Disney Illusion Island review: An approachable but run-of-the-mill Metroidvania

The Wonderful Spring of Mickey Mouse, Disney Plus
The Wonderful Spring of Mickey Mouse, Disney Plus /

There's no shortage of Marvel or Star Wars games, but there's only a handful starring Disney's most iconic mouse: Mickey. Sure, Mickey Mouse has been seen in plenty of games, but very rarely do you get to play as him, let alone his friends, Minnie, Goofy and Donald Duck. Enter Disney Illusion Island, a new Metroidvania platformer for the Nintendo Switch.

For those unfamiliar, a Metroidvania is a sub-genre of action-adventure or platformer gamers. What sets this type of game apart is its gated exploration, requiring players to acquire special items or tools in order to access parts of the world that are otherwise inaccessible. Metroidvania games are no doubt popular but often require critical thinking or puzzle solving that can sometimes be a little difficult for younger audiences.

Disney Illusion Island takes this concept of a Metroidvania and makes it approachable for younger audiences. The game stars Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy as playable characters who have been invited to the mysterious island of Monoth for what they think is a picnic. As it turns out, the island's mysterious tribe of creatures really invited the four "brave" adventurers for a special quest to save the island from a perilous threat by finding and returning three magical artifacts -- Tomes of Knowledge -- that have been stolen.

So off they go on a platforming adventure throughout this mysterious island full of all sorts of dangerous threats. Not only must you avoid falling into damaging pits, but also dodge spiky cacti, weird blobs, electrical slugs and more. Unlike other Metroidvania games, the only way to deal with such threats is to dodge or jump past them; there's no direct combat, which is quite refreshing as this is a game meant for kids.

In addition to standard mobs, there are also occasional bosses. To defeat these bosses, usually requires you to solve puzzle sequences that damage them indirectly. When defeated, enemies are temporarily turned to stone instead of killed.

As you progress through the game, you'll unlock new abilities that help you reach new areas and heights. These are classic Metroidvania abilities like wall jump, glide, boost jump, etc. but with a fun Mickey twist. For example, each character's glide behaves the exact same way but they've each got a fun cosmetic to do so. Mickey, for example, uses a pedal helicopter for his glide, while Donald is given just two big feathers to flap together. In fact, it's a running joke in the game that Donald always gets the worst items. While the different items help accentuate the different characters' personalities, it reduces replayability since every character plays the same regardless. There's no real gameplay difference when playing as Mickey Mouse versus one of the other characters.

As far as difficulty, Disney Illusion Island is clearly geared toward younger players. As such, it's not a terribly difficult game. In fact, the only difficulty setting when starting the game is merely selecting how many life hearts you begin with. Making the game even more accessible for young children is an option to effectively make your character invincible.

As someone with two children, ages two and five, who love to play games but aren't quite ready for many of them, there are multiple features that I appreciate. The game features four-player local gameplay, with each player assuming control of one of the characters. One of the cool things is that the first player is effectively the leader, and the rest will follow them along. So if playing with a younger kid who can't quite keep up with the platforming, the game will automatically transport them to catch up. This allowed me to play alongside my kids and progress through the game while they just jumped around. Combined with invincibility, they were able to enjoy playing without fear of failing. Another benefit of playing with others is teaming up to perform abilities, like hugging which gives extra health or double jumping and dropping a rope to help pull them up to higher platforms.

The plot is told largely through an animated opening cinematic that's quite fun to watch. But beyond that, most of the rest of the game is told through text accompanied by character grunts and sounds. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but can be difficult for younger kids who are unable to read to follow along. While my kids love playing the game, they would've been more engaged with the story had it been told or shown to them rather than read.

At the end of the day, what makes Disney Illusion Island unique -- a Metroidvania aimed at young kids -- is also what holds it back. Its approachable nature also makes it quite easy for veteran gamers. Unless you're playing specifically for the Disney theme, veteran Metroidvania players will likely be bored by its redundant gameplay and general lack of challenge. In an effort to extend your time with the game, Disney Illusion Island does offer a ton of collectibles, including 91 Tokuns (collectible character cards), 69 Mickey Memorabilia, and 2,340 Glimts (spent to increase the number of life hearts).

Disney Illusion Island is a great game for young kids or fans of Disney, but its short length, lack of varied enemies and environments, and general easy difficulty make it a fairly run-of-the-mill game. It's a great introduction to the Metroidvania genre, but it doesn't do anything to expand on it. Again, there's enjoyment to be had here, but temper your expectations.