Released: June 1993
Also Available For: Game Gear
Back in the nineties, licensed videogames hadn’t quite earned the reputation that they have these days. Anyone who had played one of the many videogame adaptations of Disney movies and properties, particularly on SEGA’s Mega Drive or the Super Nintendo, would generally be in for a good time and treated to big, colourful, well-animated graphics and tight, fun gameplay.
One of the most prolific of Disney’s characters to be licensed out to videogames was their enduring mascot, Mickey Mouse. A couple of years after Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (SEGA AM7, 1990) and World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (ibid, 1992) released for Mega Drive, a similar (though, apparently, unrelated) title was released for SEGA’s 8-bit consoles, the Master System and the Game Gear handheld.
After falling asleep while reading a book of fairy tales, Mickey Mouse awakens in a strange, magical land where the Phantom’s evil magic threatens a village of oddly familiar characters. Never one to back down from a challenge, Mickey volunteers to retrieve the kingdom’s magic crystal, defeat the Phantom, and bring peace and prosperity back to the land.
Land of Illusion is a pretty standard 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in very much the same vein as previous Disney titles released around that time. Players take control of the affable Mickey Mouse and journey through fourteen stages, dispatching enemies using Mickey’s rump, sliding down slopes, or by throwing objects at them.
Mickey controls at a steady, grounded pace; he doesn’t slip and slide around, making precision platforming a much easier task than other platformers of the time. He begins the game with two stars in his Power Gauge, meaning he can take two hits before he must try again from either the beginning of the stage or from the last checkpoint he passed.
Players can refill Mickey’s health by smashing blocks and other objects to uncover cake; if you search hard enough, you’ll also find a bonus star in each stage, which will add another star to Mickey’s Power Gauge and thus allow him to take more hits. Mickey can also collect coins, which will add to his score tally; defeating enemies and bosses also adds to this tally and he’ll earn an extra try for every 10,000 points.
Mickey must sometimes take to water to navigate through a stage; in these areas, players will have to watch Mickey’s air meter, as he’ll lose a life if it runs out. There’s a few simple push-and-pull-based puzzles that Mickey must also solve by opening blocked areas or turning environments upside down and, occasionally, he’ll need to find a key in order to progress.
Players must also complete each stage within a time limit (as was the style at the time) but, as Mickey progresses through the game’s story and stages, he frees some familiar-looking faces and is gifted various items that aid his quest; the Magic Flute allows players to replay any stage they’ve previously completed (which can be essential for tracking down other items and extra energy you’ve missed), a Shrinking Potion (which allows Mickey to fit through small tunnels, doors, and spaces), a Rope to climb certain walls, Cloud Shoes to walk on clouds, and a Magic Bean to grow a beanstalk and reach the Phantom’s castle.
Graphics and Sound:
While nowhere near its 16-bit counterparts in terms of graphics or sound quality, Land of Illusion is still quite a charming little 8-bit title. The Master System was never known for having particularly exciting backgrounds or environments, so all of the artistic effort seems to have gone into making the sprites (particularly Mickey) as bright, colourful, and animated as possible.
You’ll travel to some pretty standard areas in Land of Illusion (a forest, a desert, a couple of castles…) but each one is distinct in its design and features slightly different gameplay mechanics. You might have to let a tornado of leaves carry Mickey over spikes to safety, for example, or have to outrun a wall of spikes or cross poisonous water or lava. The Master System renders these environments simply enough but it’s surprising how vivid and engaging they are for such an under-powered console. Similarly, the game obviously doesn’t match the bright, poppy tunes or sound quality of its bigger brother but the soundtrack nevertheless does a serviceable job; there’s some catchy little tunes, all of which are perfectly in keeping with Mickey’s cute-and-cuddly aesthetic.
Enemies and Bosses:
Enemies here are as generic as they come; you’ll butt-bounce off the likes of spiders, wasps, snakes, and floating skulls. Some present more of a challenge than others, however, shielding themselves from harm, reforming after being hit, or being invulnerable to Mickey’s butt-bounce.
You’ll battle some big bosses while playing Land of Illusion but none will really pose much of a challenge (…I really struggled with the giant crab, though, thanks to how slow Mickey moves underwater). You’ll dodge their attacks, maybe toss one of a limited number of blocks at their head, or wait for an opportunity to bounce off their heads with Mickey’s butt.
The final boss, the Phantom, is slightly more complex as you must first traverse his booby-trapped castle and then dodge his energy balls (just crouch right in front of him) and jump over his whirlwind attack before he’ll pause long enough for you to smack him. He’ll mix it up by jumping to the ceiling, forcing you to throw blocks at him, but it’s over within seconds, especially if you’ve completely powered up Mickey’s Power Gauge.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, you can increase Mickey’s health with cake and collect stars to increase Mickey’s Power Gauge but that’s about it. There’s no invincibility, speed ups, or special abilities here.
Instead, you can grab Mickey Ears or hit 10,000 points for an extra try and will use the game’s mandatory times to progress further. However, while you can shrink through gaps with the Shrinking Potion, your attacks are useless and being able to jump on clouds doesn’t really help at all except when climbing the magic beanstalk.
There’s nothing extra here; the game has one ending, no unlockable or extra characters, and the only incentive to play it again is to beat your last high score.
While a mere shadow if its 16-bit counterparts, Land of Illusion does a decent job at entertaining; there’s no bottomless pits or cheap deaths, plenty of opportunities to explore, and some charming graphics and tunes on offer.
Gameplay is about as simple as it gets, which is to be expected given the Master System’s simple two button setup; as mentioned, you might have to backtrack to previous levels to get items to progress further if you missed them, and you will find a challenge in the game’s final level but, with infinite continues as standard and a leisurely pace to its gameplay, Land of Illusion is a fun enough little jaunt to keep you distracted for a couple of hours.
Did you ever play Land of Illusion? What were your favourite, or most frustrating, Disney videogames from back in the day? Would you like to see a HD compilation of Mickey’s 16- and 8-bit titles? Go ahead and take to the comments to share your thoughts and memories.