Castle Of Illusion - Megadrive/Genesis
It’s all well and good releasing a games machine that is a huge leap ahead of the current top dog in the playground but if you don’t match incredible software to the power of hardware then all you ever really have is an expensive lump of plastic people won’t flock too. So many times a videogame console has fallen before it even had the chance to get up to it’s top speed because of a lack of that ‘killer app’. In today’s world of instant gratification and lack of second chances there are numerous examples of fantastic hardware denied the opportunity to shine because of a lack of a spark, of magic but this was not always the case. Back in the late 80’s and early 1990’s it seemed that both gamers and developers understood each other a little better with developers knowing that a great game would sell regardless of what time of year it was released and gamers understanding that real quality took time to produce.
For the month of July 2016 RGG wants to take a look at a prime example of how second wave game releases can sometimes cover up the cracks left by a lukewarm platform launch, especially if the game is made in conjunction with masters of another media, namely that of the Film Industry. Magic is hard to create, it takes dedication, imagination and perfect execution of design. When this is applied to a videogame it’s a combination of exceptional gameplay mechanics coupled with a character a mass spectrum of people can identify with regardless of age, gender and game genre preference. If all of this can be applied to new hardware with a true next step of performance then said end product won’t just be magical, it will be something far bigger and better. This is the story of when a Disney mouse put a Sega system in everyone’s house. Ladies and gentlemen the incredible Castle Of Illusion staring Mickey Mouse is our pick for Game Of The Month.
The Sega Megadrive (Or Sega Genesis if you live in North America) was the Japanese companies next generation home games console and when released in Japan late 1998 was a monumental jump in graphical terms. Finally bridging the gap between what they were doing in the Arcade halls and what could come home it promised a whole new dawn of videogaming. With all the arcade big hitters scheduled in for release such as Outrun, Afterburner, Space Harrier, Thunderblade, Golden Axe etc it’s launch promised much but ultimately delivered very slow moving results, especially as many of said big name games were not ready in time. In both Japan and North America where Sega were facing an uphill battle against Nintendo and the newly released Super Mario Bros 3 sales were ok but ultimately slow moving. Sega’s real territory of power in the early years, Europe, was waiting for the next console with baited breath, Europe after all being smitten enough to have fallen in love with the Master System more than the NES thanks to it’s vastly superior arcade offerings.
In North America where Nintendo held complete dominance over everything it was a real indication of how poor the Genesis launch software was that a five year old 8-Bit system was trouncing it. With the machine already being on sale for just over a year Sega’s powerhouse system was starting to begin it’s momentum when one game in particular showed up and blew people’s minds. Knowing that the way to combat Nintendo’s dominance was to partner with other world famous brands that everyone embraced in their lives was going to be the key to gaining a real long term foothold so Sega got very friendly with companies like Marvel and one particular giant… Disney!
Comic book franchises and movie characters were the way forward, they offered more in-depth story based adventures than the quick arcade game fix, it was this decision that allowed Sega to start to get noticed. One game in particular however would take all of that on several stages further. One character known globally with real superstar status was about to encourage gamers to sit up and take the 16-Bit Megadrive/Genesis seriously. Mickey Mouse was about to enter the battle… Flawless victory!
On November 20th 1990 Castle Of Illusion Staring Mickey Mouse was released in North America to a tidal wave of positive press and overwhelmingly accepting critical acclaim. A platform adventure combining all of Disney’s vast expertise in character design mixed with true next gen (for the time) graphics and sound. A perfect fusion of Hollywood storyboarding plot with pinpoint execution of exactly how a fun platform mechanic videogame should be. A superb blend of a character everyone in the world knew and had affection for coupled with an adventure so good that completion was not just the goal but an absolute necessity for anyone who came across it. No easy task however as although the box art and screenshots show a game many now may take to look like it was for kids this was at times very tough to play.
The story of the game centres around the evil witch ’Mizrabel’ who has ‘mouse-napped’ Minnie Mouse in order to steal her youth and return her to her former good looks and vibrant health. Mickey being the all round hero and good boyfriend set’s off to rescue her from the wicked old hag’s clutches by entering the scary and imposing ‘Castle Of Illusion’. A place coated in Evil magic where doorways take you to different worlds filled with warped enemies who are out to prevent you from finding your true love. Mickey, however, must brave these worlds in order to collect a Rainbow Gem from each in order to build a special ‘rainbow bridge’ to the tower of the castle in order to confront Mizrabel and defeat her. Each of these worlds or lands or areas (depending on how you see such things) is a fantastically themed environment from the creative minds of Disney. One door will take you to a place that in essence looks like a huge Childs room with toys acting as enemies trying to stop you progressing further, other areas behind initially locked doors in the castle will take you to the insides of a huge clock. It’s the scenery and enemy sprites that build around you to really give a feeling of complete immersion in a Walt Disney movie that’s Castle If Illusions key aspect of why it’s just so utterly perfect.
In order to combat his foes, Mickey Mouse uses a jump move to effectively bounce on the top of enemies to defeat them but he can also collect projectiles such as apples or marbles in order to dispatch those who stand between him and Minnie Mouse. Disney back then were very anti weapon so although this may seem a bit childish as a means to progress in truth it just adds to the Disney illusion of immersing you into their worlds by their rules. It’s genius. At the end of each land a boss fight ensues in order for Mickey to exit the area with one of the gems he needs to build the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ The exception to this gameplay mechanic is in the last two levels of the game where you receive each gem roughly halfway through the area/room/land/world. As all of this plays out you are treated to a quite glorious array of music tracks and sound effects that add yet another layer onto the overall product and serve as a means to trigger your toes to tap and head to nod. Warm, friendly tunes mixed with faster tempo beats add to the pace perfectly, fit the individual areas like a glove and simply make you feel as if you really are Mickey Mouse and actually there.
A deceptively tricky game that many will find hard to complete there is also a beginners mode where those who just want some fun can simply play three entry levels with no boss fights just to immerse themselves in Mickey’s world for a while. A master stroke of how to reach every single member of a family unit sitting around the Sega Genesis / Megadrive. Castle Of Illusion is a true example of how videogames are for everyone and anyone. A simple concept with as much depth and challenge as you want.
Gaining instant sales success it massively helped Sega cement the Genesis console in North America as a system of immense power because at the time there simply was nothing even remotely like it on Nintendo’s competing system. It looked better, moved faster, sound nicer and was the perfect showcase as to why Sega’s 16-bit console was the gaming platform to own. It worked too as the console experienced a very large surge in sales, effectively giving the system more time to convince people and allow other developers (Sega included) to get the real heavy hitters ready. Castle Of Illusion, put simply, is one of the most important game releases for any system ever as it gave the Megadrive / Genesis platform a solid foundation so that one day a Blue Hedgehog could pick up the baton and sprint across the finish line. Not only was it an astounding videogame but it’s link to the Emerging Golden Generation and 16-bit console war is immeasurable. That’s the power of a brand, the power of an icon, the magic of Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse swapped animated movies for interactive videogames and didn’t even break a sweat whilst at the same time changed everything.
With very impressive global sales and game reviews all in the mid to high 90’s range not only did it help to lay a solid foundation for the Sega console in both North America and Japan but also acted as a launch window release in Europe. With that territory already in love with Sega it helped them completely sidestep any real initial user base problems ensuring the console was accepted immediately. Sometimes getting everything last (as Europe mostly did in those days) meant that the Megadrive launch in that region was something truly exceptional.
So here’s to the little mouse that could, that actually did and at the same time help Sega be the truly spectacular company they once were. A game everyone could and indeed should play. A perfect example of brand power meeting videogame excellence that was of such high quality that it sold hardware and helped to shake the very foundations of the Status Quo in a region where Nintendo held absolute power. Change comes from ideas, ideas born from imagination of those who dare to try something different.
Whilst not all change is good, it’s usually necessary and sometimes it’s absolutely essential for growth and it’s here where Castle Of illusion sits with a massive smile on it’s face. If you want to dream of better things and run wild then where else are you going to look than at Walt Disney. Magic, as I said earlier, is a hard thing to make. Disney have an inexhaustible supply, watch Mickey Mouse turn the tap, getting soaked was never so much fun…