Disney Illusion Island has clearly been made by a bunch of people that are enthusiastic about 2D platformers. I’ve spoken to Dlala Studios before, so I’d be lying if I said I was surprised to find this out, but talking about Disney Illusion Island is very different from playing it.
After a four-player co-op session with the game’s creative director (and Dlala CEO) AJ Grand-Scrutton, and two other Dlala employees, I can say that there’s genuine joy to be found here. Somehow, Dlala has managed to make a game true to Mickey Mouse and chums, while producing a 2D platformer that anyone can play, whether you’re usual poison is hard-as-nails platformer Super Meat Boy or canine copaganda tv show Paw Patrol.
Disney Illusion Island is a 2D platformer, obviously, but also a Metroidvania that brings four players together to tool around beautiful platforming biomes exploring and, well, just exploring really. While I didn’t get to play these Metroidvania elements, which is lucky for everyone that didn’t want to see me try and work a Mousetroidvania joke in here somewhere, I got to cut around and experience the platforming for myself. It’s fairly lightweight but satisfying. Wall jumps and slowly moving platforms aren’t the most technically challenging platforming feats, but it feels nice to move around. Thrillseekers will be happy to know the game still has some bite to it, including a boss fight that involved me trying and failing to jump between several disappearing platforms while my new co-op friends laughed at me encouragingly.
You can choose between four beloved characters: Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy. They’re all sized differently but otherwise work the same, with custom animations and art hiding the fact they also have exactly the same abilities and hitboxes. This, Grand-Scrutton explains as we play, means you can just play who you have an affinity for without trying to optimise your playstyle for a specific character. As a large clumsy man that often says stupid things, I went with Goofy and found myself increasingly fond of him. Especially when I worked out that Goofy’s crouch animation just has him sit, seemingly perplexed. Things really slowed down for the hands-on at this point.
Don’t forget to Duck
The game's main selling point is probably the core cast of Disney’s original supergroup uniting to get their jump on, but it also deserves some plaudits for cutting combat out of the game entirely. You can still get hurt, and if it takes you a little while to unlearn the golden platforming rule that jumping on something’s head will kill it, you’ll likely waste a few hearts. Still, there’s, actually no way you can eliminate or disappear your enemies, meaning you’re stuck with evasion like some kind of cute and cuddly Amnesia: The Bunker fan game.
Still, if the difficulty isn’t to your liking there’s plenty you can do to bring it in line. If you want a challenge you can drop the amount of health you have to a single heart, but if you want an easier time you can give yourself a stack of hearts or even one singular iron height that can’t be damaged no matter what. You can make some other tweaks to the rules, but I also liked some things that just make the game a little easier.
If a player is left behind for a little too long, they’ll be folded into a magic letter and will follow the rest of the group along. Whoever makes the jump first can let a rope down for the other players who can climb it if they want a hand. You can also use this, as adults, to screw with other players by pulling it in at the last second or even dropping the other character while they’re mid-climb. It’s a cool tool to help players of different skill levels enjoy the game together, but also a neat interaction to have regardless.
Low on hearts? A dedicated hug button means any two characters can hug each other and get a temporary heart, which is both the most adorable way to regain HP in a video game I’ve seen in a decade, but also confirms that when someone is playing as Goofy that, yes, you can pet the dog in Disney Illusion Island.
When it comes out next month, you’ll probably want to.
Disney Illusion Island will release on 28 July 2023 for the Nintendo Switch.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.