Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a 1990 2D platformer where Mickey has to save Minnie from the selfish witch Mizrabel who wants to use her evil powers to make Minnie ugly and make herself beautiful.
Castle of Illusion was developed by Sega and it released in November 1990 which was the same month that Super NES and Super Mario World debuted and even several months before Sonic the Hedgehog came out. Therefore, it was important that Castle of Illusion impressed audiences so gamers would buy Sega Genesis consoles. Well, what happened? In short, the high quality of the game speaks for itself but it still suffers from some fundamental problems.
After Minnie Mouse is mouse-napped by the evil witch Mizrabel, Mickey fearlessly treks into the Castle of Illusion where he must overcome 5 difficult stages containing 7 gems. Specifically, these stages are the enchanted forest, a toy box, some Aztec ruins, an enchanted dining room, and a dark eerie castle. Once all 7 gems are collected, Mickey can then face Mizrabel. Meanwhile, the gameplay is standard for a 2D platformer as Mickey can defeat enemies by throwing various items or by jumping on them but only while holding down. Each stage features a boss such as a weird wood creature at the end of the forest and a toy nutcracker at the end of the toy box stage.
Overall, I found the levels to be enjoyable and creative. For instance, the first stage (the enchanted forest) seems to be a normal happy forest but in the middle of the stage, everything turns dark and creepy! The toy box stage has you ascend to the top of the level then you slide all the way back down which makes for a nice change of pace. In the third stage, if you keep going right, you eventually hit a dead end so you have to explore the stage if you want to find the way forward. Anyway, the bosses are also fun but I died many times against them so if it weren't for the Sega Genesis Mini's save states, I probably wouldn't have been able to complete the game.
The biggest problem with Castle of Illusion is its lack of a save feature. Like many Genesis games, the idea was to complete the entire game in one sitting. Being able to save in games was not the norm yet and neither Sega Genesis nor SNES had built-in save functionality. Therefore, save files had to be stored on cartridges which was rather costly. Nintendo supported saving in Super Mario World and most of their games since but that's because they were ahead of their time and Nintendo clearly cared about the overall player experience. Isn't that an interesting story? Anyway, I wonder why Sega didn't just let players toggle infinite lives as that would have removed a lot of the frustration and it would be such an easy feature to include; not just in Castle of Illusion but in all of their games.
Now that I brought it up, Castle of Illusion also has a level select just like in the Sonic the Hedgehog games but only if you know the cheat code. I thought that was worth mentioning but since players would never know about it back in the day except if they read about it in a cheat book, it wouldn't be fair if I said that level select cheats were a great thing for the common gamer.
So, there you have it. Castle of Illusion is one of the most colorful and joyful games you'll find on the Sega Genesis. In fact, it's so good that it inspired a few sequels including World of Illusion, a 2013 reimagining, and a mobile adaptation.