Disney Illusion Island Review
A magical adventure for the whole family
At this point, it's hard to deny that Disney is ubiquitously embedded within pop culture and has forever changed the animation landscape. Even though kids are the primary audience, everyone, to some extent, has some affiliation with the entertainment mammoth, as the Disney brand's impact has transcended generations.
Disney games have always had a strange habit of being unintentionally challenging, making them more difficult for novice gamers. Herc's Adventures and the 1994's The Lion King are prime examples of this, and that's before opening the can of worms of the Kingdom Hearts franchise that perhaps has one of the most convoluted storylines in gaming history. However, this tendency has changed in recent years, and we have got far more palatable games from the IP, like Disney Dreamlight Valley and Disney Infinity. Developers Dlala Studios have continued this recent trend of more accessible Disney titles with their new 2D side-scrolling platformer, Disney Illusion Island. They have arguably crafted one of the easiest Disney games in recent memory, but everything being on the simplistic side is not always a good thing.
The plot has the familiar Disney light-hearted and humorous charm you would expect. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy are all independently invited to the mysterious island called Monoth to have a delicious picnic. However, this delectable event was a trick, so the Hokuns tribe, which looks like small long-lost cousins of the Chewbacca race, can ask the fantastic four to recover the three stolen books that protect the island. After a bit of persuading from the race leader, Toku, the gang finally agrees to help.
The campaign can be played in single-player or couch co-op with up to four players. Even though you can play through the whole campaign solo, it's far better to play with others, as you can solve the platforming puzzles together and gain access to co-op exclusive abilities. For instance, you can take a page from the ice climber's book and leapfrog over each other to gain height or hug each other to get more health. It's the perfect game to play with family and friends, as the gameplay encourages teamwork, and nearly anyone can pick up and play regardless of skill level. However, it's worth noting that all players will share one screen, and the camera angle will always prioritise player one, so if any of the other players go off-screen, they will turn into a little envelope and fly back to player one. It took around six hours to complete the campaign with a buddy, although it would take more time for younger players.
A lot of your time will be consumed by finding keys scattered across the area to open locked doors blocking your path. However, don't worry; there are no metaphysical or symbolic meanings to doors in this Disney game. To often find these keys, you will need to venture down different routes and reach awkward spots on the map by platforming, and then eventually backtrack to the door's location and open it with the recently attained keys. In a way, a lot of the gameplay borrows beats from the Metroidvania genre.
There are a lot of parallels to Rayman Legends in the sense that the platforming is smartly designed but not the most problematic to overcome. Some will require you to use the environments to your advantage, like jumping onto a flower while the pedals are blooming or using a jump pad to avoid environmental hazards. As you progress through the story, the heroes will also earn new abilities to help them get to previously unavailable areas, like wall jumping or learning a ground-pound manoeuvre that will crumble the floor underneath. Overall, the platforming and backtracking are enjoyable, and nothing ever took more than a few moments to figure out.
Every character plays precisely the same with no different move pool, the only difference being the animation given for using a particular ability. It would have been nice to see some variation between the characters, as an easy way to add replay value. But they do use the fact their powers are the same as one another as a witty tool for storytelling, like Micky gains a pencil for wall jumping, whereas Donald gets a plunger. This obviously gives Donald a justified opportunity to be cynical and complain.
Not only are the platforming sections relatively straightforward, but there is an abundance of checkpoints scattered across the map in the form of mailboxes. You won't go any longer than three minutes without seeing a checkpoint, so it allows a lot of trial and error while playing, as you will rarely lose any progress. If you're playing cooperatively and a party member falls, you can also revive them by visiting a mailbox, so they will not be taken out of the action for too long.
For better or worse, you cannot attack enemies in Disney Illusion Island, but that does not mean they cannot land damage on you, so you will constantly have to jump and avoid incoming aggression during your adventure. Although I understand the choice of not battling enemies to make the game more kid-friendly, it feels a bit excessive. Of course, you can go down this path and create a great game, but you usually have to integrate an interesting idea to replace it, and there is nothing besides a few collectables across the map. I think the exclusion of combat didn't add any more intrinsic value and took away the feeling of being heroic.
In total, there are three biome regions in Monoth: Pavonia, Gizmopolis and Astrono. Each one is fantastically designed and has its own merit, but Astrono was the standout, an area based on the theme of space. One of the main aspects that made this spot exciting is that gravity has pulled on the moon, and it has, in turn, created a whole galactic ocean, which was visually stunning and fun to play through, as certain portions would require your character to swim, which added a bit of variation to the gameplay.
One of the main crowd-pullers for Disney is how they present their art design, as it has a very particular and recognisable look. Disney Illusion Island is no exception to this rule, as everything feels very reminiscent of the '90s era of Mickey Mouse, which oozes with the magical Disney charm. Every inch of the screen is bursting with colour with its 2D hand-drawn animation, which is incredibly eye-grabbing. This is accompanied by some great veteran Disney voice actors for the cut scenes and a good soundtrack that compliments the places you traverse. There were no noticeable frame rate issues either, leading to the character movements and hand-drawn animation moving fluidly for the whole duration, whether played on TV or in handheld mode. Although it's not the biggest budget game out there, it's easily one of the better-looking games I've played on the Nintendo Switch, purely down to the fact they nailed the art.
Not all games can cater to everyone, and Disney Illusion Island aims to be a game you can play with the entire family regardless of age. It achieves this goal and creates a cheerful ambience brimming with the well-known and beloved Disney prowess. However, it makes this tone to the detriment of not creating enough challenging gameplay, and you don't necessarily feel the most heroic from your actions as you cannot hit the enemies attacking you. Still, if you are hunting for a new, wholesome, family-friendly game, Disney Illusion Island will entertain.