As a new mom and avid gamers, I often wonder when and how I can introduce my son to certain games and series. Naturally, I reflect a lot on the games I grew up with – the days spent curled up on the sofa playing Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye with my mother, and the nights hunched over the computer browsing Diablo with my dad. These days, however, it seems a little harder to find a solid split-screen co-op game to play alongside someone with small hands and an even smaller attention span. And if you can find one, the chances of you enjoying the experience as much as your child are a bit slim. This is precisely where Disney Illusion Island has the potential to shine.
I recently had the chance to sit down and play about 20 minutes of Disney Illusion Island alongside the game’s creative director, AJ Grand-Scrutton. While I initially entered the game expecting some kind of baby Cuphead experience, I was pleased to find that the game feels a lot more like Metroid, a series I’m much more familiar with (and with more success).
The game begins with a selection of four characters: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald. Despite their differences in size and animation, each character has the same skills and movement speed. Grand-Scrutton told me that while the team is focused on making each character feel different – Goofy has a bit more weight to him while Minnie is a bit more floaty, for example – the reality is that they all work the same way. Once you and your fellow Mouseketeers have selected your characters (the game allows up to four players to play together on the same screen), you can then choose whether you want to play with one HP, two HP, three HP or one heart of iron granting you invincibility, with each player being able to choose their own amount of HP. It’s a fantastic feature that keeps less experienced players from getting frustrated, while allowing experienced rigs to challenge themselves.
After seeing her absolutely adorable character design, I decided to play Minnie and gave myself the standard three HP recommended by Grand-Scrutton. Grand-Scrutton then told me that Minnie was designed with a paper airplane in mind; this is reflected not only in a graceful move, but also in her double jump, which sees a paper plane appear out of nowhere and carry her through wide divisions. Grand-Scrutton then selected Mickey Mouse, whose movement he likened to a bouncing ball and which seemed more energetic in comparison.
However, while the Metroidvania genre might form the heart of Disney Illusion Island, good old 2D platforming takes center stage once you start playing. In Disney Illusion Island, there are no attack buttons or combat abilities of any kind to help you blast enemies or defeat bosses. Instead, you’ll have to rely on jumping, evading, and collecting tools and abilities that change your mobility to survive. In the part of the game I played, Minnie and the team had just unlocked the ability to wall jump. As such, much of the area I explored required me to use this skill to reach new locations and collect keys to enter the boss arena. After collecting all three keys and entering the arena, my prowess with this upgrade was put to the test in a multi-phase boss battle that required me to evade attacks and power belts. electricity while jumping on a series of buttons that would impact the flow of power going to the boss.
I found this battle – and my time with the game in general – incredibly satisfying. As someone who is simply “ok” with 2D platforming, Disney Illusion Island presented me with a slight challenge that I could have easily overcome by lowering my HP, or toned down with an iron heart . The difficulty of the game could also be changed depending on how many players you have – hitting buttons during the boss battle I encountered, for example, would probably have been a bit easier with two characters on either side of the arena rather than myself on one side and Mickey on the other. Additionally, characters can perform helpful interactions, like throwing a rope if their teammate is having trouble reaching a platform, or hugging them to help them recover HP. But no matter how easy or difficult, the platforming in Illusion Island was fantastic. I didn’t find myself repeatedly overshooting my jump or getting frustrated with the need to precisely time my wall jumps – everything just seemed to flow.
All of these qualities are only enhanced by the style and charm of Disney Illusion Island. The game’s art is dynamic and playful, and feels Disney without being too derivative of a particular era. While you get that classic Steamboat-Willie-but-colorful feel from its character design, it combines that quality with more modern environments and a cartoony look that reminded me of the rigs I used to play on my 3DS. The game also has a good sense of humor, with Donald’s bad temper and complaints making me laugh. Overall, Disney Illusion Island has the potential to be a fantastic family game and a great option for game night with people of varying ages and skill levels.
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