I make no secret of my love for all things Disney. If you’ve read my pieces with any regularity, you know I’ve written about a fair number of Disney based games, ranging from titles for the Nintendo Game & Watch to NES classics built around the Disney Afternoon cartoons. With the January 25 release of Kingdom Hearts 3, it seemed a fitting time to dip back into the world of Disney video games.
In November of 1990, Sega released Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. The game was a side-scrolling platformer that featured you as the world’s most famous and magical mouse. Your mission was to rescue Minnie Mouse from the evil clutches of the witch Mizrabel. She had captured Minnie to steal her youth (though it probably deserves mentioning that when the game was released, Minnie was eight days shy of her 62nd birthday). To rescue Minnie, you had to collect the Seven Gems of the Rainbow. To collect them, Mickey had to make his way through various worlds, each of which ended with a boss battle against the Masters of Illusion, servants of the nefarious Mizrabel. Once you had defeated the Masters of Illusion, you battled Mizrabel herself.
The game was directed and designed by Emiko Yamamoto (credited as Emirin to hide her identity, a common practice at the time). It was Yamamoto’s first game, and she delivered a masterpiece. Her goal, as stated in a 2013 interview, was create a game that fit into what she considered the core of what made Disney well…Disney. She described the guiding principle as, “the essence of Disney, a positive world of dreams, peace, and imagination.”
Yamamoto and her team went to great lengths to capture that essence, studying Disney films as they planned the game. They noted that there was continual motion in Disney animated features. Nothing was static. They attempted to incorporate this into the game, even making Mickey tap his foot when he was idle (before Sonic the Hedgehog did the same thing!). The team also worked hard on making beautifully crafted backgrounds, but took time to ensure that gameplay was not sacrificed in the process. Disney Imagineers embrace a concept called “plussing,” a constant effort to improve a product, and it seems that the team designing Castle of Illusion took the idea to heart as well.
In such a dedicated and fertile creative environment, inspiration often comes from odd and unexpected places. The creation of Castle of Illusion was no exception. For instance, art director Takashi Yuda designed the dragon boss after a licorice whip, after getting hooked on the candy during the design process.
The game was a raving success. At the time of its release, Electronic Gaming Monthly described it as, “a game which Disney himself would be proud of.” It spawned multiple sequels. It even led to a “spiritual” sort of sequel in the form of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, released for the Nintendo 3DS. And to think, as Walt Disney once said, “…it was all started by a mouse.”