Title: Disney Illusion Island
Developer: Dlala Studios
Release Date: July 28, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Disney Electronic Content
The two titles that make up the Metroidvania genre, Metroid and Castlevania, aren’t exactly easy games to play. Also, I feel like they can be somewhat lonely as you’re making your way through the many branching paths. Well, Disney Illusion Island is here to bridge the gap between family-friendly gaming and the Metroidvania genre. While this might sound strange on paper, I assure you this is one of the best multiplayer games I’ve played all year.
Disney Illusion Island opens with four easily recognizable friends, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, who arrive separately on a strange island under the impression that they were invited by another in the group. Once they figure out that something fishy is going on, they are whisked away to the island of Monoth and told they must recover three books to bring balance back to the island and its inhabitants.
There are some very well-animated cutscenes for the more significant story scenes, which are fully voice-acted with the original character actors. The humor borders on slapstick mixed with a few tasteful adult references, so it can be enjoyed across a spectrum of ages. Sadly, this isn’t the experience during the more typical dialog scenes within the game, as the characters just make noises without any real animation applied to their movement.
As for the characters themselves, I found the writing to be exceptionally charming. The developers aren’t afraid to have fun in this world by utilizing the various abilities found in a Metroidvania game to reflect each of the four characters. For example, each character has their own tool, but for some reason, Donald always seems to get the short end of the stick when discovering new abilities. Still, the game’s bright and colorful stages will easily keep younger players invested, even through the short dialog scenes.
While Disney Illusion Island, I played through most of the game with a partner. The single-player experience, while best for getting through the game quickly, isn’t the best way to experience this adventure. This is evident in the multiplayer-specific actions that allow players to hug each for extra hit points or even let down a rope on ledges so another character doesn’t have to do a complicated platforming section. After the introduction, the game world is yours to explore. Of course, given the genre, you’ll need some abilities to reach some areas, but navigating is kept simple thanks to a very helpful map and objective marker.
Something that should be mentioned is that there is no combat in the game, but I don’t see this as a negative. It forces genre enthusiasts to think differently about their approach to platforming and avoiding combat. Depending on the chosen difficulty level, you only have a certain number of hearts available before you die and get sent back to the closest checkpoint. There’s a decent layer of challenge here, but thanks to various in-game systems, anyone can find ways to progress, no matter their understanding of the genre.
Skills such as double-jump and wall jump are unlocked early on, but the more clever abilities creep up later on that might even convince you to revisit old areas to find more treasure. There are a lot of hidden areas to uncover that reveal special items to unlock gallery pictures and retrieve other bonuses. However, if you’re simply trying to make it through the game, keys will be the main item you interact with, which unlocks paths to objectives.
Progression seems to happen naturally, and you never feel lost about what to do next. It helps that getting around the map is very fun. The animations for movement are just so satisfying, as you can get in a rhythm bouncing around while avoiding hazards. Again, I feel these moments were better with multiple players, but the platforming challenges raises across the various areas to test players on their skills. There’s a very satisfying gameplay loop here, but relying on moving platforms, pits, and random enemies has the tendency to make some sections of the adventure feel repetitive.
Enemy design is mostly forgettable. In fact, I don’t think I knew any of the enemies that threatened me. Even the boss battles were pretty random. Still, they were fun and creative to go with the non-combat systems. Further, the adventure doesn’t overstay its welcome either, with a campaign that could be around 10 hours but with plenty left to explore.
The graphics are gorgeous. Each character resembles a retro Mickey design that adds so much charm to the presentation. The environments, although similar in layout, contain unique color schemes and gimmicks that remind you of your place on the map without having to open a menu. The accessibility options also support new gamers with opens to extend jumps and customize other abilities for an easier experience. One element of gameplay that I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it is is the soundtrack. Jesus, I could listen to it all day.
Disney Illusion Island is the perfect introduction to the Metroidvania genre. Every moment of my time playing was fun, and I’ll admit there are some challenging moments, but the accessibility options for each player to fine-tune their experience make the adventure approachable to any who play. This is a game that could have easily coasted on the fact that it has Disney characters in it, but no, this is a fully fledge adventure that makes these Disney characters even cooler.
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