared by all is the game doesn't go far enough with a short length, limited moveset, items that never evolve much, and a traditional save the princess at the top of the castle from the old wicked hag story. The boss fights certainly showcase who was the target audience, I don't think they ever get harder than some games mini-bosses.
My brain can be funny so let me explain, attempts to humanise Mickey Mouse in Fantasia (1940), which I saw too late in my life, or Three Musketeers just didn't do it for me. See The Killer (1989) for a stronger example. Now Mickey's video game counterpart, the likes of Epic Mickey, Kingdom Hearts Mickey, that creepy looking GC one, these guys are sharp resilient and ridiculously overpowered. Maybe the corporate mask is very heavy and strains the expression. Some welcome jagged edges which expressed anger and some enjoyment out of smiting his foes made him more the sort of hero I did not see elsewhere.
Game Mickey in castle of illusion just looks different. A child seen him as a mouse who smiled, who was a bit simple as well as brave and needed any help handy. I'm grateful it was him and not Bubsy at the other end of the controller. When you die is the only time Mickey won't be smiling and confident in you and him, when you see the final boss and big spiders, it's an innocent type of cool. The black outline of Mickey who was stamped on the logo in the intro of VHS movies was not the Mickey I saw on screen reacting to the buttons. This was a mouse, it could have easily been Oswald the rabbit or Felix the cat or whoever but he was a vulnerable avatar, but in spite of that, a brave and smiling hero. I suppose they would say they tried. I don't really know how they handle the brand personified.
In the SNES era Mickey had a string of games that showed both his army of shareholders and the public were willing to accept games as being an outlet for him. Then games got expensive and harder and Disney went back to what it had done best. Playing a handful of sequel mickey games I can summarise as serviceable while the visuals are always knockout. However, castle of illusion remains the best of the bunch, or at least the best balanced. I'm maybe not the only sorts who wants a Fantasia tie-in game or more than KH2's adaptation of classic Mickey shorts. You'd think in a post-cuphead world Disney would have dominated this corner of the market by now but here is where money did not warrant the effort. Games are hard to make and money doesn't wait in its printing press while you debug in increasingly difficult tech tool kits.
Anyone ever play Wario land 4? That'll make the next bit easier. That game had a great gimmick befitting Wario's brash rush of strength. When you reached the end of the stage you had to rush back to the entrance, usually via an alternate route recently opened. This game has a loose forming particle of that same idea. (following is description of GIF below) In a rather joyous level you reach the literal 'exit' sign before you've been there 5 minutes. To open that exit it requires a switch on top of that big mountain of toy blocks and traps. It also happens to be the shared stairwell of all of the enemies which travels only the way you are not. These were big gaming deals at the time people. Where were we? So when you hit the switch that opens the exit, the starwell you just climbed, well it... the level becomes a slide and mickey has to sprint downhill toward the finish, hopping and rushing and leaping with faith. These are fun and leaves the level with a bang. They are nicely recreated in the remake and there they usually leave you with far less lives. It's an ancestor of the Rayman rush style we've seen in modern platformer.
This experience is a longshot to describe but bear with me, some levels stick because of the repetition and that level of constant setback with incessant drone of music, your finger muscles adept to the timing of the first five enemies, along with the toy land levels' bright pink mixture of pale sweetshop design like sticky cut rock diamond candy. The mandela effect made me think you slid to a stop like in an ice level, for added brutality. It being the one level that still kicks you back down the hill is such a purgatory level of frustration that I believe a portion of my psyche is left there in a pocket of time joined with this game. Thank you if you read all of that.
I wonder if I did something mad or painful to myself, or the controller or a mixture, back when I was younger since it would explain why I associate some levels demanding platforming finesse feeling like it once or twice kicked the sweet innocent boy minded shit out of me.
In order to balance the tone of the article here are some of my favourite enemies with disputable names:
I wrote a poem for this write up:
Oh Mickey, true hero o mouse Mickey,
Wher'st thou gone an' lost lady Minnie?
Both danced in the forest before night moved amidst,
and tempted your heaven against villainy?
Now that castle emerges from its ever found space,
shall it send me to rooms ungazed by any face?
I'll swing through the branches, underside webs, sprinting to bouncing and planning my victory announcing.
I pray there will be more and much to see there more the ranks are set against me,
that no factory, maze or mirage can unmake a way out free.
... as evidenced above I've never been financially rewarded for writing.
Has anyone actually played the remake? I know there is mass discussion on the term remake, remaster, redesign, but I'm among my people here! I never played when it came out because I assumed it was just a clean up. Sharpen a few textures, add in some new handpainted custscenes, lord knows the animation labor is within reach.
A remake like this was a shock. It could stir up emotions so you make a serious blog post or you may become that caller who reaches out to your parent with a strong impulse to bring up your old Sega they got you and mention it in thanks and your dear old parent or guardian may fight of notions of doubt in what they permitted for you in the past.
I'm angry. I'm angry that it was entirely up to me to have known this was the type of game they made it into, which was the type of game I would have liked then. This game is quite a cinematic effort, at first the game seems a retread but oh no, there is alot more scripted moments in this game. Throw in some Ori, some Crash Bandicoot, there's a pinch of Rayman.
The positive is that the level design on show here is really good, it's better than I could have done which is the reasons for the present state of affairs. Maybe when I heard this 'remake' came out i assumed it was a HD QOL fixes with a new coat of paint, y'know what got done with the Oddworld games, or Monkey Island, I assumed this game was such sacred grounds that anything beyond identical recreation would be desecration..
Thankfully someone this time mentioned 'autosave' or something similar and thus the game became more conformed and yet more whole. It adapts the toy land into a puppet on string platforming stages that is a pretty close retread of the old and it manages to make it less hectic and deadly as if someone on the team has also been a part of that great pain.
The remake faithfully brings back annoying enemies and the boss fights are just in 3D now and all play in keeping with the original. Some remakes ought to adapt the originals flaws rather than sever entirely. And somehow they still brought over that damn far jump, it's always just a tad too far. It's almost like they thought how it was such a part of the game, what set it apart. Set apart from gravity maybe.
The game thankfully keeps some odd genre convention away from what been popularised by Nintendo with boss fights that take more than 5 blows, when you swing on a rope it damages enemies on contact, small button tap jumps are better than long jumps.
The final boss of castle of illusion is a recreation but an upgrade and the only one I found a challenge. I won it only by luck since if you take two hits before the final two blows get dealt then you may as well restart since her final attack is overpowered and unavoidable in my experience.
There are some delightful platforming sections that are exceptional to behold and very cinematic to watch (onlookers supported this), but if there are enemies in those sections then just stay far away, any time you feel you jump too close to the enemy you are wincing from hoping the game chooses to be forgiving regarding collision detection.
Afterall this is the game they chose to bring back and not Mickey Mania, so it was a well known fact this game was the best, right? Now I see the world doesn't hold the same views and values as myself and they just chose to try their best at doing a 'classic' some justice. I guess I should play that ducktales remaster since I don't know what to believe anymore.
The remake generously adds some more content, still being a short game but there is more here than there was before. The replay value is strong with collectibles and I found myself just wanting to go back and experience some of the adrenaline rushes I got from the hectic platforming sections that requires precise timing but not the pitch perfect orchestrahl timed hopping skills required by many modern 2D platformers. The 2.5D is well utilized here considering this game was early in the remake craze and it felt fofced into this design method, it was a risk since if they had told me it would be a 2.5D remake of this 'classic' I would have washed my hands of any notion of a purchase. I guess I was the exact audience they wanted to prove themselves too and I turned my nose up at them, now here I am singing them praises too late and my purchase probably doesn't even help them. It was a well intentioned and noble effort, one I appreciated too late and may have been aimed too high in its goal. Like an increasing number of things in life these days, I pick up an old relic of formative years for rexamination, and realize it wasn't what I thought and that modern hands who had reached in and tried to reshape it into a fresh marketable product, that it is something not nearly as malicious as assumed and that I should just accept it like the passing of seasons.
TL;DR : The remake is worth a try especially on discount price.
LOOK WHO CAME:
My Enormous Hairy Downstairs Kitchen 8