Game of the Month: Disney Illusion Island
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Dlala Studios
Release Date: 07.28.2023
Though Disney Illusion Island’s title may pay homage to the classic series of 1990s Sega platformers starring Mickey Mouse, it’s clear that developer Dlala Studios isn’t stuck in the past.
Illusion Island stars Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy (with optional four-player co-op), as they work to recover three magical books and save the island of Monoth. Rather than the linear, stage-based approach of Castle, World, and Land of Illusion, Dlala has looked to the classic Metroid and Castlevania games for inspiration. Monolith is one connected map that you’re free to explore in non-linear fashion, with lots of optional pathways and certain areas locked off until you’ve acquired new abilities.
In another shift, Illusion Island does away entirely with the idea of combat. While you’ll encounter plenty of enemies along the way, you won’t be able to damage them, not even by jumping on their heads. Instead, they’re just obstacles to be avoided. While there are a few more traditional boss battles, these are technically nonviolent as well, since you’re never directly attacking anyone.
Still, unlike many games designed with a younger audience in mind, Disney Illusion Island doesn’t oversimplify its gameplay in an effort to be more approachable. Yes, there may not be combat, but this remains a traditional platformer in the full sense of the genre, with enough depth and challenge to entertain players of any age (and a few maddeningly well hidden collectibles to boot). Rather than watering down the default experience, Dlala has offered numerous options for younger or less skilled gamers to tune that standard difficulty way down. You can simplify the controls, making timings more generous, or even give yourself unlimited hit points.
Co-op extends the inclusivity even further. In splitscreen, each player can tune their own individual difficulty, and there are a number of co-op specific features that reward collaboration. Any player can let down a rope that the others can climb up, allowing players in your group to skip any too-tricky platforming sections as long as at least one person can pull it off. You can also leapfrog over your co-op partners to get a bit of extra distance, and share a hug—aww!—to replenish both your characters’ hit points.
If there’s any weak link in Disney Illusion Island, it’s that the setting and the original characters just aren’t all that interesting. Monoth feels a bit like a hodgepodge of random ideas, with a terrarium-themed biome alongside one inspired by a futuristic post office and another based on astrology (that’s also a harbor). While it’s admirable that Dlala tried to avoid all the standard video game level cliches, the end result of trying to be original is that it feels a bit like the themes were chosen randomly out of a hat.
Still, the visuals are impressive, with crisp 2D animation that works well whether you’re playing on your TV or the Switch’s screen, and the voice acted cutscenes mine enough humor from Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie to keep the proceedings charming enough.
And when it comes to the most important aspect of any platformer—the gameplay—Disney Illusion Island hits all the right beats, with enough variety, challenge, and tunability to entertain players of just about any age or experience level.