Castle of Illusion plays on nostalgia wisely with a blend of remake and homage

Sega is looking to hit thirtysomething gamers square in the nostalgia zone with Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, a 3D update to the simple but classic Disney platformer for the Sega Genesis. In that regard, developer Sega Studios Australia is already successful.

The gameplay is largely unchanged, merely modernized. Mickey jumps through the game's varied castle environments much as he did in 1990. He'll navigate through Castle of Illusion's fantasy worlds via a 3D hub, unlocking new environments as he collects gems. Mickey relies on a jump stomp to crush his enemies, and has access to a limited number projectiles, like marbles and torches.

At E3, Sega showed off two levels from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of Castle of Illusion, including the game's take on the memorable Toy Box level. It makes all the appropriate nods to the whimsical Genesis original; wind-up soldiers creep down steps made of toy blocks; flying toy planes cruise through each level; and clowns on unicycles present Mickey with a juggling, brightly-colored threat.

Toy Box is more homage than recreation. Sega has recreated the upward climb of the level and its tricky platforming quite well, inserting a few 3D twists, rotating the camera in certain sections to break up the level's 2D structure. Toy Box also illustrates one potential issue with Castle of Illusion: Mickey's jumping action feels less precise, less predictable than his Genesis incarnation. That made platforming more difficult than it should have, though the tuning on his movement is subject to change.

The Mickey Mouse of the upcoming Castle of Illusion feels slightly off for another reason. In the Genesis game, his jump attacks hit rump-first, which is not the case in the remake. He's also overly vocal, delivering falsetto soundbites that seem designed to add character, but detract from his charm. A narrator adds a bit more voice (and context) to Mickey's adventure through the game's world, and we'd have preferred to hear more from him and less of Mickey.

In addition to the Toy Box level, Sega brought a section that updates one of the Genesis game's later environments: a castle interior guarded by armored knights. The rolling iron balls, belfry bats and possessed suits of armor of the 1990 original are created in clever new ways, as are the collapsing platforms and toxic purple ooze that can lead to instant deaths.

Sega senior producer Frank Hom says its Australian studio is attempting to retain some of the challenge of the Genesis version of Castle of Illusion with its current-gen remake. The game is certainly not easy. It can be downright punishing in parts, requiring level memorization and a few leaps of faith along the way. Concessions are made, however, in the form of regular checkpoints that ensure death does not mean restarting an entire level.

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse shows promise, but may require a dose of Sega nostalgia to fully appreciate when the game hits Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Windows PC sometime this summer.

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