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Retro Corner: 'Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse'

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Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (screenshot)

© Sega



First released on: Sega MegaDrive/Genesis (1990), Game Gear (1991)
Now available on: Nintendo 3DS

Castle of Illusion arrived in a pre-Sonic era for Sega and helped set the company on a path of console success that would seriously test the mettle of its then big rival Nintendo. The story of this Mickey Mouse platform game has pretty much everything... apart from a decent plot.

Some entertainment characters are loved and loathed in equal measure. And Mickey Mouse is certainly one of them. On the one hand he represents wide-eyed dreams and unashamed trips into the land of make believe. On the other, he is the symbol of a soulless corporation built to wring every penny out of its customers (and that is not to start on the Walt Disney conspiracy theories...).

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (screenshot)

© Sega



But whatever you feel about Mickey Mouse and his creator, there is no denying that the character has a certain sparkle. From Steamboat Willy through Fantasia to Epic Mickey in the modern day, that little mouse just endures across the ages.

Released in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse showed the ability of Disney's greatest creation to enable some fantastic gameplay experiences. Sure, the critics said that it was just a carbon copy of Nintendo's Mario, the Italian Plumber who debuted in 1981. In many senses, they were right, but sometimes taking a winning formula and doing it justice is enough.

The plot of Castle of Illusion is incredibly simple. Mickey must embark on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel, who wants to steal her delicious youth. Yep, it's the hero-saves-the-princess formula that has been trotted out in Mario and Zelda games from time immemorial. But realistically, the plot of Castle of Illusion did not matter a jot, as it was all about the gameplay.

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (screenshot)

© Sega



I remember being at the Develop conference last year and attending a session by Eidos life president Ian Livingstone, the man recently awarded an CBE for bringing us Games Workshop, Fighting Fantasy and Lara Croft over a stunning career. Discussing what makes a great game, he simply replied: "Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay."

Castle of Illusion is a side scrolling platform game that puts players in the goofy shoes of Mickey (what else did you expect?). The entire game plays out in the titular Castle of Illusion, in which the player must run, jump, and battle their way through a host of platforms, enemies, bosses and puzzles. Apples and marbles are available as projectile weapons, but as with most platformers, it's really all about finger dexterity. And, thankfully, it's all really good fun.

Taking a leaf out of both Mario and Zelda's books, the structure involves battling through a series of bosses to achieve the main goal. After defeating each boss Mickey gets a gem, which goes towards building a rather spiffing rainbow bridge from the castle tower to the evil witch. Take her down and you can save the lovely Minnie.

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (screenshot)

© Sega



At this juncture, let's put Castle of Illusion in a bit of context. It came at a time when Sega was attempting to establish itself as a genuinely powerful console brand against the might of Nintendo and its ubiquitous Italian plumber. The MegaDrive/Genesis was just finding its feet in 1990 and a certain spiky blue hedgehog would not make an appearance until June 1991.

So into this world came Disney's most famous character in a game that, yes, owed a debt to Mario, but also stood up on its own two feet. Did Castle of Illusion make Sega a console powerhouse? No. But it certainly laid the foundations for Sonic to take it to the next level. And that is what makes this colourful castle so significant in the history of Sega and gaming. (And no, let's not get into a dissection of why Sega ultimately blew it).

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (screenshot)

© Sega



Castle of Illusion spawned a number of sequels - Land of Illusion followed in 1992 on the Master System, and for the Game Gear in 1993 (Castle of illusion had been released on the Sega portable in 1990); and World of Illusion hit the Sega Genesis in 1992. Such was the enduring affection for the Illusion franchise that last year DreamRift released Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion on the Nintendo 3DS.

In writing these Retro Corner posts, it is easy to get misty eyed for gaming experiences gone past. There are very few games that give us the same experience as when we first played them, and certainly Castle of Illusion is unlikely to buck that trend. But what this blog does is give us a chance to reflect and respect the importance of games as platforms to shape what was to come. And on that score, Castle of Illusion certainly played its part.

Do you have any fond memories of Castle of Illusion? Let us know in the comments below...

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