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Disney Illusion Island review: Disney’s best game to date

Disney Illusion Island review: Disney’s best game to date

Disney Illusion Island is an utterly magical delight and undoubtedly one of the finest-looking games I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch.

It’s what all Disney fans were hoping to hear so I’ll go ahead and say it: Disney Illusion Island is an utterly magical delight. There’s a comforting sense of timelessness when it comes to a character like Mickey Mouse. Whether you’re watching 1928’s Steamboat Willie or 2023’s Steamboat Silly, you’ll find the same kind of refuge in both. Familiar characters, farcical humour, and a worthwhile moral lesson - all wrapped up in sublimely animated package. Disney Illusion Island takes all of that one step further. It draws you inside the screen. Playing as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, or Goofy, you now have the opportunity to become the hero of this latest caper.

The story is set on the island of Monoth. Mickey and company are lured to the island under the guise that they’ve been invited to a picnic. Toku, the leader of Monoth’s Hokuns, soon reveals that they’re there for a very different reason. Three magical tomes which represent and ensure the protection of Monoth’s three biomes - Pavonia, Gizmopolis, and Astrono - have been stolen. Toku tasks Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy with locating the tomes and thus we, the player, embark on our joyously silly adventure.

Take a look at Disney Illusion Island in action below.

Disney Illusion Island is a Metroidvania with a difference. It’s free of combat, so you won’t be attacking any enemies. Instead, you’ll need to overcome the platforming challenges they pose. Perhaps my favourite aspect of this world is the fact that it’s totally seamless. Once you begin navigating Monoth, you gain access to the entirety of the map. There are naturally areas that you can’t access simply because you haven’t yet unlocked the needed traversal skill, but the fact that you’re free to roam and explore the various locations and biomes provides a sense of unbounded freedom that I appreciated.

As you won’t be directly attacking enemies, there are plenty of platforming conundrums to keep you busy. By the time you’ve unlocked all of the traversal skills available (they unlock throughout the main story), you’ll be able to swing, jump, glide, and swim your way across the island of Monoth. It's a familiar language if you’re a regular player of platformers, but I was delighted to discover that Disney Illusion Island offers up some brilliantly original level design too.

In Astrono, the walls and platforms appear in the form of constellations. Lines form between stars. Fail to follow the sequence of platforms in order and they’ll disappear, forcing you to try again. In the same biome, water isn’t exactly water. It’s moon juice, and thus is able to defy gravity. Carefully placed blocks of moon juice hover in the air, allowing you to wall jump or glide into them in order to swim and proceed to platforms you otherwise certainly wouldn’t have been able to reach. Meanwhile in Gizmopolis, you’ll need to activate switches to re-position platforms, or avoid slipping off the skate rails. In Pavonia, you’ll utilise the biomes’ flora and fauna - trepidatiously jumping across venus fly traps and withering flowers, as you attempt to avoid the dangers below.

Disney Illusion Island /
Disney Interactive Studios

Each biome has its own enemy threats. There are lil’ spiky cactus guys in Pavonia, and an odd species of projectile-shooting limpets in the deepest waters of Astrono. I held particular dread every time I saw the game’s little orange fellas who fire four fireballs which, nine times out of 10, I failed to avoid. There’s never a dull moment in Monoth. Just when you get used to avoiding a certain enemy type, you’ll find yourself in a brand new area which offers an entirely new set of trials and tribulations.

There are also several boss fights dotted throughout the game. These typically combine the various platforming and enemy obstacles encountered in that area into one overall challenge. You’ll be tasked with avoiding the obstacles and activating various environmental hazards in order to win. Despite the absence of combat in the main platforming sections of the game, I was pleased with the inclusion of these boss fights. Not only did they even out the pacing of the gameplay, adding a different formula at regular interviews, but they all played crucially into the main story.

If you’re sitting there wondering, ‘Is Disney Illusion Island tricky?’ Well, that’s completely up to you. You’ll be able to pick whether you’d like your character to have one or three health hearts, or you can pick infinite health if you want no challenge at all (perfect for the youngest of players). There are additional hearts that you can pick up around the map, as well as healing pools and regular checkpoints. I decided to opt for two hearts which I found to be a decent level of challenge. At first, I flew through the various obstacles but as the game progressed, I’d find myself constantly being sent back to checkpoints as I failed to execute the perfect timing. Thankfully, as checkpoints are plentiful, you’re never sent back too far. Even still, I’d imagine that one health heart would pose a respectable challenge, should you wish to up the ante.

Disney Illusion Island /
Disney Interactive Studios

What I’m saying here is that Disney Illusion Island truly is a game that can be catered to all ages via its difficulty options. If I have one criticism then, it’s that Illusion Island does take slightly too long to up the complexity of its puzzles. By the end, you’ll be trying to avoid three enemy types while traversing moving platforms, avoiding hazardous spikes and more. It’s this kind of challenge that I relished. In the opening stages though, I jumped and glided through with ease. When you can set the difficulty of the game via the very adaptable health options, it felt somewhat of a minor annoyance to me that a higher level of complexity wasn’t introduced slightly sooner.

The game is playable both as a single-player and via co-op. I played through the entirety of Disney Illusion Island on my own and enjoyed the independence of uncovering and exploring the map at my own pace. That being said, I’d imagine that getting up to four people through some of those trickier platforming sections would be absolute chaos - in the best way - and I’m already itching to gather several friends to have a go, particularly as co-op boasts several unique abilities, including leapfrogging and rope drops.

Playing via co-op also gives you the opportunity to appreciate each character's unique personality. You can play as Mickey, Minnie, Donald or Goofy. Each character essentially functions the same - there are no unique abilities - but they have varying animations. For example, Minnie will wall climb with a pickaxe while Donald is tasked with using a plunger. Even in single-player, you can switch between characters each time you load up the game.

Disney Illusion Island /
Disney Interactive Studios

Dlala Studios and Disney have done an expert job at making sure that Illusion Island feels authentically Disney. There’s familiar voice talent, collectible Mickey memorabilia dotted around the map that references a variety of classic short films, and my favourite of all: hidden Mickeys. If you’ve ever been to a Disney Park, you’ll likely have spent time looking for hidden Mickeys. Etched into a paving stone, created via scenery design, reflected via lighting - they’re dotted all around the Parks, and they’re also dotted all around the island of Monoth. Spot a hidden Mickey and you’ll have the opportunity to capture it on camera. It’s a clever technique that’s so classically Disney, and yet also forces the player into truly appreciating the art of these environments instead of just speeding through.

The story cutscenes are of the highest calibre when it comes to animation, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Disney game. On the whole, Illusion island is very much in the same art style as Disney Plus’ The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse. Outside of the fun gameplay, Illusion Island’s story is both entertaining and satisfying. It’s a family-friendly tale, so yes, there are a few cliches, but as the story reached its conclusion, I’ll admit, I was surprised by a couple of sequential plot twists. By the time the story drew to a close, I was itching to embark on yet another adventure which is always the sign of a perfect game. Disney Illusion Island took me around seven hours to complete - and those seven hours flew by. I can only hope that the devs are dreaming up DLC or a sequel.

Disney Illusion Island /
Disney Interactive Studios

If you’re a seasoned fan of Metroidvanias and crave combat and action, Disney Illusion Island may not be for you. If you’re looking for a wholesome dose of Disney though, or an entryway into this genre, Illusion Island is a joyously fun gem with cross-generational appeal that I’ll be recommending non-stop to anyone who will listen. It’s undoubtedly one of the finest-looking games I’ve ever played on the Nintendo Switch and I had heaps of fun exploring Monoth’s expertly-designed sprawling biomes. In fact, while I’ve completed Illusion Island’s main story, I shall imminently be diving back in to scour this world for all the sneaky collectibles I may have missed. This is Disney’s best game to date.

Pros: wide array of obstacles and traversal techniques, high-quality Disney animation, a charming story

Cons: could bring in more complex obstacles slightly earlier

For fans of: Ori and the Blind Forest, Rayman Legends

9/10: Exceptional

Disney Illusion Island is out tomorrow, 28 July, on Nintendo Switch. A review code was provided by the publisher Disney Interactive Studios. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Disney Interactive Studios

Topics: Disney, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch