Parting Shots: Disney Illusion Island

AJ Grand-Scrutton
Game: Disney Illusion Island
Occupation: CEO, Dlala Studios
Career Highlights: Battletoads (2020)

The Nintendo Switch platformer Disney Illusion Island finds four iconic characters—Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy—heading off to a mysterious island to recover four magical books and save the world. The game has turned heads with its distinctive 2D-animated visuals and co-op mechanics designed to help players of different ages and skill levels have fun playing together. To find out more about what went into its creation, we talked with AJ Grand-Scrutton, CEO of developer Dlala Studios.

One thing that sets Disney Illusion Island apart from similar platformers like Metroid and Castlevania is that there’s no combat. How did you settle on that approach?

AJ Grand-Scrutton: [Creative director] Grant [Allen] and I would lock ourselves away in a room, and we put Post-Its up of everything the game could be. As we refined the experience, naturally, some stuff just came off the wall and went in the bin. Combat always sat there. We never spoke about it. Eventually, one of us went, “Is there any reason that combat Post-It even exists, bar the fact that we think, because we’ve used the word ‘Metroidvania,’ that we have to have combat?” The answer was no. It literally only existed because of baggage we had brought in. And it’s Mickey and Friends! If anyone can go on a platforming adventure and not beat people up, it’s those four. So we took it off and we threw it in the bin.

What were your goals with co-op?

AJGS: It was big for us that we got people back on a sofa together, and we wanted it to feel worthwhile. We didn’t want a second player to feel like “player two.” It was important that all of the characters were equally balanced, and then we added in multiplayer-specific mechanics, like rope drop, which allows any player to drop a rope and any other player can jump on it and climb up. We have leap frog, where you can get a bit more distance [on a jump], and then the one that is everyone’s favorite, hug, where you can literally hug each other at any time, and all players involved will get a temporary extra bit of health.

The game also emphasizes approachability, with optional settings for infinite health, easier timings, and simplified jump mechanics. Why was that important?

AJGS: This is going to sound like the cheesiest line in the world, but Disney is for everyone, right? And no one is for everyone more than Mickey Mouse. We wanted to be challenging to those players who enjoy core platformers—get that steep difficulty curve, get that experience—but then we wanted to be welcoming. What options can we put in to allow younger players to jump in, or players with slower reaction times? It was really important for us that that welcoming feel was built in from day one, but not at the cost of an engaging and challenging experience.

There are tons of beloved platformers starring Mickey. Did you look to the classics for inspiration?

AJGS: The most depressing story I can tell you is, Grant and I sat down with the whole team and we got out our old Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, and we were like, “Okay, so we want everyone to play Castle of Illusion, World of Illusion, Magical Quest.” And then we looked, and we realized there was a chunk of the team that weren’t even born when those games came out. Some people on our team played a [Genesis] for the first time for the research for this game. But we really kind of looked at what had come before and what we loved, and how we could make a Mickey game for 2023.

Disney Illusion Island includes tributes to many classic Mickey Mouse shorts. If you had to spend a week in one of the old cartoons, which one would you visit?

AJGS: My favorite is Lonesome Ghosts, but I worry, if I spent a week getting chased by ghosts, I’d come out wrong. Thru the Mirror was the weird, almost wonderland-y one. I think that would be great to spend a week in. Or, you know, Potato Land, just go to Idaho and enjoy potatoes. That one could happen!

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