Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (1990, Sega, Genesis)

Most of Mickey Mouse's 16-Bit endeavors have been held in high regard by fans, and it's relatively easy to see why. The challenges are tough but never overwhelming, the control is almost always tight, and the visuals have that distinct Disney charm to them, making them as fun to watch as they are to play. The first 16-Bit game on the iconic rodent's belt is Castle of Illusion, which came around during the "Genesis Does" campaign Sega was pushing so hard. Sega emphasized the animation of Mickey himself, while not being animated by Disney itself, looked incredibly slick for the time. Most Genesis fans agree that Castle of Illusion was the best game of the Genesis's second year.

The plot is this: Mickey and Minnie were spending time swinging each other around (for some odd reason), when all of a sudden, a rather hideous witch named Mizrabel kidnaps Minnie and takes her to the game's namesake setting; The Castle of Illusion. So now, Mickey has to find seven "rainbow gems" and destroy Mizrabel if he wants to get his girlfriend back. 

Castle of Illusion plays like most side-scrolling platformers. Mickey can move left and right, jump, and throw "items" which are basically ammo. If you press the jump button when you are in the air Mickey will come down with a "butt slam" maneuver that can be used on your foes to launch you up higher. This move is quite novel and bouncing off multiple enemies is pretty satisfying. 

The highlight of the game is definitely the visuals. While not exactly vibrant, they do have that Disney quality to them, and they are quite robust. The forest stage looks relatively dark and even the Dessert Palace looked kind of....gray. The enemies you face, as you probably expect, look like they have been pulled out of a Disney cartoon. Mickey himself is very well animated, and moves and jumps very fluidly. His facial expressions when he falls into a bottomless pit, or is about to fall over a edge, will more than likely bring a smile to your face.

The sound design gets the job done. The music sounds pretty good, some good tracks here and there. The boss theme sounds intense and menacing, and the Toy Palace theme is pretty catchy. The sound effects, however, are not very good. Mickey makes this high pitched shriek when he takes damage, and the 'shing' sound every time you destroy an enemy gets on your nerves.

I couldn't find any real major flaws with Castle of Illusion. It's a truly enjoyable little platform romp for the Genesis and is one of the games that helped Sega take the lead on the 16-Bit era. Almost everyone loves Mickey Mouse in some way, and this game certainly shows the rodent's charm. The Genesis didn't really take off until Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, but Castle of Illusion definitely helped put Sega on top in the 16-Bit market.

+ Great graphics for 1990.
+ Has that Disney charm.
+ Slick animation and fluid control.
+ Surprisingly intense and somber music.

- Annoying sound effects.

OVERALL: 9 out of 10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (1992, Sega, Genesis)

Mickey Mouse has always been one of those characters that has been "around the block" in video games. The iconic rodent has been on almost every console in some shape or form, and unlike most games based on licensed characters, his track record is surprisingly clean. Most retro gamers appreciate Mickey's efforts on the 16-Bit consoles, and World of Illusion is of course no exception, despite a few minor setbacks.

The plot is this: Mickey and Donald are practicing a magic show when all of a sudden Donald discovers a box of some sort backstage. Donald's curiosity got the best of him and he looks inside, being pulled inside in the process. Mickey of course jumps in after him. When they enter, another magician challenges them to fight and defeat him in order to escape this new world they just arrived in.

Gameplay is simple yet enjoyable. It's a ordinary platformer with a cool twist: two player co-op. Both Mickey and Donald can be controlled at once, and it's substantially more fun to play with a friend. You'll notice that both heroes move rather slowly, but there is a "dash" button that can be used for quicker movement. But the kicker with this concept is the level design; there is simply too much stuff to run into that you would be better off just to ignore this feature all together, but at the same time it makes the game seem rather tedious in the process. It's a bit of a strange flaw, but can easily be overlooked.

Believe it or not, the game actually changes depending how you play it. If you play as Mickey, the game is basically at normal mode; the way the game is meant to be played. If you play as Donald, the game becomes significantly more difficult, focusing on pinpoint jumps and evading enemies rather than attacking like Mickey. If you play co-op, the game becomes much more focused on teamwork, adding some new stages designed for two players. This diversity within the game gives it alot of replay value; always a good thing in video games.

Ive always enjoyed the graphics in 16-Bit Disney games, and World of Illusion is no exception. Both Mickey and Donald animate well and the stages are bright and colorful. Bosses are visually impressive, yet easy and uninteresting to fight. The audio is decent as well, however some music stands out more than others (the ocean level sounds pretty) and the effects are a little weak on certain ends.

There are of course some issues. Both characters attacks consist of a enchanted cape that they fling at enemies; turning them into harmless objects, but the cape kind of has a awkward angle of attack which can lead to some cheap hits here and there, but for the most part the attack works just fine. The level design is a times less than perfect, there are traps placed is some very precarious areas that are next to impossible to avoid, again, leading to some mandatory damage.

Despite some pretty glaring flaws like cheap hits and occasionally weak controls, World of Illusion is a excellent sidescroller with a neat 2-Player option. The visuals are stylish and diverse, the gameplay is solid and relatively challenging, the ocean stage's music is really good, and to top it all off, it has the most iconic cartoon character around as the main character. World of Illusion is part of a consistently good "Illusion" series that is the favorite of many Disney fans, and going by this game it's not too hard to see why.

+ Colorful graphics.
+ Awesome 2-Player option.
+ Diverse gameplay options.
+ Relaxing ocean tune.

- Questionable "dash" option.
- A cheap hit here and there.
- Inconsistent sound design.

OVERALL: 8.2 out of 10

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (1991, Konami, Game Boy)

In 1989, Konami released one of their first two games for the brand new Game Boy system; Motocross Maniacs and The Castlevania Adventure. Castlevania fans were very excited that a new game was coming around for the shiny new handheld, and unlike Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, was thankfully like the original.
But hopes were quickly dashed as fans expressed their intense dislike for what appears to be an incredibly lazy effort. Inconsistent level design and sluggish gameplay (even more so than the Castlevania games already are) are rampant through this mediocre title. Fortunately, Konami released a remake earlier this year, and a awesome one at that.

Konami decided to try their hand once again with Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge. And while it still is somewhat inferior to it's console bretherin, it's still a hell of a lot of fun, and actually is probably the best action game on the handheld. The plot is a continuation of Adventure's storyline. You still control Christopher Belmont, now trying to rescue his son from the control of Count Dracula; thirsty for revenge and bodily fluids. Like usual, not award-winning material, but it gets the job done.

I can tell you right now, Castlevania II's gameplay is vastly improved over Adventure's. Christoper controls like a dream (as far as Castlevania games go, at least), having no noticeable delay on his movements. The game speed is significantly faster, so it feels more like the console titles. Unlike Adventure, Castlevania II actually has sub-weapons such as the Axe and Holy Water. But these are the only two in the game. Unique to this title is the ability to select which stage you wish to go to, however this has no impact on how the game plays out, just the order it goes in. To make the game work with this concept, all of the levels are equally as difficult as each other. This leads to a lack of gradually ramping difficulty, making this game quite easy up until the final few levels. Good news for gamers new to the series, but bad for hardcore fans.

Castlevania II looks great for the monochrome handheld. All of the environments are diverse and detailed, Christopher himself looks improved over the original, and the larger bosses in the game look a bit intimidating as far as 8-Bit goes. Everything looks slick and animates just as well. The music is excellent, even compared to the console games. New Messiah and End of the Day are now staples in the series' soundtracks, and they came from this game. Control is about what you'd expect from Castlevania; slightly sluggish and yet incredibly tight at the same time. You still lose control of your character when he's airborne at all, so you have to plan your jumps carefully, and stay away from pits.

While Castlevania II hasn't really aged particularly well, it's still one of the quintessential games for the famous 8-Bit console. It's looks fantastic as far as Game Boy goes, the music is amazing, a unique (yet pointless) stage select, and the tough-as-nails action are still all here, and in a nice portable package. There's no excuse not to hunt Dracula down once more in this top-notch action platformer.

+ Slick presentation.
+ Awesome music.
+ Fixes most of The Castlevania Adventure's problems.
+ Cool "Stage Select" function..........

- ....that's practically useless.
- Distinctly lower difficulty that most games in the series.

OVERALL: 8.5 out of 10