There’s no combat in Disney Illusion Island. Play the kinetic 2D platformer and you’re still at risk from the multitude of enemy creatures, traps and hazards that litter its levels, but you have no way to defend yourself.
It’s the most notable part of Illusion Island. Here the focus is on moving smart, slickly avoiding issues as you run, jump, dash and even wall-slide through cutesy levels. Originally, there was going to be combat. Aj Grand-Scrutton, the CEO of developers Diala Studios and Disney Illusion Island’s game director, explained that while they originally decided they needed combat because “combat is a key part of the 2D platformer genre,” after a while they realised Illusion Island was much more interesting without it.
In a hands-off preview, NME was shown a huge chunk of the game exploring a biome that’s equal parts sea and stars, called Astrono. Briefly NME was shown a huge Metroid-esque map that seemed to sprawl out in every different direction. Grand-Scrutton admits that the game has a somewhat Metroid structure to go along with it too.
There are four characters – Donald, Goofy, Micky and Minnie – and the four Disney mainstays have different animations but play identically, with players free to whoever appeals to them the most. They all look wonderful in motion, slick animation and a simple movement reminding me of the silken way N+ and Canabalt’s characters moves, it’s a pleasure to enjoy and coupled with the
The segment we watched it preceded by a cutscene that genuinely made me laugh out loud. Scrawled in my notes is the ink-smudged line “Goofy is funny as fuck,” and I’d stand by that, adding that Donald is quite amusing too. These characters – Goofy through his good-natured stupidity, Donald through his short-temper and cowardice – generate a lot of the humour, while Mickey and Minnie play it straight. It feels like classic Disney animation, with a knowing nod to the adults and sets the tone perfectly. Diala Studios claims the aim is to provide a challenge for 2D platforming fans, while also making a game that families can play together, or kids can even play alone.
This is shown with Illusion Island’s generous checkpointing, which means people won’t lose too much progress. But, Diala Studios tells me it’s also possibly to tweak the difficult settings so that any player will be comfortable, letting players ramp up the challenge or even play with invulnerability on, ensuring that players of any ability can have a good time.
Disney seems to be taking more chances with video games recently, moving away from the licensed games of yesteryear and creating a bunch of more interesting properties. Bithell Games’ recent Tron: Identity is a good example of something doing something fascinating with a Disney property, but Disney Illusion Island goes in a different direction and leans hard into the magic of the house of mouse’s famed theme parks. The platformer only has a little of the magic of Disney’s physical spaces, but it’s more than enough to make this charming 2D platformer one to watch, for fans of the genre.
After all, it’s being made by people with a real passion for those games. The title, Illusion Island is an “homage” to the classic Mickey Mouse platformer Castle of Illusion and its sequels. But the inspirations go deeper than that. With a few developers in the room, it’s natural to ask what games they took cues from during development. Rayman comes up, but some deeper cuts too: indie hit Minit and Metroidvania Hollow Knight.
Disney Illusion Island is set to release on 28 July 2023 for Nintendo Switch.
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