Disney Illusion Island puts Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy front and center in a Metroidvania adventure, and the result is mostly successful. Where most platformers dole out fun using the adrenaline-inducing triumph of challenge, Illusion Island is instead built around the joy of movement, thanks in part to its combat-less exploration, and the delight of controlling some of the most recognizable mascots in the world. It plays a bit floaty and simple, especially for seasoned fans of the genre, and I wanted my platforming prowess pushed more, but Illusion Island is still always fun.
The Fab Four are tricked into traveling to Monoth, an original locale created by developer Dlala Studios for Illusion Island, to save its inhabitants. To do so, they must track down three Tomes scattered around Monoth’s various biomes. After a few cutscenes that might as well be original Mickey Mouse shorts with how delightful and well-made they are, I’m bouncing Mickey over dangerous but otherwise peaceful creatures (so long as you don’t touch them) en route to my first destination. It’s a quick setup, but I also didn’t feel like I needed more – Illusion Island gets right to the platforming action.
Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy play the same. But because each is animated differently – Mickey moves like classic Mickey Mouse whereas Minnie moves confidently, with all the sass you expect, for example – each mascot feels unique. Idle animations, like my favorite, where Donald boils red like a teapot in frustration when not moving, add even more personality to these larger-than-life characters. Elsewhere, they’re brought to life by the current voice actors in fully voiced Mickey Mouse Shorts-like cinematics. The entire package makes clear that Dlala put a lot of love into making Illusion Island feel like a Disney creation and it wholeheartedly works.
Before long, what starts as simple jogging and jumping becomes double, long, and wall jumping, widening the toolset at my disposal as I explore Monoth deeper to uncover more. And there’s plenty to discover thanks to hundreds of collectibles. Tokun cards provide quick snippets of information about Monoth’s inhabitants, while my favorite, Mickey Memorabilia, showcases classic props from Disney’s nearly 100-year history of Mickey Mouse shorts, like the infamous brooms of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from 1940. Between those two collectibles, Glimt that unlocks permanent health boosts, and new abilities and items, there’s plenty to find long after the credits of Illusion Island (or during your primary playthrough).
Given Illusion Island features zero combat, that healthy dose of collectibles is necessary. When faced with challenges, be it spiked creatures Mickey dares not touch or others that shoot projectiles as you run by, your only goal is avoidance – don’t touch whatever looks dangerous. However, a handful of bosses spread throughout Illusion Island’s roughly eight-hour runtime provides more of that traditional combat-like feel. While you don’t directly attack these bosses, the screen fills to become a large arena where, for example, after dodging so many attacks and jumping on specific buttons during the first fight, the boss takes damage until knocked out entirely. Every boss fight is uniquely diegetic, too, further highlighting Dlala’s attention to detail.
Illusion Island is targeted toward children, with up to four-player co-op and options to make characters invincible and restore health on the go with a simple interaction. I wish the game also catered to more experienced players as it does to younger audiences, though. For the most part, I rarely felt challenged and while I could lower my health before each session, I wanted more organic in-game tests of my abilities.
Narratively, Illusion Island balances its younger and older audience creatively, with more physical jokes aimed at the former and more textual ones aimed at me. Almost every joke lands either way, though. Illusion Island is as comical as it is fun, which is to say it’s genuinely funny and reminiscent of the last decade of Disney’s excellent Mickey Mouse shorts – kid-friendly, but just cheeky enough. Like its mechanics, the overarching story is simple but still great and well-paced.
No matter what I do in Illusion Island, I’m entranced with composer David Housden’s score. It’s delightful and reminiscent of the joyous music that plays throughout Disney World’s various themed lands, which makes Monoth’s different biomes feel unique in Illusion Island’s platformer theme park. Dlala is wise to push Housden’s score to the front of the audio experience because it never fails to shine and elevates the rest of the package. I love Disney music, especially its orchestral efforts, and Housden’s score feels at home in the company’s expansive catalog.
With credits behind me, I’m excited to discover more of Monoth’s secrets and collectibles I haven’t yet found, and I’m especially thrilled to play more with my 7-year-old nephew. Illusion Island doesn’t overhaul the platformer genre, or the Metroidvania formula for that matter, but its distinctive no-combat focus on simply moving through Monoth keeps the trip amusing, brisk, and gratifying. I would have liked more challenge; this is a simple adventure that might not capture the interest of platformer enthusiasts with little to no preoccupation with Disney. But when met on its own terms, it’s hard to deny Illusion Island is a jubilant love letter to these characters and platforming.
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