Game – Disney’s Illusion Island
Publisher – Disney
Developer – Dlala Studios
Consoles – Nintendo Switch (reviewed on)
Release Date – July 28, 2023
If you’ve never heard the term “Metroidvania” hello and welcome to gaming. The genre in which you have to explore a massive map, unable to traverse to certain areas until you learn new skills, has been a gaming concept that has saturated the landscape over the last decade. Games like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Blasphemous, and more have won awards with their fresh takes on the popular genre. But there’s one thing Metroidvanias rarely do: make themselves accessible to younger players, which is a shame because they’re incredibly fun.
Sure, games like Dead Cells have recently added options to do things like make you borderline invincible and point out hidden items for you, but at the end of the day, it’s still a gothic world of murder and disease.
Enter Disney’s Illusion Island. Not only has Disney created a quality platformer, they’ve made it fun, funny, and incredibly accessible without it being insulting to a younger player.
In Disney’s Illusion Island, players control their choice of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, or Goofy. Each character plays the same. After being tricked into a “picnic”, they find themselves actually summoned by a strange tribe of creatures that need Mickey and the gang’s help to return powerful artifacts that were stolen from them.
As you progress through the game, the characters find themselves gaining classic Metroidvania abilities: double jump, wall jump, dodge roll, etc. There’s only one Metroidvania staple that Illusion Island is missing, and that is combat.
That’s not a bad thing though. There’s still enemies, worry not. Walking cacti, flowers that spit leafy projectiles, weird electric slugs, there’s a variety of enemies trying to take you out, but the gameplay involves avoiding them and not fighting them. There’s even a clever moment where they address that the creatures are not giving them weapons to “avoid messy clean up.”
The lack of fighting, while feeling weird at first, allowed me to keep my pace up and move through the game without being slowed down by constant battle.
And if you’re playing with multiple people, you also get fun abilities that allow you to traverse to places early. For example, you can leapfrog off another player’s back to get to high up places, and then lower a rope down to allow the other player to climb up. Sometimes the ability to skip ahead a bit is more of a curse than a blessing as it’s easy to get lost when you’re going outside the direction the game wants you to go, but it’s still really fun to work together.
Despite the solid gameplay and fun ideas, I do have a couple of complaints. For a game aimed at a younger audience, there is not a lot of variety in the stages and enemies.
In a game like Dead Cells, you’ll feel that you’re in a new place because it will look completely different. The sewers look like sewers, the ramparts are ramparts — each stage is vividly different. Not here.
In Illusion Island you’ll head to places called “The Farm” or “Techopolis” only to find out that most of the stage is exactly the same only with slightly different colored platforms. And enemy variety is beyond limited. I think the first 30 minutes is just cactus and spikey slugs. And after that, they’ll work in the rare plant that shoots leaves.
It’s unfortunate because the game starts off with a nearly 10-minute cutscene that’s full of high-quality animation and funny dialogue. But it almost feels as if all the time was spent on that one scene that they then had to rush work on the rest of the game.
It’s an accessible game for kids that actually offers a challenge, which is something I applaud it. But at the same time, if you’re playing solo, there’s genuinely not a lot of variety to keep things fresh. My kids were absolutely into it, but as a platformer and Metroidvania fan myself, the lack of variety in locations and enemies made it a bit boring.
If you’re playing multiplayer, however, the ability to help each other out with little boosts does add something fresh. But it will still suffer from a bit of sameness after a while.
All in all, while Disney’s Illusion Island is much better than the average kids’ game and actually provides an accessible challenge, adults might find themselves trapped by the illusion of having more to do on the island. If you’re interested though, Disney’s Illusion Island is out now exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.
Disney’s Illusion Island (Nintendo Switch) Score: 6/10
As far as games for kids go, Disney’s Illusion Island provides a quality and challenge rarely seen in modern games for younger players. But if you’re an older gamer looking to play an interesting and unique Metroidvania, you’re more than likely going to find yourself disappointed by the bland stage design and the swarms of copy and pasted enemies.