One of my favorite games as a kid was the Sega Genesis platformer “Castle of Illusions Starring Mickey Mouse.” Needless to say, I was very excited when this sequel was announced earlier in the year. While I knew developer Dreamrift’s tribute to one of my cherished 16-bit titles would be unlikely to capture the magic of the original, I expected it to at least cash in on my nostalgia for a simpler era of gaming. Unfortunately, “Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion” didn’t quite even do that.
I should start by explaining that mechanically, I imagine the game plays exactly as originally intended. The basic platforming, as inherited from “Castle of Illusions,” is smooth and generally well designed. Yet, the “Epic” elements nearly unravel everything fun in this game.
Like in the “Epic Mickey” games proper, Mickey travels through the Wasteland armed with a paintbrush. This time, though, the evil witch Malefi… errr, I mean Mizrabel, has used her ‘forgotten’ castle to siphon powers from other cartoon worlds like Agrabah and Neverland. Oh, and she’s also stolen Minnie.
Basically, you are armed with paint and thinner. Pressing empty objects on the touchscreen brings up a painting screen where you fill in the object by tracing along its border with the stylus. Meanwhile, the thinner is used to scrub these same objects out of existence. Both paint and thinner are also used in combat as projectiles, akin to apples in “Castle of Illusions” (but, unlike the apples, the paint recharges). You can buy upgrades for abilities like paint and thinner recharge rates from Scrooge McDuck, but completing quests in the Fortress, the main hub of the game, is also a great way to level up quickly.
The painting mechanic is, at best, a gimmick, while at its worst it nearly ruins the experience of playing the game. Puzzles involving the paintbrush are never really difficult, only frustrating. There are only so many times I can draw a cannon or erase an octopus before I snap, and I reached that point long before 100% completing the game. The most valid use of the paintbrush is for the sketches, which are unlocked gradually by doing missions. Some handy sketches for quest completion include the Platinum Platform, which allows you, for a significant amount of paint, to insert a platform anywhere on the screen you desire and the Goofy sketch, which breaks blocks from underneath. Pro tip: you need the Goofy sketch to proceed past “Eric’s Palace” near the end of the game. Make sure you’re completing quests diligently until then. Don’t make the same rage-inducing mistake I did.
Another problem I have with this game isn’t nearly as significant to the general enjoyment of the game as the paintbrush mechanic, but I still feel like something needs to be said about the numerous Disney animation characters that appear in this game. I realize it may be unreasonable to expect no crossovers into other franchises, but the somewhat shameless marketing unnerved me throughout the game. Like in recent “Kingdom Hearts” games, the inclusion of Disney worlds and characters mostly consists of basic rehashing of those films’ plots. None of the Lion King or Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin characters ever have anything really interesting to say. Rather, they’re still concerned with the same problems as in their respective films, and this makes sitting through the pointless dialogue a drag at times. On the other hand, the dialogue involving Donald Duck, Goofy, and Scrooge McDuck is often quite funny and original.
“Castle of Illusions” used other Disney characters minimally, but it also came right at the beginning of the famed “Disney Renaissance.” In that game, Mizrabel took the appearance of the Hag from Snow White, a more generic looking witch. However, in “Disney Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion,” Mizrabel takes the appearance of Maleficent, even declaring her famous title as “The Mistress of all Evil.” Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I don’t find it simply coincidental that Mizrabel’s appearance changed while the character is enjoying resurgent popularity as the principal Disney baddie in the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise, not to mention the live action film starring Angelina Jolie that’s set to hit theaters in a little more than a year. The change in appearance, to me, seems nothing more than a marketing ploy, to make sure the character is in peoples’ minds as production readies.
The actual Disney worlds work okay, but I feel the game is at its best during the three Castle Hall levels. At these times, and these times only, really, this game feels like the tribute to “Castle of Illusions” it was conceived to be. Some music from the original Genesis game is also rearranged for use during menus, and the sound effects in general are basically the same in this game as in “Castle of Illusions,” which I was always pleased to hear.
The final battle with Dragon Malefi… there I go again, Dragon Mizrabel, is a letdown. I’ll let you play it yourself, if you care to, but it requires the touch screen in a significant and repetitive way and capped off my disappointment with this game. In fact, every boss battle is generic and uninteresting, which is a far cry from “Castle of Illusion’s” varied and fun boss battles. At least the enemy rush before the final fight was somewhat challenging and fun.
Completing quests is important to get new sketches and upgrades, but it’s never really emphasized. I forgot about the quests until near the end of the game, when I reached a point where I needed the Goofy sketch to progress further. The quests involve speaking to a Disney character in the fortress, fetching what they ask for either from other nearby Disney characters or levels you’ve already played, and returning it to them. Rooms in the Fortress require around six upgrade stars, achieved through completing quests or applying them manually, to fully upgrade. In the end, you don’t really get anything but personal satisfaction for doing this, as the upgrades seem to be quest-specific. These quests will have you revisiting worlds four, five, or even six times throughout the course of the game, and there are some levels, like a couple of the Little Mermaid ones, that I really didn’t care to repeat even once more.
So I came down pretty hard on this game, but it’s really not terrible. The painting mechanic is frustratingly repetitive and the bosses are boring, but the platforming can be fun at times and the hand-drawn backgrounds are beautiful. The game is pretty short – I fully completed it just shy of eleven hours – so factor that into your decision to purchase this game at full retail price. My recommendation? Borrow it from a friend or buy it when the price lowers. It might be worth playing once, if you love Disney characters or decent platformers, but most everyone else should spend their money elsewhere.