Fear not retro gamers; Sega’s new Castle of Illusion remake seems like it’ll be just as good as the original Genesis/Mega Drive classic. In fact, it might even be better.
I walked up to the Castle of Illusion demo expecting the game to be an exact remake of the original Genesis game, albeit with new graphics. So I was pretty surprised when I pressed Start and the game dropped into a brand new, 3D hub world. The game reverts back to the original game’s 2D platforming style once you enter an actual stage, but it quickly became clear that the new Castle of Illusion simply wasn’t the old game with a new wrapper. When I asked a Sega rep about all the changes made to the game, he told me that the company likes to think of the new Castle of Illusion as a re-imagining of the old title, not a straight-up remake. Instead of being an old game with new graphics, it’s a new game inspired by the old.
Sega’s attempts to dredge up their past and modernize them have had mixed results in the past, ranging from the good (Sonic Generations,) to being nigh-unplayable and embarrassingly terrible (Golden Axe: Beast Rider, NiGHTS: Journey into Dreams,) but thankfully, Castle of Illusion definitely falls on the worthwhile side of that equation.
The new game is just as visually stunning today as the original game was twenty-three years ago (twenty-three! God, I’m getting old…) The locales will definitely look familiar to anyone who’s played the original game, but now everything is rendered in 3D and there’s a lot more detail to the backgrounds and environment. Mickey himself hasn’t aged a bit, and he 3D model moves with the same fluidity and has all the personality of his classic 2D sprite. Despite the shift to 3D graphics and the lack of cel-shading, it still really does look as if you’re playing a classic, hand drawn Disney cartoon.
While the levels look like stages from the original game, the actual layout of each stage is new. While most of the gameplay is still strictly 2D in most parts of the game, your path through the stages bend around the environment in three dimensions, similar to how the stages were designed in classic “2.5D” platformers like Nacmo’s Klonoa. Thankfully, Sega hasn’t dumbed the game down for modern audiences — the game still requires you to make some very challenging jumps from platforms that are barely wider than Mickey himself, and like the original game, enemies will often come at you from angles that make them hard to jump on or peg with jewels (tossing jewels is Mickey’s only form of ranged attack.) There are some concessions to modern game design — there’s less blind jumps of faith, and the camera subtlely pans around a bit to show you where you’re supposed to go next — but the game never feels untrue to its old school roots.
Before going to E3, I think I was more excited for Capcom’s Ducktales remake than Sega’s Castle of Illusion. After actually playing both, I think my opinion has switched — Ducktales is a fine game in its own right, but Sega’s Castle of Illusion seems like it’ll be the better game: while some of Ducktales’ new additions seem pointless or detract from the experience, Castle of Illusion retains the spirit of the original title while mixing in some thoughtful, subtle improvements that make it a better experience overall. It’s always a risky proposition to tamper with a classic, but in Castle of Illusion’s case, Sega might just be able to surpass the original. Hopefully the remake will be successful enough to warrant the development of a new game in the series, because the demo I played was enough to make me want a full length, completely brand new $60 version of the game.
Castle of Illusion will be released as a digital download Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and PC sometime later this year.