Re(?)Considered: Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse

The origin of the specious

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse for the Master System is not a game I can judge with any sort of objectivity, but I'm not sure why you'd want that, anyway. This game has six levels. It is single-player. It displays 31 colours at once.


No, this is more than just some specifications. This is the first boxed game I ever owned. I played Alex Kidd in Miracle World first, but this was given to me that same Christmas, in its case. I was five years old. It was hard. The game opens onto a choice between Practice and Normal modes, and I picked Practice, because I was five years old. The stages in Practice mode are about three screens long. I couldn't get past a single one. I didn't understand what was going on.

I came home from school one day a couple of weeks later only to find my parents sitting and watching the ending sequence of Practice mode, having completed the game in my absence. Imagine my outrage, Nauties. Not only had my parents been playing my game without permission, they had finished it. The ultimate transgression.

But, thankfully, there was always Normal mode. Far beyond the pitiful abilities of my 1950s parents. Sorry, losers! This ain't a hula hoop! No, Castle of Illusion was and is a tricky beast, laced with clever stage design and sparing in its gimmickry. Every stage offers a different hook - the underground ventures of the forest, the multiple routes of the toy box, the auto-scrolling nightmare of the chocolate factory, the fully-playable piano of the library, the rotating screws and mechanisms of the clock tower and the darkness-plunging basements of the wicked witch's castle. To call it memorable is a disservice to memories.

I know this silly little game so well that I can clock it near-effortlessly, though that one bastard of a treasure chest right at the end of the clock tower often eludes me. I've played it at least twice a year since I got it, on the original hardware as often as possible. It's trivial to me now, more or less, though I still take hits from the final boss due to pure laziness. And yet, despite the intensity of my familarity with Castle of Illusion, I never tire of it. Some of that's going to be nostalgia, yes, but I also sincerely believe it to be one of the best-designed games of the 8-bit era - certainly superior to the Mega Drive version, which registers to me as a dumbed-down (but still fun) take on the Master System game.

It certainly represents the apex of Disney's fruitful relationship with Sega, though that was never the same after Aladdin. Surprisingly enough a remake of Castle of Illusion was released in 2013, and even more surprisingly it was excellent; level design had more in common with the Master System game than the staid, familiar Mega Drive effort. It's nice to see that every so often there's a licensed game that gets it right.

Oh, hang on. That was seven years ago. God almighty. (Turns into a skellington)