Is there ever a more perfect synergy of ideals than when Sega and Disney collided? Possibly. But it was a damn fine synergy none the less! For me personally, the two were major parts of childhood and to a degree are true examples of magic. Sega magic is much like Disney magic, it’s something we (or at least I) cannot explain and would be unfathomable to the outsider. It’s more than simple marketing tricks, it’s a feeling bottled up and some how sold back to us. All under the guise of throw away entertainment to the critic. But those butterflies and sheer elation from something as small as the Sega chorus on a start-up, or Mickey whistling Steamboat Willie-style. Walt Disney himself once said that adults are just grown children (paraphrasing, of course). As was more often the case, he was right. Here at RetroGameGeeks we obviously celebrate our collective gaming past, ultimately showcasing what we loved in our youth – and you know what, it has the same effects on us to this very day, in our world-wearier bodies and minds.
Thus, we proudly announce our RGG Game Of The Month for June 2018 is World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck! Released in 1992 as a spiritual sequel to hugely successful Castle of Illusion (and a part of the wider ‘Illusion series’, which included Land of Illusion on the Master System prior to this), it was another Disney slamdunk of an exclusive for Sega’s 16-Bit beast that we know as the MegaDrive (or Genesis, for the North American audience). The aforementioned Castle of Illusion has previously been a Game Of The Month here at RGG itself, so this is a fairly unique example of a sequel also getting GOTM status. That should let you in on knowing that this isn’t one to ignore!
As was made clear with the “Genesis Does.” Campaign from Sega of America, the company did its all at pulling in big name licenses to help sell their new system (especially for markets where the Master System underperformed (or flat out flopped)). Along side the big name in-house titles being ported from the arcade, this also meant sport star likenesses, Michael Jackson and of course, the House of Mouse! Capcom already had a Disney deal tied up on Nintendo, so Sega looked to beat them at their own game, so to speak. That, they certainly did. One of the immortal phrases banded about for Castle Of Illusion was that it was like playing a cartoon as the world’s most recognisable mascot. If it all started with a mouse at Disney, it practically did so again with Sega – even if it was more of a football-style loan deal – and their rebirth in the home console market.
But how could one top the original? Well, why not bring Donald Duck (the character that once topped Mickey as most recognisable and popular for a large period in the 40’s, being used as a force outside of America and unlikely the a-political mouse, was also the star of US ordered propaganda during the War) to the party?! Genius! With an additional character, this meant more content and new gameplay possibilities, too. The way World Of Illusion presents itself, the player is able to select either Mickey or Donald for single player, with both having access to their own sub-levels. The game can also be played co-op with both co-stars working together on screen.
World Of Illusion was once again the brainchild of the supremely talented Emiko Yamamoto (credited as Emirin; Game Design/Director), who coincidentally would eventually leave Sega for Disney. She had a fine track record going into WOI, considering she was the designer of both 16-Bit and 8-Bit versions of Castle.., as well as 1991’s Quackshot (Donalds solo debut on the MegaDrive). Her trilogy of terrific Disney titles for Sega have gone down in history as some of the finest platformers of their time and by extension for Sega’s 16-Bit system as a whole. They set a template for what was to be expected moving forward from a consumer’s point of view, no one would accept a Disney license that didn’t match the same quality. Something which can be seen arguably even outside of Sega’s own, with movie tie-ins like Aladdin, Pinocchio, et al. all being of an insanely high standard.
Graphically speaking, the game got rave reviews right out of the gate. Just glimpsing the screenshots on this page should already give you a good idea of just why. The use of slightly more muted blacks etc. really goes a long way to make it stand out as a more filmic style of animation. It doesn’t feel crude, it doesn’t look crisp – it’s more dreamlike – which perfectly fits the license for one, but also must be considered a success in the desired effect when you think of the games story. It’s all about magic, magic forever tied with dreams, both representative of the ideals of Walt Disney.
The developers (Illusion Shot Pictures, Sega) clearly worked painstakingly to evoke the deep-rooted nostalgia of the Walt Disney Animated Classics line, with some real golden age of animation through backs in the form of pixel art. It’s genuinely astounding stuff. It’s almost Kingdom Hearts-like in that regard, that being instead of a single inspiration there’s a large multitude of allusions to the great films of Disney past, from Snow White through Little Mermaid. There’s a certain subtlety to it that helps create that magic feeling that the article began with. This just feels like a Disney game and is absolutely a thousand percent as close to you’ll get without Disney directly involved (which is likely a reason the company were wise enough to sign on Yamamoto). The beauty is much like the movies. It’s easily accessible, comfortably digestible to the uninformed. Yet for those die-hards, the ones that want to look deeper or for those looking for a proverbial Easter egg hunt? It sure as heck gives you that in spades, too.
Having previously only danced around it, the story for World Of Illusion is thus: Mickey and Donald are presenting a magic show following a finding of a magical box. Unfortunately, prep for the act goes awry when they are both sucked into a magical realm which is ruled by the Magic Master (an evil magician portrayed by Pete, the classical antagonist of Mickey toons). Once there, Mickey and Donald must find their way back to the real world, uncovering new magic tricks along the way. It’s your typical fairy-tale fare but portrayed as well as you’d expect when considering all involved. In itself, it could easily be seen as a lost Mickey/Donald short. Multiple Disney characters cameo, along with Pete, you’ll also see Goofy (who Pete coincidentally appeared with in Goof Troop in the 90’s).
Appealing to our very own Megatron will be some of the items featured in the game to restore health. Candy acts as a small restorer, while cake (yes, CAKE!) can fully restore health. Other items include a top hat (can’t have magic without one) for an extra life, fireworks that clear the screen and collectable playing cards that add an additional life every 52 (there’s also an invincibility power-up in the guise of a silver playing card). With theming being such a big thing for Disney fans, especially those of the Disney parks, you’ve got to adore the addition of it in the form of items in the game. Why just have a heart, or collect 100 coins, when you can do something that matches up perfectly to the main game? It may seem something so small, but that’s again where World Of Illusion deserves props as it’s a case of no stone left unturned. Excellent.
The five main stages in the game are thus: Enchanted Forest (which bares striking similarities to Castle Of Illusions opening stage), Among The Clouds, Underwater Adventure (which immediately has me humming “Under The Sea”), The Library and The Magic Box. Each stage contains three sub-levels, including those more hidden as alluded to earlier in this article that are exclusive to Mickey and/or Donald. If you have the opportunity it’s totally recommended to go co-op and try to explore every element that World Of Illusion has to offer because it really is impressive, as if I haven’t been banging you over the head attempting to put over said point.
Often time (and with fair reason due to its undeniable importance) folk like to almost solely focus on the original Illusion title, leaving little room for mentioning let alone highly praising its sequel(s). World Of Illusion is arguably one of those times where the original game is topped. It did everything the original did, but better. Yet, it gets the short end of the stick. That’s where we come in. All of us here at RetroGameGeeks hopes if you play anything from the past this month (come on, we’re all retrogamers, we know you will), we implore you to go out and give this absolute gem a go (or another play through, if it isn’t your first). If you’re a Disney and/or Sega fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you don’t consider yourself a fan of either, rather just a lover of video games? It ticks all the boxes there, too. It’s just a triumph of superior design, best played in co-op. Give yourself the time to make some fresh magical memories. As really, magic is what this is all about. Magic is everywhere, at all times