Disney Illusion Island is a phenomenally beautiful game, in every sense of the word. In animated cutscenes replicating the tone of Mickey Mouse Shorts, it manages to create a sense of a living, breathing, playable cartoon, with a strong narrative and story beats peppered by snappy humour and a sleek playing style.
While its many cloistered corridors feel familiar in their design – this is a stereotypical adventure platformer that conforms to many genre tropes – the action is elevated by a confident art style, a beloved cast of Disney characters, and the rapid pace at which it moves. While largely unsurprising, it feels clever and engaging throughout a short runtime, leaving a strong impression as a flavourful adventure.
The journey begins
Disney Illusion Island unfolds with a rapid reveal: Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie have been invited to the island of Monoth for a grand picnic – but instead, they find a group of tiny beings in need of help. Their home has been disrupted by evil villains, wielding the power of strange tomes that must be liberated for everyone’s freedom. Lacking a real picnic, this quartet of Disney heroes sets off to save the day, charting a labyrinthine world of corridors and obstacles.
You can play the game with up to four players in co-op mode – which increases the challenge to match your added abilities – or you can head off alone. For the purposes of this pre-launch review, the action was tackled solo as Mickey Mouse.
To kick off the adventure, Mickey (and/or his pals) has only basic jumping abilities, used for travelling through corridors and avoiding roaming enemies. There are no formal attacks in the game, merely an expanding array of abilities that eventually allow you to kick, swim, swing, leap, and wall-jump to your chosen destination.
Before you harness these powers, you’re fairly limited in your exploration. You’ll jump through hoops to hit story beats, unlocking new animated chapters and a strangely twisting plot, and then, you’ll hit a wall – often literally. There are several branching pathways you can explore in Disney Illusion Island, but they are very linear. Find a special collectible in one location, or explore beyond a story point to find special health orbs, and then you’ll need to loop back around to your destination to continue character progression.
You can’t swim underwater without learning the ability. You can’t wall-jump until after you’ve overcome certain bosses. The name of the game here is backtracking – a standard feature of the Metroid-style exploration genre. Once you’ve completed one quest and unlocked a new ability, you’ll be sent back through familiar tunnels, running and jumping and swimming across long stretches that feel designed to spread out the central plot, which – while entertaining – is surprisingly slim for a fully-fledged adventure game.
Corridors are all themed, with each rocking colourful backdrops and different enemies, but they lack a unique flavour, and are fairly sparse. You romp through halls and discover collectibles at a rapid clip, but there’s not much else to discover on second and third runs, making these forced revisitations feel blander each time.
With sleek movement and rhythm perfection taking more of the focus, you’ll spend most of your time in the game learning to regulate your pace, exploit new abilities in familiar landscapes, and taking enemy attacks in stride.
Flying through corridors and avoiding near death is both satisfying and eye-catching, and while this corridor chase becomes repetitive, Disney Illusion Island avoids rot by providing an ever-expanding suite of abilities. You’ll need to harness each in turn, eventually developing a smooth flow as you leap through the air, pull out a mini-copter, and then leap and jump away from enemy attack patterns.
In practice, this movement feels like ballet, brought to life with perfect motion.
While some of the visual art is lost in handheld mode on
You can see Mickey whip out his glasses and rocket to cross gaps in one movement. You can see the propeller of the mini-copter manifest from a backpack. You can see the overblown emotions of boss enemies, and the way their faces stretch and gurn as you slowly chip away at their defences.
All of this is accompanied by a beautiful orchestral soundtrack that seems to pull cues from Fantasia, in its approach to soundtracking the action. It’s sweeping and emotional, with the score dipping from a calming tenor to more frantic beats as enemy fights kick off.
Where Disney Illusion Island refuses to move beyond the common tropes of the platformer genre, and devolves into too much backtracking, its art style and music elevate it.
This extends beyond gameplay, to cutscenes where character emotions are depicted in wild, over-the-top fashion – hilariously and delightfully – and rapid-fire quips keep a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour alive. This is, essentially, another episode of Mickey Mouse Shorts, with segmented action peppered in between sharp writing, expressive animation, and witty one-liners.
End of the line
The only caveat in Disney Illusion Island is that while it’s structured like an episode of Mickey Mouse Shorts, it also feels just as quick as one. You’ll blast through the entire story, whipping down corridors and swimming into dark, obstacle-filled depths over the course of an 6-8 hour plot, with the ride ending abruptly, just as you’re coming to terms with every new ability and secret hidden on high platforms and behind doors.
The snappiness and free flow of the action have several unintended side effects. While it allows instant engagement with Illusion Island‘s snappy, stylish action, it also makes the ride speed past. You can blast through it in a sitting or two, particularly on easier difficulty modes – and while you can add difficulty by reducing your health and checkpoints, the game still feels fairly generous and approachable throughout. There’s little room for real challenge that may have heightened tension, or allowed for more intricate exploration and manoeuvring. Younger players will likely appreciate this caveat, but more experienced ones will find its ease frustrating.
Regardless of these foibles, Disney Illusion Island makes a huge impression in its runtime, with any concerns about challenge or repetition largely overshadowed by an incredible art style that brings the adventure to life in eye-popping fashion.
Four Stars: ★★★★
Disney Illusion Island
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Dlala Studios
Publisher: Disney Electronic Content
Release Date: 28 July 2023