I love me a good metroidvania. The feeling of circling back around to a familiar area, having unlocked new ways to interact with it clicks a primal urge in my brain something fierce. Yet despite this, it’s understandable not many people would feel welcomed in the genre. Popular discussion of metroidvanias often has them lumped in with Souls games, being “super hard” or complaints about the amount of backtracking involved.
Disney Illusion Island presents an interesting solution to this dilemma. Featuring popular Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck, this game’s a great way to show off the appeal of the metroidvania in a way that’s also incredibly welcoming. In a sense, it’s baby’s first metroidvania done right- with simplified ideas and impressive execution.
How does a game about a beloved cartoon character lead to you gaining an unhealthy obsession with backtracking? Read on and find out.
The Thrill Of A Good Metroidvania
Like I said earlier, Disney Illusion Island gets that it’s important to be simple, but not simplistic. Unlike many metroidvanias a la Blasphemous or Hollow Knight, there’s no combat to be found here. Mickey doesn’t have a Screw Attack, and Donald has no charged shots. Instead the focus is entirely on platforming, with every new ability you get simply adding a new level of traversal.
The early ones are fairly straight forward- a boosted jump for more horizontal distance, a wall jump for climbing higher. And yet the game wastes no time in immediately ramping up the challenge for you. Mickey and friends have to traverse three different biomes to help secure magic tomes, and literally the second of these I was introduced to, I was having to time my wall jumps against vertically scrolling walls and boost jumping as a means of turning in the air.
It’s a great reversal of expectations. Normally you’d think a game that removes combat would start feeling empty for it, yet Dlala does an excellent job of having the platforming feel involved enough that you feel a real sense of accomplishment for overcoming it. I cannot stress enough that this isn’t “Good platforming for a children’s game“. The platforming is actually excellent, requiring you to make decisions quickly, but not have to worry about things like pixel-perfect placement.
I mean, even the game’s boss encounters are just elaborate platform puzzles. Good ones, mind you. The first boss escalates the stakes so much and so creatively that it made me chuckle. Even things like hitting buttons have their own jump properties, and the game expects you to be able to use these.
Admittedly, I have some very minor nitpicks. The simple nature of the game means that you rarely have to worry about precise positioning. Despite that, your movement can still feel pretty sluggish compared to a lot of other platformers. It’s good for beginners, but I do wish there was some kind of run, even if it had no effect on your jumps. It’s a complicated balance, and in a sense I appreciate that they didn’t add a feature if it didn’t have some higher gameplay implication.
Better With Friends
Arguably the best way this gets you hooked on the metroidvania is the co op. Disney Illusion Island sports four player co-op, in a way that makes it so only one of you has to be competent at platformers to have a good time. Playing in Co Op unlocks new moves for your characters, such as a leapfrog feature to improve your jumps, or a rope drop to help you climb up. There’s even a healing hug to restore the health of players who couldn’t resist trying to goomba stomp a cactus (remember, there’s no combat in this game).
I should point out that there’s no difference between playing any of the four characters- it’s just about picking your favorite. I kinda like this approach, partially just because it helps sell the co op features better. You don’t have to argue about Goofy being the only character who can reach a ledge, since it’s entirely up to your own inability to make the boost jump. Having this kind of simple co op is great just because it gets more people into the game easier. I’ll say it again and again- Disney Illusion’s greatest strength is keeping things simple.
On the topic of difficulty, I gotta praise the options they give you. At any time you can control the amount of hearts you have- either ramping it up to touch-of-death situations, or even turning off damage altogether or just having anywhere between 1-4 hearts. It’s not like you’ll ever even get a Game Over- the game is incredibly generous with checkpoints, and once your last heart goes poof you’ll just end up at the last mailbox you’ve activated.
Just Like Your Favorite Cartoons
Metroidvania propaganda aside, I do think there’s a lot to love coming from the Disney side of this. Disney Illusion Island looks incredibly authentic- it presents itself like a Mickey Mouse short. The cutscenes feel exceptionally polished, and there’s a good amount of voice acting in them too. I really like the new designs for the classic Disney characters, because they mix that neo-classic feel of the recent Mickey Mouse shorts, but with slightly brighter colors and more classic designs for characters like Goofy.
It’s not just them, though. A bunch of the side characters very much have that classic Disney feel. I’m especially a fan of Mazzy- the character who gives you your abilities. Despite having a limited amount of animations, they really do a good job of giving Mazzy a lot of personality, always making their appearances feel fun.
That being said, I do have a gripe with the personalities given to the classic Disney characters. For the sake of simplicity, a lot of them have been boiled down to pretty one-note traits. I wouldn’t mind this so much if it didn’t also feel kind of generic- Mickey’s brave, Minnie’s an overachiever, Donald’s angry and Goofy’s hungry. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t also always feel like they were talking in the exact same order. It makes a lot of the lesser cutscenes feel very formulaic since none of the characters have anything going for them outside of their single notes.
All in all, there’s a lot to love in Disney Illusion Island. It’s a solid metroidvania by any metric, full of engaging gameplay that makes the most of what it has. The accessibility and co op features make it a great family game, while the solid level design means it can even be enjoyed alone.
Even if you’re just looking for a new Disney game, Illusion Island totally checks those boxes. It’s a bona fide high-quality platformer, and reminds me a lot of the many older Disney games on classic consoles.
A lot of my gripes with it tend to be extremely minor in nature- like the walk speed or the characterization. The overall game just has so much going for it outside of that, it’s hard to not overlook those, especially when you’re glad to just have more metroidvanias with cool execution in them.
Game reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by The Walt Disney Company.
Check This Out Next
Disney Illusion Island
- Genuinely fun platforming
- Visually excellent
- Great difficulty options and Co Op
- Characters can feel one-note at times
Disney Illusion Island