July 28, 2023
Considering he’s the very mascot of Disney, Mickey Mouse hasn’t had all that many prevalent roles in games in recent years. Sure, there’s his odd world colliding with others in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and most recently he’s a core villager in Disney Dreamlight Valley. But now, Mickey, along with his main friends Minnie, Donald and Goofy, are taking centre stage in Disney Illusion Island, a colourful co-operative Metroidvania platformer, looking to cash in on that Disney flash. I wish those bells and whistles were in a better game.
Mickey and his three friends are to have a picnic on the distant and lush island Monolith, only their day has other plans in store for the gang. Greeted by a furry and friendly race known as the Hokuns, their leader desperately explains to them just how in disarray the island is. To restore the island to its former glory, the group must obtain and return the three Tomes of Knowledge, a series of books that keeps the magic about. So the journey begins.
As narrative hooks go, this is a simple but effective premise that helps to deliver the classic afternoon cartoons vibes and look the game does so well. Even in a game I avidly am not all that fond of, I found myself predictably enchanted by that trademark Disney charm. Monolith is gorgeous and varied in its three biomes, depicting colourful flora and fauna to a city with mechanisms out of this world. The characterisation and voice delivery of all the characters is incredibly authentic. The cutscenes, along with live gameplay movement, are animated immensely well for the classic Mickey cartoons the game is channelling. There are even plenty of laughs to be had, whether that’s Goofy misunderstanding a social interaction that just occurred or visual gags found throughout the world. The thing is, this whimsy is the best thing Disney Illusion Island has going for it
Disney Illusion Island is incredibly slow to start. There is no combat and the jumping is some of the most unsatisfying and floaty I’ve seen in a platformer for quite some time. This glacial beginning isn’t helped by the most basic and essential of abilities, being able to briefly hug a wall or wall-jump, is one you unlock. All that one can do for the first while is hop. Hop over tiny ditches of spikes or slowly moving enemies that are hardly a bother. Lingering a little too long on being under-powered at the start makes the game’s weak foundations very apparent.
Thankfully, your momentum and exploration through the game pick up a little bit of steam as things progress. Soon you’re unlocking the abilities in the form of double jumps, grapple hooks, and swimming in certain areas. This more expanded toolset can feel quite congruent with the environments you find yourself in, complimenting the lush biomes in artful ways. For instance, the grapple hook has you hooking into a point above a rainbow, swinging you along the length of it. A picturesque result to be beholden to.
Still, try as it might, Disney Illusion Island never really kicks the experience into third gear. There are moments it gets close to that in ‘boss’ encounters where you’re triggering buttons or switches to harm an enemy that dominates an area, but they’re few and far between. The big constant in all of this is the dreadfully uninspired and boring level design. That’s what’s holding it all back.
“…Disney Illusion Island never really kicks the experience into third gear.”
Paramount to Metroidvanias is the joy of exploration. If you can’t get that down pat, then you’ve little worth sticking around for. Plenty of valuable collectables are to be found such as Mickey Memorabilia which are objects commemorating classic Mickey films and shorts. In a similar fashion to Kingdom Hearts 3, Hidden Mickeys are found throughout the world, where players can interact with cleverly disguised Mickey symbols, taking a photo of them. Accompanied too are Glimts (that’s not a typo), a wisp one collects that, once a quota of them has been reached, will fill out a puzzle, inevitably netting the player with an extra permanent heart of health.
These are all really charming and nice to view on the menu when you receive them. The problem is the layout of levels is pretty bland, requiring limp gaps to clear and simple left-to-right traversal. You could argue perhaps however that Disney Illusion Island is designed as a kid’s first Metroidvania, deliberately simplistic. However, doing so wouldn’t be giving enough credit to younger players. Younger audiences deserve a better game. The very joy of games like Metroid Prime is picking and peeling away at the surface of the game to find secrets. Testing and experimenting then being delighted by the results. Here, what you see is what you get. All collectibles are a stone’s throw away, tucked away in corners exactly how you’d expect. The magic of discovery just simply isn’t there.
Disney Illusion Island is between a rock and a hard place. It feels like a game originally designed as a simplistic platformer later remodeled into that of a co-operative Metroidvania. Though it doesn’t always feel like it plays as one. Cooperative play doesn’t really add much to the experience or change the way you go about solving a platforming area. There are cute flourishes like the ability to hug your partner for an extra temporary heart or crouch down for a game of leapfrog. Though this play too isn’t seamlessly made – despite being overflowing with checkpoints, there is no ability for drop-in/drop-out play nor can you switch up your cast mid-session.
With all these issues, Disney Illusion Island tends to pass you by, being over before you know it and also not leaving a mark. So much so that you’re left wondering who it’s for. Pretty flourishes and unique animations for each character don’t mean all that much when younger audiences will hardly be acquainted with classic Disney, something mostly absent from the zeitgeist. Juxtaposing this, older nostalgic players will quickly note its hollowness and how unevolved a platformer it really feels.
I’m a little saddened that the game has fared like this. With April’s very good Tron: Identity, it really seemed that the multimedia giant was in the business of not only making games again but making good games. Disney Illusion Island is a misstep in that direction, one I’m hoping they are able to overcome.
- Colourful and lush with plenty of Disney charm
- Unique animations for each character
- Actually quite funny at times
- Dreadfully uninspiring level design
- Floaty platforming that will deter some
- Slow trickle out of essential abilities
- Co-op play isn't drop-in/drop-out
Disney Illusion Island may be striving to be a flashy and exciting 2D Metroidvania experience, but its depth remains one-dimensional. It starts at a snail’s pace with its drip-feeding of basic and essential abilities and from there it never really picks up. This is unfortunately thanks to floaty platforming that will disinterest most along with the most uninspired Metroidvania-level design I’ve seen in some time. Though there are classic and picturesque Disney flourishes aplenty, it’s not enough to make the game an enjoyable experience to investigate every nook and cranny for secrets. Be warned, this is an island voyage not all that worth taking.