Perfection is difficult to achieve, and some may say it’s a never-ending pursuit and if there’s one company that falls within reach of that pinnacle, it would be Disney. The House of Mouse is, after all, a veteran at cooking up magical, whimsical adventures, especially in the animation realm, and known for its mastery of the craft.
Disney Illusion Island has strong traces of the charm that resonated through its 100-year legacy. The co-op sidescroller is chock full of life, colour, and personality, with its beloved hero group of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy inheriting the dynamic, delightful energy from their original counterparts. It’s classic Disney in spirit, but not so much in execution – dulled by multiple, if well-intentioned, gameplay missteps, that places the promising jaunt amongst those of wasted potential.
Set on the mysterious island of Monoth, the game follows the iconic quartet as they embark on a journey to collect three magical tomes to save it from imminent devastation. Along the way, players will have to traverse obstacles and avoid enemies by using various abilities, which are unlocked at different points of the story. Nothing is ever so straightforward, however, and there are times where they have to collect keys, scattered throughout a particular area, and unlock doors to progress further into the game. All four characters are playable, and can be switched out every time you return to the menu.
From the get-go, it’s evident that developer Dlala Studios has put immense care into developing the artistic craft. The environmental design, for starters, brings a distinct flavour that sets each biome apart, with Pavonia, Gizmopolis, and Astrono decked out in their respective aesthetic: luscious greens, gizmo-toned metals, and cotton candy dreaminess. Sometimes, colourful and quirky creatures can be found lurking at a dead end or the corners of the map, lending an added dreamlike quality to an already fantastical world.
Whenever the biomes collide, the artistic tapestry bleeds naturally into one another. The botanical flair diffuses seamlessly into muted shades, before flaring out to eye-catching pinks and purples. Visually, the world of Disney Ilusion Island paints a stunning, gorgeous image, and the animation in cutscenes is reminiscent of the old-school Disney look. The soundtrack, too, is praiseworthy, delivering sweeping tunes that fit nicely with the game’s bright and cheerful presentation, especially during boss fights.
There’s also a lot of detail at work. Apart from assigning different kinds of enemies to each realm, the equipment wielded by the four Disney mascots – which is also the source of their abilities – are tailored to their personality and behaviour. For instance, Goofy’s entire kit takes after food items to reflect his love for eating, while Donald’s is based on nautical or sea-focused objects.
As the lead stars, Mickie, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy all act as a great driving force for the narrative. Alone, they can easily charm with their endearing individual traits (yes, even Donald’s grumpiness is adorable), but it’s when they come together that the magic really shines bright. Riddle us this: what happens when you bring a grumpy duck, a happy-go-lucky but easily confused dog, an optimistic mouse, and his go-getter, sensible wife together? Plenty of witty jokes, playful banter, reluctant pouting, and befuddlement.
Their presence is further accentuated by deft voice acting from Bret Iwan (Mickey), Kaitlyn Robrock (Minnie), Tony Anselmo (Donald), and Bill Farmer (Goofy), all of whom are currently the official voices for their respective characters. It’s good casting, with the electric chemistry between them working wonders in bringing a smile to one’s face.
This dynamic sets up the perfect stage for a two-to-four-player co-op experience, and it’s unfortunate that Disney Illusion Island fumbled the bag here. There’s no denying the fun that comes with teamwork, but some of the game’s mechanics make it difficult to fully enjoy the endeavour. For one, the lack of a split screen restricts gameplay by a fair bit, as players cannot progress at their own pace – the view cuts off at the border if they are too far away from each other, which leaves them open to enemy attacks off-screen. This will, in particular, be an issue if there’s a skill difference between individuals.
At times, it’s easy to lose sight of your character on the screen. The visual clutter that comes with dodging projectiles, jumping over enemies, and avoiding spikes drowns out the small character model fairly quickly, and it’ll take a few moments before the eye catches on. In a platformer like such, that would mean certain death, especially if the player is already running low on health. It doesn’t help that the character respawns at the exact spot where damage was taken, so if they fell into a bed of spikes previously and can’t be spotted after being brought back, then good luck.
Part of the challenge also stems from unintuitive controls. To the team’s credit, Disney Illusion Island is designed to be accessible and beginner-friendly, so all movement is bound only to the face buttons. The left and right triggers are left untouched, but perhaps it’d be better to involve them, because some of the maneuvers end up more complicated than they should be. Case in point – the Stomp ability requires players to press Jump (‘B’ key), then ‘down’ on both the joystick and D-pad at the same time. Binding it to, say, L1 would cut the entire process down to just one step.
All of these missteps can culminate into frustration, because Disney Illusion Island isn’t an easy game. In fact, it even asks for incredibly high skills very on occasions – a feat made more punishing with the lack of fast travel (only unlocked near the end stages of the story). Without spoiling anything, players will have to flee from a looming threat at one point, and it seemed more like an unbalanced skew rather than a fair challenge.
This isn’t to say gameplay is a total dud. While easily the weakest part of the experience, it does deliver some exciting and enjoyable highs. The platforming adventure plays really smoothly, which makes navigation – whether by swinging, leapfrogging, swimming, or gliding – a stutter-free affair. Accessibility features, with options for varying difficulty levels and gameplay assistance, are a big plus, while specific co-op features like hugging each other (and thus restoring health) embrace a welcoming, wholesome co-play culture.
There are also collectibles for completionists that can be obtained by exploring both open and hidden areas, which range from Hidden Mickeys (Mickey Mouse logos concealed within the environment) to Glimts, which grant a health upgrade after a certain total is met.
A 12-hour jaunt with both ups and downs, Disney Illusion Island has a classic Disney charm to it, taking the form of lovable characters, beautiful visuals, and euphonious music. It stands proud and tall in its most shining moments, only to falter when gameplay takes hold, but no matter – fans of Disney, 2D side-scrollers, or both will find joy in it one way or another.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
At its best, Disney Illusion Island is full of heart, art, and fun, and we only wish there were more of these moments. It serves up a great time, but can also dull the experience in equal measure.
Gameplay - 6/10
Story - 7.5/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 6.5/10