It’s November 18th, which means that it’s Mickey Mouse Day! Disney’s beloved mascot first debuted in Steamboat Willie (Disney and Disney, 1928) and has since become one of the most recognisable and influential cartoon characters in the world, the face of an entire multimedia conglomerate, and one of the most enduring and popular characters of all time, featuring in a variety of cartoons, videogames, and other merchandise.
Released: 14 December 1992
Developer: SEGA AM7
Also Available For: Mega Drive Mini
As I’ve talked about a few times in the past, videogames based on popular Disney characters and licenses had quite the reputation back in the nineties and resulted in some of the best 8- and 16-bit action/platformers of the era. As Disney’s loveable and successful mascot, Mickey Mouse was obviously at the forefront of this but Disney’s foul-tempered fowl, Donald Duck, had his fair share of pixelated adventures over the years as well and what better way to guarantee a success than to team these two popular characters up in their own fantasy adventure. Taking inspiration from a variety of Disney’s animated feature films, most prominently Alice in Wonderland (Geronimi, Jackson, and Luske, 1951) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Hand, et al, 1937), and, despite how easy the game was, it was both reviewed very well at the time of release and fondly remembered years later.
While practising for their magic show, Mickey and Donald discover a magical box that sucks them into a bizarre magical world. Now, the two must join forces to travel across five treacherous fantasy worlds, defeat the evil Magic Master, and return home safely.
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is a 2D action/platformer in which, as you might be able to guess, players can pick between playing as Mickey or Donald or team up to play as both in simultaneous play. Whichever character you select, the game’s controls are basically the same and can be customised from the main “Options” menu; you can jump, hold down a button to dash ahead, and press down on the directional pad to duck. Although you cannot defeat enemies by jumping on their heads as is the standard of the majority of 2D platformers, Mickey and Donald can attack enemies with a swipe of their magician’s capes.
The cape produces a small flurry of magical sparkles, which can stun enemies if it grazes them or if they need more than one hit to defeat, and defeated enemies will be transformed into harmless forms (such as flowers or butterflies) when hit. There are actually some notable gameplay differences between Mickey and Donald as well; Mickey is able to crawl through small gaps but Donald gets his wide load stuck and will need pulling through with Mickey’s help. This means that, when playing as Donald alone, you’ll explore different levels compared to Mickey, which encourages at least two playthroughs of the game in order to see everything it has to offer. Additionally, when playing with a friend, you can help them out further by dropping a rope so they can reach higher level.
Mickey and Donald’s vitality is measured in magical playing cards; you begin the game with five cards, meaning you can take five hits before you lose one of your three “Tries”. You can, however, pick up Candy and Cake to restore one of all of your cards and are gifted with unlimited continues. However, when you lose all of your Tries and choose to continue, you’ll have to restart from the very first part of the level you were last on. When playing with a friend, you’ll share a stock of six Tries; when your partner loses a Try, you can expend one to revive them and, when you only have one left, the last player to die can choose to continue solo.
World of Illusion isn’t an especially long game; there are only five levels to venture through, with each one split into smaller sub-sections and with some minor puzzles and hidden paths or areas that you can find by exploring a bit. While these generally just lead you towards Candy or other power-ups, other times you’ll find short sub-areas to playthrough for similar bonuses. Each level only has a handful of enemies and none of them are particularly menacing but they do respawn if you end up having to backtrack and can cause you to fall down a bottomless pit if you’re hit mid-jump thanks to a bit of knockback damage. The game is also extremely slow; the dash function helps with that but, still, Mickey and Donald move painfully slowly and the game is more about taking your time and enjoying the moment rather than blasting through at breakneck speed, which is fine but it does feel like playing underwater sometimes since everything’s so sluggish.
Your main concern in most levels will be dealing with the game’s platforming sections; mostly, this involves reaching the exit on the far right of the screen but other times you’ll be hopping from spider’s webs and web lines, floating leaves or clouds, and other similar platforms. These will invariably be large, small, moving, or even temporary; even solid ground isn’t safe in this respect as you’ll have to contend with floorboards cracking under your feet and dropping you to your death. Levels also contain a number of helpful gimmicks as well, though, such as see-saws, flowers, staples, and bottle corks that fling and spring you higher and further up the level and towards the goal.
Graphics and Sound:
Like all of the 2D Disney videogames, World of Illusion features large, colourful, and charming cartoony graphics. Mickey and Donald both have amusing edge and idle animations and little reactions that perfectly capture their distinct personalities. There’s also a very small number of voice clips in the game; Mickey and Donald will yelp and squeal when attacked and give a cry of “Alakazam!” when performing their magic tricks, which is a lot of fun.
Enemies are similarly colourful and instantly recognisable from Disney’s classic animated films, such as Alice in Wonderland. The game also draws aesthetic influences form Pinocchio (Sharpsteen, Luske, et al, 1940) and The Little Mermaid (Clements and Musker, 1989), with all three films (and others) likewise evoked in the levels you’ll journey through. However, while levels are bright and very fitting, they’re every short and also very bland and empty in a lot of ways. Levels can be a bit inconsistent like that; the chocolate-and-sweetie-filled level is bursting with colour and sometimes there’s large trees or vines or other elements in the foreground or little details in the background, but other times they’re just very barren a bit muted.
The game’s story is told through text in a storybook that can be skipped through, or entirely, at will; while these are only accompanied by static images, the supplementary music (and the music of the entire game) is suitably jaunty and uplifting (if nothing spectacular). After defeating the game’s bosses, a similar cutscene will play in which the characters learn their new magic and, at a few points, the game will use the in-game sprites and a speech box to convey dialogue. As is the case for many 2D videogames from this era, the cutscenes are most impressive for the opening (which pans through the theatre’s backstage area) and the ending (which differs for each character and in which the two perform their magic show before an auditorium full of Disney cameos) before heading off through the forest as the credits roll.
Enemies and Bosses:
While they draw inspiration from many of Disney’s most celebrated animated features, World of Illusion’s enemies aren’t really anything to shout or worry about. You’ll take on armoured bugs, avoid literal tiger sharks, swipe at carnivorous starfish, toy bi-planes, and spiders but none of them are really a threat as they come at you quite slowly and make for large targets. Eventually, you’ll have to contend with wild lightning striking at the ground and conjuring little flaming imps and come up against some more colourful and zany opponents, such as anthropomorphic biscuit men, sharks wielding saws, and rose-throwing playing cards from Alice in Wonderland.
Each of the game’s levels culminates in a battle against a boss. The first of these is a giant spider that crawls down and across the webbing that is spreading across the background of the boss arena; sometimes it’ll crawl down harmlessly on the other side of the web and taunt you but, for the most part, it’s pretty easy to edge out of the way and swipe at it with your cape. The second boss you’ll face is a series of small dragons that resemble the one from The Sword in the Stone (Reitherman, 1963) or Pete’s Dragon (Chaffey, 1977); these little buggers will pop out from blocks, hop around, and spit fireballs at you but, again, it’s not exactly difficult to avoid them and it helps that they attack one at a time.
At the bottom of the sea, you’ll battle against a giant shark that rushes at you ominously beneath the floorboards of a sunken ship. When it charges towards you, jaws snapping, or leaps out from the ground to pounce at you, this is your moment to quickly attack and hop out of danger, but the shark’s speed and unpredictability actually makes this a somewhat challenging bout. Next, you’ll battle against Madam Mim, which was an amusing and entertaining surprise Mim flies about just above you on her broomstick and tosses flames down to the floor. You can easily jump up to attack her, though, and she stupidly drops down to the ground to taunt you, leaving herself wide open to reprisals in the process.
Finally, you’ll take on not the anthropomorphic cloud beast seen in the game’s cover art but the Magic Master, who is a gigantic background sprite and greatly resembles Mickey’s long-time nemesis, Pete. Taking place up in the clouds, this battle features randomly rising and falling columns that you can use to get close to the Magic Master’s big ol’ head and swipe at him with your cape. The boss conjures smaller, ghost-lime doubles of himself that resemble the Grim Reaper and float around the arena for a bit to damage you but, otherwise, is a bit of a pushover (especially if you have full health, which you probably will as there’s a number of health-restoring items on the way to the final confrontation).
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There aren’t too many power-ups to pick up in World of Illusion; as I mentioned before, Candy and Cake will partially or full refill your health but you can also earn yourself an extra Try by either finding a magician’s hat or collecting fifty-two playing cards. You can also occasionally find a firework that will shower the screen in explosions and destroy all onscreen enemies or a Silver Card for a brief period of invincibility.
After defeating each of the bosses, Mickey and Donald will learn a new magical ability to help them progress in the next level. The first of these is a magic carpet, which you can cause to ascend by tapping the jump button and ride through the skies avoiding tornados and buzzards. Next, you’ll get a magic bubble that allows you to slo-oo-wly navigate the underwater stage, again by tapping the jump button. The next spell allows you to teleport across the library when you’re shrunk down and is probably the least interesting of all of the magic tricks. Finally you’ll be able to cause specific playing card enemies to arrange themselves into platforms and bridges to help you get through the iconic garden and dining hall from Alice in Wonderland. All of these are performed in specific circumstances rather than at will and don’t really afford you any useful in-game benefits beyond allowing you to get to the end of the level you’re on, though.
That’s about it for World of Illusion. The game uses a password feature that allows you to warp to later levels as either Mickey, Donald, or both if you have to suddenly top playing but that’s about it. I’m a bit confused as to why the game has this password system, though, as it’s not exactly difficult and easy to fly through it in about a hour or so.
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck certainly looks and sounds the part of a typical 1990s D16-bit Disney videogame; it’s bright, fun, and full of gorgeously animated sprites and instantly recognisable Disney characters and locations. Mickey and Donald are always two of the most versatile characters in videogames, I find, and excel when dropped into fantastical environments and tasked with getting through them using a number of gimmicks; while the attack range of their magic capes leaves a lot to be desired, I enjoyed the magical spin on their arsenal and, especially, the flying carpet sections of the game. Sadly, though, it’s just a bit too short and bland in a lot of ways; two of the five bosses are just generic, large creatures and the game is just way too slow and sluggish through and through rather than being action-packed and entertaining. It’s a decent way to send an hour or so and fun to be able to team up with a friend for simultaneously play; it’s pretty cool how you get a slightly different experience when playing as each character but it’s lacking in a lot of content and options, some of which (such as score and certain gimmicks) actually featured in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (SEGA AM7, 199) which released three years earlier and stuff like that does bring the score down a little bit for me despite how striking the game’s presentation is.
What did you think about World of Illusion? Where does it sit in your hierarchy of 16-bit Disney games? Which of the 16-bit Disney was your favourite, or least favourite, and who is your favourite Disney character? How are you celebrating Mickey Mouse Day today? Whatever your thoughts on World of Illusion, and Disney and Mickey games in general, drop a comment below and share your thoughts and have a great Mickey Mouse Day!