Disney Illusion Island is a bit of an anomaly in the modern era of gaming. Neither a throwback nor something entirely new, it sits somewhere between both, instead offering a safe experience for newcomers to get involved with a genre many have loved for decades now, eschewing combat entirely in the pursuit of excellent platforming, even transforming boss battles into puzzles, all underpinned by licensed Disney goodness, and a whimsical look and sound that can’t be ignored. But whether you’ll garner enjoyment from that, well, it’s a bit more tricky to say.
Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy have been invited to a picnic in Monoth, and showing up it turns out that the invite was a ruse by leader of the Hokuns, Toku. The three mystical Tomes of Knowledge have been stolen, and he needs the help of heroes to return them. Obviously Mickey and co are those heroes, and set out to rescue them. The framing for the adventure works, and there’s a healthy amount of in-jokes and nods to camera that make you realise that not only are developer Dlala in on it, but so are our protagonists.
There’s pedigree, and knowledge of a genre here from the developer. Within minutes of taking control you’re at an impasse that requires a double jump to cross, and within a few minutes more you’ve met Mazzy, an inventor of sorts who pops up throughout the game when you need him to give you contraptions that solve these platforming issues. Double jump is quickly followed by wall jump, then slightly more slowly joined by a swinging mechanic, a floating one, and so on.
While none of this will be anything close to a surprise to fans of the MetroidVania genre, it is nice to see the effort and attention to detail made by Dlala here. For example, whichever of the four heroes you’re playing as (and you can change whenever you load your save), Mazzy will provide a different tool for the job. To float up air-streams or glide after a jump, Minnie will be given a cute umbrella, while Mickey will have a bicycle. To smash through the breakable platforms, Donald will have something different to Goofy. And while the characters all play the same mechanically, it’s an almost unnecessary level of detail that shows care and attention, and is admirable. I mean, even the animations change above your health icon when doing these things: that’s a touch of class.
Split across three major biomes, you will essentially be following a marker from place to place, playing through the story. There are mini-sections within the biomes that require three keys to be collected before progressing, and often the story and requirement to gather a new skill will divert you back the way you came, or to another new area. There’s little navigation required, in truth, but the map is well done and marks everything you’ve found or might need to pay attention to.
Littered throughout the world are clusters of three glowing blue orbs which, every few hundred will unlock part of a picture that, ultimately, will reward you with a new heart of health. There’s hidden Mickey collectibles, and other items that celebrate all manner of Disney memories past and present, and if you’re one of those people who can’t leave an area without getting everything in sight, you’re going to need a good seven to ten hours to get everything, especially with new abilities unlocking access to places in areas you’ve previously explored.
The charm of Disney is present in every frame of animation, too. Donald looks positively fantastic when he angrily flaps his extra feathers to float, while Goofy’s food-related movement tech is fantastic throughout. Being brutally honest, while there is voice acting for the characters, I’d have liked more. Outside of major cut-scenes (which look stunning, by the way), a lot of conversations are punctuated with the “JRPG style” of each character having one or two lines that are repeated. That said, I’ll never tire of Goofy saying “Gorsh!” just because, and it’s nice that all heroes are included in all scenes, even if playing solo.
Speaking of which, while it’s offline only, the co-op offers a really accessible way to play with people of all ages. You can select your own difficulty, which ranges from starting with one heart to being invincible, and there are co-op specific moves that can help out players of lesser ability, including giving an extra heart, increasing jump distance, and even summoning when underwater. Player one is always followed by the camera, so if someone does get left behind, they’re warped ahead to that person. It’s a very accessible game overall, and while some of the platforming will be best experienced by long-time players, anyone could play Disney Illusion Island, as long as you’re prepared to customise the options a bit to make it work for them.
Therein, however, lies one of the main issues with Disney Illusion Island. It’s just so, so easy for long stretches of time. Checkpoints are ten-a-penny, and once you realise how close together they are, death becomes simply a loading screen, and nothing else. In fact, experienced players may get close to death and note a checkpoint, only to purposefully die to respawn fully healed ahead of a new section. Collectibles count even if you perish, too, so there really is no penalty for expiring, here. There are health pools as well, though they just seem pointless early on as it’s not until at least 3-4 hours in it starts to get more difficult.
The complete lack of combat is an interesting choice, but most enemies feel superfluous and are better described as obstacles than foes. It’s not that I wanted combat, so much, it’s just that without it, and relying purely on traversal, Disney Illusion Island feels a little light in terms of feedback. Later enemies will spit or charge at you, but they really aren’t hard to avoid, and it’s only when Dlala multiplies the enemies on screen to push you it feels like the enemies matter.
In many ways it feels like Ori and the Blind Forest, but without any combat, which is neither good nor bad, but as the hours played out, I did find myself slightly wishing for more. The new ideas are only new if you haven’t played a game like this before (or perhaps for a very long time), and the longer I played, the more I wondered if I was the targeted audience, which is completely fine too.
Disney Illusion Island is packed full of great characters and gorgeous artwork. It’s a responsive platformer that gives you plenty of control over movement, while stripping out combat from a genre that rarely attempts such an idea, and adding in a boatload of accessibility options to give newcomers of all ages a chance at trying a much loved genre often known for being difficult. While it’s not entirely successful at every single idea it tries, it really is a lovely time that will have you smiling as you play it.
Superb attention to detail
Responsive and accessible
Just feels like it’s missing something