Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit reunite to fight back the forces of evil in an adventure that finds inspiration from the classic Sega Genesis game, Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion. After being summoned to Wasteland by Oswald, Mickey discovers that the evil witch Mizrabel and her Castle of Illusion have appeared in Wasteland and that Minnie Mouse, along with other Disney characters, has been captured so that their heart essence can be used used to bring Mizrabel back to the Toon world. While I greatly appreciate the attempt to call back such a wonderful game, in their quest to make the game as nostalgic-inducing as possible developer DreamRift forgot to do one important thing: make the game fun. Incredible difficulty spikes and a monotonous, superficial paint system make Power of Illusion is a textbook example of all flash (which isn't all that great, honestly) and no substance.
Power of Illusion is a side scrolling 2D game that borrows elements from the original Castle of Illusion and grafting on the paint mechanics from Epic Mickey. You’ll work your way through each level, butt stomping foes or attacking them with the magic paintbrush that will force enemies to drop items depending on which paint is used. The paintbrush can also be used to call in (or erase) environmental objects that will make traversing dangerous traps easier or aid in defeating enemies. These objects appear as bright outlines on the touch screen and tapping on its shape will bring up an image that must be traced using the stylus. Objects can be removed by tapping on the object and brushing away the paint and there are moments when you’ll have to create and erase certain objects on the fly in order to complete traversal puzzles. At the end of each level, Mickey will have to do battle with a Disney villain that require deft movement and tracing skills.
With only three Disney-themed world to explore, Power of Illusion employs a side quest system designed to get you replaying the game’s levels. Scattered in each stage are a random assortment of Disney characters who have been kidnapped by Mizrabel including Belle, Peter Pan, Ariel, Rapunzel and Scrooge McDuck. Rescuing these characters will send them back to a staging area where they will dole out fetch quests for Mickey to undertake that run the gamut of finding a character’s sidekick (Abu, for example) or locating a special item. Most of these quests can be completed by talking to characters within the Fortress. Rewards for completing quests include E-Tickets, the in-game currency used to buy combat upgrades, additional heart containers and sketches. Sketches are the most useful items because of their ability to summon a Disney character who will help you in some fashion. The most notable sketch is Scrooge McDuck, who will bounce around the screen on his cane a la Capcom’s Duck Tales.
Power of Illusion uses a pixelated art style as another homage to the Genesis game although the artwork is far more crisp, clear and defined. The 3D is serviceable but is limited to depth of field trickery so those who have concerns about the effects can safely play the game without it. I found myself disappointed with the Disney character profiles that appear when Mickey rescues them because they don’t look to have been drawn by (or at least lifted from) Disney artists or assets. Instead, they look as if they come from low quality merchandise or second tier birthday party favors.
I thought Power of Illusion had a lot of potential. Castle of Illusion is one of my favorite games and I was willing to give anything inspired by it a chance. However, the game’s failing is the severe lack of enjoyment thanks to bland level design combined with Mickey’s slow movement (a holdover from the Genesis game). I didn’t mind so much that Mickey moves a lot slower than other modern video game characters but the deliberate slow pace doesn’t mesh well with the tricky areas Mickey has to maneuver through. What really kills the experience is how enemies are capable of taking away too much damage from Mickey. Even the most lowly creatures can remove two and a half heart pieces while health pickups only fill half a heart container. This made the stages set to The Little Mermaid ridiculously difficult because there are moments when enemies can’t be avoided thanks to the water mechanics that make Mickey’s jumps longer at the expense of control. Compounding the difficulty is an unforgiving respawn system that takes Mickey back to the beginning of a stage with any E-Tickets earned and characters rescued reset. That is not fun, nor is it challenging in a fun way. It’s just dumb.
And then there is the painting. The boring, dull, stupid painting. This was a mechanic that I tried to ignore as often as possible because of the inane repetition involved. Traceable images for each object never change nor does the game try to make them challenging in any way. Bringing in cannons, treasure chests, Thwomp-like blocks and tridents just isn’t worth the trouble. The best example I can think of are the swinging guillotines in the Aladdin levels. In order to use them, you’ll have to erase the entire object and then repaint it. While this doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, the time it takes to erase and re-conjure the object is way too long. Why not make them appear instantaneously? Why throw in an extra step? It sure would save a lot of time and boredom.
Needless to say, I found Power of Illusion to be an incredibly disappointing game. There’s nothing fun about the experience and any warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia brought upon by the design, soundtrack and concept are ruined by clunky and infuriating gameplay. Instead of spending the money on this game, my advice is to go pick up a Sega Genesis from eBay and a copy of Castle of Illusion. You’ll have a lot more fun.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.