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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Disney Illusion Island Preview – Our First Hands-On

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As a new parent, one of the things that I’m most looking forward to is being able to play games together with my son. This is just one of the reasons why Disney Illusion Island caught my attention right away as a game that looked like a blast to play with my family. A four player cooperative 2D platformer from Dlala Studios, developers of the recent Battletoads revival, Illusion Island seeks to combine the joy of traversal in a seamless, massive world with that signature Disney magic. After spending about 20 minutes with it, I found myself sufficiently charmed and left with the feeling that Dlala seems like its on the right track.

The setup for the adventure this time around is Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy all traveling to the titular Illusion Island under the impression that they’ve been invited by one another to a picnic. It turns out, the picnic was a lie, and those invites actually came from the Toku, a group of creatures in desperate need of heroes to save them. And so, with a little bit of cajoling (some needing more than others), Mickey and the gang agree to help the Toku by collecting three magical tomes scattered across the island.

It is impossible to ignore the influence that Metroidvanias have had on the design of Illusion Island's world.

And to be clear, the island is massive. Dlala CEO AJ Grand-Scrutton doesn’t like to use the term “Metroidvania” as a genre descriptor for Illusion Island, but it is impossible to ignore the influence that those games have had on the design of its world.

In his own words: “Look, it'd be silly of us to kind of pretend that there is not Metroidvania inspiring the structure of the game. It's a big seamless world. You get to gates you can't get past until you get an ability. In a lot of ways that's Metroidvania 101,” said Grand-Scrutton. He continued, “I think the difference with ours is that we're focused on the platforming aspect. This isn't a combat game. This is a game about all the challenges you come across being resolved by a movement and abilities as opposed to fights. So I think that structurally we're very inspired by Metroidvania, but I think our biggest influences are platformers – modern ones, and the ones we grew up with.”

Disney Illusion Island Screens

Fortunately, that platforming feels really good. It's super smooth, there’s just the right amount of floatiness to your jumps, and there’s a really great flow from the level design that allowed me to just go from place to place without even really thinking about it. Despite the large open-ended map, I felt naturally drawn by the design to where I needed to go.

Of course one of the most notable aspects of Illusion Island – and as I said at the beginning, the thing that drew me towards it – is the fact that the entire campaign is playable in four-player co-op. Grand-Scrutton said that they decided to make each character control the same because if you make one character faster, or one character jump farther, what naturally happens is that somebody feels like they’re getting left behind.

So they made it so that, fundamentally, every character plays the same, but each feels different thanks to each of their animation styles. “We use kind of a toy analogy in which we said that okay, if we view Minnie as a paper airplane, we view Goofy as a slinky, Donald as a slingshot, and Mickey as a bouncy ball. Then we animate it around that,” said Grand-Scrutton. “So it's very strange because the reality is they're all the same, but they all feel really different when you play as each of them. So it's a really fun challenge to overcome.”

I only had the opportunity to play as Minnie, so I didn’t get to experience the feeling of the other characters myself, but one of the things that I really enjoyed was when I got the ability to use wall jumps. There was a fun cutscene where every character was granted their own item that represented the ability. Mickey got a pencil, Minnie got climbing gear, Goofy a fork, and Donald… a plunger. Seeing Donald’s reaction to his gift was a joy, and I imagine it’s going to be a recurring gag throughout the game that I very much look forward to seeing more of. It’s a joyous comedic tone that echoes the animated shows and movies we know these characters from so well. This is further reinforced by the art style which evokes that classic morning cartoon feel, but with a modern sheen.

My time with Illusion Island was brief, so I can’t really comment on many of the deeper mechanics beyond just jumps, double jumps, and wall jumps. I definitely got the impression that the game felt pretty easy, but that’s based on 20 minutes of play from literally the beginning of the game. I asked Grand-Strutton and Lead Designer Grant Allen what the target audience was that they were aiming for, and they told me that while it’s a family game, that doesn’t mean it's a kid's game.

“So the way we view it is: Us as platform fans who grew up as platform fans and are still platform fans can play this. It's enjoyable and Grant and I can play it together and feel challenged. But then if I want to play it with my nieces and nephews, we've provided features such as being able to set both my nephews to have infinite health, and I can play with two hearts and still get the challenge. But I don't have to worry about them suddenly fighting and beating me up because they keep dying all the time.”

As with any massive exploration-centric 2D platformer, discovery plays a huge role in Illusion Island, and you can expect to find plenty of collectibles in the form of Glimt – basically like coins that can be spent on a variety of unlocks – special cards called Tokuns, and much more.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the soundtrack, which nails the ambient soundtrack that you’d hear while walking around Disneyland. It’s absolutely delightful. And delightful is a good word to sum up my experience with Disney Illusion Island so far. If Dlala can evolve the mechanics in satisfying ways over the course of the adventure, Illusion Island has all the makings of a wonderful return for Mickey Mouse and friends to the world of 2D platforming.

Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit

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