Disney Illusion Island review: Nothin’ but Mickey

Disney Illusion Island is a bit of an oddity in the world of gaming right now. Not only do we rarely see Mickey Mouse and company as the subject of a game nowadays, but this specific game is a kind of Metroidvania, AA, non-$60 game that is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.

It has a price tag of €34.99 in Europe, $39.99 in America and R729 from the South African eShop. While cheaper than a lot of other games on the Switch, it’s still a lot of money so let’s see if it’s worth the asking price.

After being lured to a mysterious island and tasked with saving it, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy must go on a light-hearted adventure. The story is introduced to players with a lovingly animated cartoon that mirrors the art style of the game.

Disney Illusion Island has a very pleasing art style that leans into the best parts of classical Disney animation. It’s definitely no Cuphead, but it looks great.

Said opening cartoon actually has some funny moments and got us excited to play… unfortunately the rest of the character dialogue in the game delivered through text is extremely bland and we wanted to skip it whenever it happened.

The gameplay itself is very, very generic. We’re actually a bit shocked by not only how plain Disney Illusion Island is to play, but also how dated it feels.

Both the platformer and Metroidvania genres have evolved so much that going back to something so basic like this is a real shock. The likes of Super Meat Boy, Celeste, both Guacamelee titles, Hollow Knight and countless others have pushed the boundaries of what these types of games can do. On top of this everything mentioned did that on indie budgets, with much lower price tags and without the might of Disney behind them.

Disney Illusion Island feels easily a decade behind the competition. Maybe 15 years even.

It’s not that this is a bad game to play, or that it’s unfun, it is just behind the times and offers no real surprises. Progressing towards unlocking the next movement upgrade can be fun enough, but when you finally reach that threshold and it’s just another mechanic that countless games have done countless times – and usually better – the entire experience of this game feels hollow.

Worse still is a lack of inspiration and game design in other sections. The only real incentive you have to explore is to find pickups that, after hundreds and eventually thousands of them collected, you can increase your health. But, at the start of every play session, you can choose how many hearts you want as a kind of difficulty slider, so unlocking them as you play is another nothingburger of a system. Sure it can make the game even easier, but so what?

That being said maybe the decrease in difficulty is warranted because Disney Illusion Island does a terrible job at conveying danger, especially enemy movement. The best example is flying enemies that come out of the ground. In a better designed game there would be a small visual que indicating where in the terrain this enemy would pop out, giving the player all the information they need to avoid damage, but there’s none of that here.

Some may say that this is just a case of memorising the pattern of these enemies and this is a fair observation, but it comes across as an oversight instead of deliberate difficulty through game design.

Unfortunately the disappoint continues in other avenues like the story and music. After a few interactions with NPCs you lose any interest in the story that the fantastic opening cutscene set up, and you won’t have the volume turned on for long before the music and sound effects start to grate.

And, well, that’s Disney Illusion Island. It’s clear that the developers had a smaller scope for this game and delivered on that, indicated by the rice tag and the pre-release marketing that was very conservative for a game using Disney’s mascot. In the game, however, that lack of ambition oozes through every moment of gameplay and it left us not wanting to return to this title after we finished a session.

We have to reiterate that there is fun to be had in Disney Illusion Island and, after a few unlocks, you can get into a decent flow state where you’re changing together movement to satisfyingly get through the environment without stopping. We’re sure that kids and families will also enjoy this one thanks to the four player co-op where each player can take control of one of the main cast.

But even was we type that we can’t help but remember the far superior local multiplayer fun – and lower price – of Rayman Legends (the Definitive Edition is available on the eShop) which runs circles around Mickey Mouse in every single way and was originally released in 2013.

Disney Illusion Island is fun in a vacuum but has simply arrived too late to the party, with too little to show, and no amount of brand recognition of pleasing cartoon art can make up for that.



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