September is upon us. The Summer is coming to an end but this is no time to be sad! SEGA Studios Australia are releasing a remake of the classic game Castle of Illusion this month. So, how about we take some time to check out the original 16-bit and 8-bit versions?
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse was the first in the Illusion series of games, also known in Japan as I Love Mickey Mouse. (I personally don't love him that much. I'm more of a Donald guy myself…)
The game had two distinct versions: a 16-bit one released for the Mega Drive in 1990, and an 8-bit version released for the Master System in 1990 and ported to the Game Gear in 1991.
Castle of Illusion was released prior to Sonic the Hedgehog and was one of the titles SEGA chose to establish the reputation of the Mega Drive/Genesis. The company was, since the days of Alex Kidd, looking for a mascot that could stand up to Nintendo's Mario. Although Mickey didn't quite accomplish this, it brought some notoriety to the system.
It's also remarkable to see how the game pushed the console's capabilities so early into its life.
I didn't try Castle of Illusion until a few years ago. I had always been a fan of World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, the 16-bit sequel to Castle of Illusion. When I tried it though, I was surprised. I was expecting much much less in terms of graphics, music and animations.
Castle of Illusion stands out in the small details as well. For example, you might not notice it today, but Mickey's not just standing there when he's idle. He's looking around, moving. That was something not many, if any games had at the time. Look at Super Mario Bros., for example. Castle of Illusion paved the way for Sonic's idle animation - the foot tapping and everything.
Another thing that's great about this game is the variety of the stages. Sure, this is a platformer and it's meant to have different backgrounds and all, but look at this: Forests, Canyons, Caves, Water and even a Toy Box! And each level's enemies and hazards match the setting. Remember the giant apple rolling after Mickey in the first stage?
Castle of Illusion's soundtrack is also memorable. It captures the Disney magic of yesteryear. All of this is true on both the 16-bit and the 8-bit versions of the game.
The Master System and Game Gear versions are entirely different games with roughly the same backgrounds, but different level design and bosses. It's actually interesting to see the great work SEGA did on the 8-bit games as well and how they captured the same feeling of adventure, mystery and, well, illusion!
These were better times when it comes to official Disney games. SEGA then developed various Disney titles, including the 8-bit and 16-bit sequels to Castle of Illusion. But that's something to talk about some other time.
SEGA Studios Australia is releasing the remake of this iconic game this month and we can't wait to see what they have cooked up for us. Judging from gameplay videos and screenshots, they seem to have nailed it. Also, if you pre-ordered the remake on the PlayStation Store, you'll get the original Mega Drive game so, if you never played it, this is a great time to try it out.
Simon "foreversonic" Shirley (RadioSEGA owner, DJ)
"[Master System] There is one part in the final castle that I still struggle to pass even today. The section where you have to time your bounces onto the ghosts in order to clear vast chasms. The level is side-scrolling like in Sonic Bridge Zone Act 2, forcing you to progress and if you don't time it correctly, you can lose many lives.
[Master System] Favourite part of the Master System version is swimming in the tea cup. I quite enjoy the looping backing music and you don't often have the opportunity in video games to throw treasure boxes at sugar cubes!! I can still recognise the soundtrack to this day
[Mega Drive] I like the fact that some of the tracks in the Mega Drive version are 16 bit arrangements of the Master System game although I have noticed that they don't always correlate to the same levels! An example of this is the Dessert Factory theme in the Master System version is used as the Dark Forest theme in the Mega Drive version.
[Mega Drive] There are throwbacks to other games, like in the water level, there are the waterfall blockades that are present in Sonic 1 with the lava falls. The toyland level (act 2?) was an interesting concept. Making Mickey climb his way to the top of the level, bouncing off tin soldiers and aeroplanes, only to make it that when Mickey collects the diamond at the top, the whole level turns into a slope and Mickey has to travel all the way down again! Don't think I've seen that concept used in any other game.
[Mega Drive] The Mega Drive levels are longer than the Master System version. Each of the worlds behind the doors are single levels with multiple areas to explore whereas in the Mega Drive version, the levels are split into sub-levels with Mickey travelling to the exit before the next stage begins. The boss fights are similar in both games for the first two levels but differ from the Dark Forest level. The battle against Mizrabel reminds me of the boss fight against Dracula in Master of Darkness.
[Master System] Not sure if this is in the Mega Drive version as much but the Master System game was full of hidden treasure and hidden areas. I spent ages looking for these back in the day. Some you would find by accident - a mis-timed jump may reveal something. Others were of you held a directional button in a certain area you'd find a room that wasn't obvious."
Steven Clem (Sega Nerds writer, Nerdcast co-host)
"From its great soundtrack, to it's beautifully designed levels, and it's immersive atmosphere, Castle Of Illusion is one of those games that defined what the Sega Genesis was all about.
One of the things I noticed even when I was a kid was just how much visual depth there was. The levels looked so beautiful, especially for a Game that came out only 4 years after Alex Kidd. I know visuals aren't everything, but that game still has some of the best visuals for a Sega Genesis game."
Ash the dragon (Writer for Sonic Paradise)
"Castle of Illusion is, to me, some sort of a prelude of what would come later with Sonic. Back in the eighties, Sega was struggling to find a game that would attract gamers like Super Mario did to Nintendo consoles, and they tried with their own IPs like Alex Kidd... but they didn't get the success they were expecting, sadly (and not that they weren't deserving it… but things just aren't that easy, are they?).
Sega thought it would be a great idea to get the popularity they were looking for by adopting an already recognized and highly regarded character by the public they were aiming for with a franchise like Disney's Mickey Mouse, and that is just what they did.
The results were rather good, even if the mouse didn't take SEGA to the highest place, it helped a lot to a certain hedgehog to become what it is, setting the bases of its gameplay.
Castle of illusion is a really enjoyable game, with a nice mix between tight platforming and puzzles, a great soundtrack, and with an interesting characteristic. You can choose the difficulty level of the game, but if you choose the easy one, you will not play all the stages of the game, only a very reduced set of zones. And the normal difficulty is...rather difficult.
Another one, that would be inherited by Sonic, is that the 8 bits and the 16 bits versions of the games are almost completely different games. The 8 bits one is more centered on platforming, but the 16 bits one is more agile and cinematic.
Personally, I love this game. I never finished the Mega Drive/Genesis one completely (only on easy mode), but I finished the 8 bits one (and its sequel, Land of Illusion), and I consider them one of the best games of their respective catalogues. The 16 bits sequel, World of Illusion, is also one magnificent game (and my favorite of the "Illusion" series). With the incoming remake, that mixes the 8 and the 16 bits versions, it's the best moment to warm up engines playing the original ones. Do not undervalue the 8 bits one!"
Donnie "SSF1991" (Sonic Paradox News Reporter)
"If there's one thing I have always admired about SEGA, it is their interest in experimenting with different ideas to see if they work and never having one game being the same. This was no different in the 90s and the Game Gear/Genesis days. While Sega was putting plenty of emphasis on their blue mascot of a hedgehog there were other games to keep the interest alive, as one should do. While Sonic helped sell the consoles that didn't mean he should do that alone. Variety is important on a console even though Sonic, in the 90s, was more recognizable than Mickey Mouse. And coincidentally he was on Sega consoles too.
Castle of Illusion was also a platformer and a good, creative one if I say so myself. I love it! It strays away from other platformers like Sonic so well, maintains that magic that made up the golden days of Disney, and I am certainly not surprised to see Sega give this game a remake into modern times. It deserves it!"
Lewis "Sonic Yoda" Clark (Webmaster and lead writer at SEGADriven)
Thanks to our special guests for their input and for sharing their experiences and even worst fears!
If you want to share your comments on Castle of Illusion with us, feel free to use the comments section below. We might have some news regarding how your comments can be shares with the world very soon.
Also, don't forget to download and play the remade version of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. Show the soon-to-be-extinct SEGA Studios Australia some love.
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