Disney Illusion Island is the surprise Nintendo Switch exclusive of the year. This charming platformer features excellent movement, satisfying platforming challenges and a steady difficulty curve that’s perfect for all ages. While a lack of combat may irk some players looking for a deeper experience, the game constantly varies its platforming challenges with new traversal upgrades, making exploring the map’s nooks and crannies a rewarding affair.
Colorful world with unique biomes
Fantastic movement and platforming
A little on the short side
No combat will put off some
Quite linear for a metroidvania
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Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Release date: July 28, 2023
2D platformers are a dime a dozen on Nintendo Switch, but rarely are they as polished or charming as Disney Illusion Island. A fairly open-ended platformer that supports co-op play and featuring some of the best 2D visuals on the hardware, it’s well-suited for players of all ages looking for their next platforming fix.
Something of a spiritual successor to the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive’s Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion, two of that console’s best games, Disney Illusion Island is more than worthy of holding your attention until fellow co-op platformer Super Mario Bros. Wonder launches later this year.
Disney Illusion Island differs from its roots with an adoption of a metroidvania-style format. That means it’s not just a straight dash from left to right. Rather, the world map is somewhat open-ended, with many avenues gated off until you’ve found a new ability that lets you progress further. The game doesn’t wholly commit to the formula, and still has broadly linear progression as you explore the map, but it’s a welcome change that incentivizes combing areas for secrets and collectibles.
And while Disney Illusion Island is primarily aimed at younger audiences, that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of difficulty. Checkpoints are aplenty, but the game still lets its slick, satisfying movement shine through platforming challenges that have a pleasantly steady difficulty curve.
On top of that, you can also choose a difficulty level before starting the game that either increases or reduces the number of hits you can take. During play, I didn’t notice any changes to enemy layout or platforming toughness, which is a slight shame. Still, it’s nice to have the option for a tougher or easier challenge depending on your preferences.
Tiptoe through the tulips
What’s immediately noticeable about Disney Illusion Island is just how gosh-darn pretty it is. Playable characters and NPCs have a resemblance to the newer Mickey Mouse animated shorts, which translates beautifully to a 2D sidescroller format. The world itself is even more gorgeous, largely featuring a pleasantly warm color palette that really pops on the Nintendo Switch OLED’s handheld display.
The quality of animation is impressive across the board, too. Our four playable characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy – all play identically, but each have a unique identity when it comes to their animations. Mickey’s confident strides are well-realized here, but I particularly love Donald’s snappier, often impatient-looking movement that fits him to a tee. Goofy’s dumpy, comical run cycle is also a highlight that had me grinning when I first saw it.
Disney Illusion Island gets so much right, but for us, the moment-to-moment platforming challenges are what keep the game consistently engaging. No two areas are the same, and you'll constantly be taking on new challenges as the difficulty curve steadily increases.
There’s a delightful level of attention to detail with each character, too. No matter which you pick to play as, they’ll all receive the same traversal abilities throughout the game, but all four are given unique tools to get the job done. For example, one of the earliest power-ups you’ll get is a double jump. For Minnie, this comes in the form of a life-sized paper airplane. Donald, meanwhile, gets a giant firework with matching sound effects. It’s a small, but nonetheless charming addition that gives a little extra incentive to try out each of the four heroes.
The game is a metroidvania at its core, meaning you’ll be collecting a whole bunch of new abilities as you progress. These extra skills are honestly quite standard, such as being able to swim, using a grappling hook on certain pieces of scenery and a ground pound to destroy brittle platforms. However, the rate at which you get these abilities is well-paced, and the areas in which you receive them are always flush with platforming challenges to help you get to grips with each.
Rounding out the presentation are occasional, lovingly animated cutscenes, featuring the characters’ contemporary voice actors (you might recognize Donald and Goofy’s actors from the Kingdom Hearts series). There’s plenty of good chuckles to be had in these cutscenes thanks to some sharp writing and delivery, and while not every joke lands, it’s all deliciously tongue-in-cheek; perfect for a narrative that’s aimed at younger audiences.
House of Mouse
Disney Illusion Island presents a pretty captivating world, then, and it’s just as fun to explore as it is to gawk at. Developer Dlala Games has nailed movement in this game. It’s crucial to nail simple acts like running and jumping in a platformer, and here that movement is quick, responsive, and doesn’t feel the least bit floaty.
It’s not long before the map starts to mix up its platforming, forcing you to make use of multiple abilities at once, making traversal and progression constantly brisk and satisfying. Part of me wishes these power-ups were a touch more inspired, as none break new ground in the subgenre, but what’s here works and serves to form Disney Illusion Island’s platformer-centric format.
One element I think will be divisive is that Disney Illusion Island doesn’t feature combat of any kind, despite having enemies players will need to avoid while platforming. This isn’t so much a complaint as it is something I thought was just worth mentioning for those who might prefer a more action-heavy title like Hollow Knight or Metroid Dread. Bosses are present, but these utilize your existing abilities rather than have you confront the enemy directly. The game’s highly enjoyable platforming does make up for this, though, and fans of the genre will find Disney Illusion Island scratches that itch more than adequately.
And if you vibe with the game’s fluid platforming, you’ll definitely want to scour the whole map for hidden items, of which there are many kinds. Collectible cards and ‘Mickey Memorabilia’ are the primary objects here, with the latter forming a charming database of the mouse’s long history.
My favorite, though, are the secret Mickey symbols dotted throughout the world. You’ll need a pair of keen eyes to spot some of these, as they can blend into the background quite ingeniously. Unlike other collectibles, they’re also not marked on your map, so you’ll have a real scavenger hunt on your hands if you wish to find them all.
In Disney Illusion Island, you’re getting a cozy, somewhat easygoing platformer that’s nonetheless worth your time. Gorgeous visuals, smart level design, charming cutscenes and no shortage of collectables pack a whole lot of goodness into its relatively short length. If you’re excited for Super Mario Bros. Wonder, I can’t recommend Disney Illusion Island enough.
In Disney Illusion Island, there’s quite a handy suite of accessibility settings to aid players of all kinds. You’re able to adjust options like screen shake, display tells for certain secrets and adjust the time allotted for timed platforming elements.
In the ‘Player’ menu, you can freely adjust the amount of health afforded to you, as well as toggle various assists for a number of abilities. Lastly, subtitles are customizable, allowing players to adjust their size, color and opacity. Overall, a pretty fleshed out accessibility suite.
How we reviewed Disney Illusion Island
We played Disney Illusion Island through to its conclusion, picking up as many collectibles along the way as we could on our first playthrough. We finished the game in roughly seven hours, thoroughly testing (and enjoying) its style of platforming, and the various secrets and unlockable gallery content provided by optional secret hunting.
Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.