Castle of Illusion preview: more than a repaint

Hands-on impressions of Sega's new Castle of Illusion remake.


Mickey Mouse was once a video game celebrity, thanks largely to a handful of beloved platformers starring the Disney mascot. Castle of Illusion was among the most fondly remembered, and in the era of HD remakes, another visit to the castle was inevitable. Judging by hands-on time at E3, Sega is striking a delicate balance between nostalgia and revisionism.

"It is one of the most requested games for us to make for us on the Sega side, and on the Disney side as well," Sega of America senior producer Frank Hom told Shacknews. "About two years ago we decided to reimagine it. We didn't just want to make an HD version. We wanted to freshen it up, not just in graphics, but in gameplay as well. As a result you see something that is very true to the original game and is very modern as well."

The two stages I played, one in a Dungeon and another in a Toy Box, certainly weren't mere retreads of existing levels. Familiar traps and enemies filled their corridors, but a veteran couldn't sleepwalk his way through this installment. It feels like a classic, to the point that I felt more comfortable using a D-pad, but it isn't merely a new coat of paint.

The concessions to the old game include its notorious difficulty level. Hom said the original was always revered as a hardcore platformer, and they didn't want to change that. "It's a gamer-game, we kept it a gamer-game. It's a difficult, challenging platformer." Sometimes, I had to fumble a bit to figure out just where to go, or was caught off-guard by a trap I didn't see coming. Mastering these stages may take some time.

Hom also said the team took the opportunity to tweak some elements that hadn't aged as well, most notably that cornerstone of any platforming challenge: jumping. "The jumping mechanics are pretty modernized," he said. "The old game, it was good, it was challenging, but for a modern game you have a little more fluidity of animations. That's one part that we've had the opportunity to add a lot more animations."

Mickey's animations add more characterization to the character, and Hom said that has been a benefit of working so closely with Disney. Their animators have been keeping a close eye on the character models, and an ever-present narrator -- approved by Disney, Hom noted -- was a nice finishing touch for capturing the Disney charm.

Sega has also brought in a few entirely new elements. While the majority of stages are in 2D like the classic game, the bosses are 3D battles more akin to what you might expect in current-gen platforming. Other areas, like a behind-the-back running challenge across an enchanted deck of cards in the Toy stage, break up the pacing nicely.

Given the voracious appetite for Castle of Illusion, Sega probably could have easily stuck with the proven formula. A simple remake of the classic might have done very well for the company. But it appears to be taking a few more risks with this release, and what I've seen plays more like loving homage than carbon copy.

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