When Disney Illusion Island was announced late last year, I was super excited, but expecting a by-the-books Disney side-scrolling platformer. After getting an extended look at the game, I quickly realised that this was anything but that.
Created by Dlala Studios (developers of the most recent Battletoads), I was extremely shocked to learn that this isn’t your typical platformer, but instead a metroidvania. I was so shocked in fact, that I had to double check on the call just to make sure that I had heard correctly.
“We’re very inspired by metroidvanias, but we’re a bit more accessible. For those that don’t want the handholding, you just don’t look at the map and quest markers, but the game reveals itself in a way that you won’t get lost for hours. The game wasn’t designed to be like that, and because the game design is built around movement, we always wanted to keep you moving that way.”
Right off the bat, I was really impressed with the level of detail in this game. It opened up with a lengthy 4-5 minute cutscene that featured Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy as they riffed off each other with that classic Disney humour.
The art style was the other thing that stood out to me. Not too dissimilar to that of Battletoads (2020), it oozes personality both through its 2D, almost cel-shaded art style that uses colour and vibrancy to really makes it a treat to look at.
Launching into the game, you’re set loose as one of four characters to track down three magical Tomes (powerful books) that need to be recovered to save the world of Monoth. Whilst this is a metroidvania, it’s clear that the studio know that this needs to be accessible for all. They’ve been clever about incorporating quests and such to really keep pushing you in the right direction, so that you’re not getting lost in this expansive map.
This specific demo that I was shown was about showcasing Minnie within an icy biome. The core gameplay was a mix of navigating difficult obstacles, tackling enemies and solving puzzles. There’s a lot of threats on-screen, but I’d say that it’s more of a cosy platformer that allows you time to take in the sights.
The developers were very clear that this isn’t a game about combat, but rather a game about movement, so even the boss battles that are larger set pieces are more about using the environment to deal damage to the boss, rather than attacking.
As far as the four different characters go, to keep things balanced, they play very similarly, with the same core abilities, they all use different items to get around through the world. For instance, all of Goofy’s abilities/animations are food related, so his parasol is a mustard bottle that allows him to float around.
The team were very clear in the fact that this is playable both single player and with four players on-screen at any time.
“Everywhere is accessible with all player numbers. Multiplayer brings different group abilities, so for instance a player can drop a rope or use another player to leapfrog to a different area. You can also hug other players to give them to generate a temporary heart of health” said CEO of Dlala Studios, AJ Grand-Scrutton.
Unfortunately, because of the metroidvania element of the game, it doesn’t have online, so multiplayer is local multiplayer only.
“It was a decision we made very early on. We are trying to create something here that brings family together. Mickey and Friends is all about friendship, so a lot of our design went into that. You can play this game with a single Joy-Con, so the whole idea was that if you have two people on the couch, they can just jump in and play, and from a design perspective, it gave us a lot more flexibility, so that was our philosophy for the entire game” said Grand-Scrutton.
Whilst this is clearly a family game, I was interested to know, particularly because some of the older Mickey Castle of Illusion games were on the difficult side, where this comes down, and the team have done some fantastic work in making it a balanced game for all type of gamers.
“A big thing for us is that we’re making a family game, not a kids game. The difficulty balance is more for people like us, so there is a challenge, but we’ve done some things on the accessibility side. Every time you start the game, you can choose things like how many hearts each character starts with, and we’ve also got measures like slowing down certain mechanics, so this is a platformer game, but there’s options to allow others to bring in younger gamers”. said Grand-Scrutton
All-in-all, it wouldn’t have taken much to get me excited about playing Disney Illusion Island, but after getting to see more of it, it looks to be much more than initially thought, and I’m excited to see Mickey and Friends head into uncharted territory in the metroidvania space.