Disney Illusion Island - A Metroidvania For All
The Metroidvania. This beautiful, hybrid genre has long been a favourite of the hardcore gaming community, but for decades, despite the beloved nature of the sub-genre, Metroidvania’s have been hard for the less-versed players in the community to access. Their backtracking and exploratory nature often overwhelmed those who attempted to access them, and for those with the skill set to actually best the challenges the game put in front of them, many weren’t familiar with the structures of the genre, and the plentiful numbers of surprises nestled in waiting for the player explore. Disney Illusion Island, the newest title from Battletoads (2020) developer Dlala Studio is now on the verge of release, and it’s made one of the most accessible Metroidvania’s we’ve ever seen, offset by being one of the more monotonous available.
A dark threat looms over the island of Monoth, and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, have been lured to the island to find three magical books and save the island inhabitants from this threat. The plot is simple, but the delivery is largely quite entertaining, with Donald forever being the brunt of the joke, and the core cast and bounces off of each other, as well as the various periphery characters quite well. While the story itself is pretty forgettable and progresses in weird ways that only a modern Mickey Mouse narrative can head in. It’s lame, but it works, and it will undoubtedly be great for a younger target demographic.
As a Metroidvania, a bit like the narrative, Illusion Island keeps things pretty simple. All four characters play the same way, jump the same distances and can perform the same tasks, each with a different skin and cosmetically different items that act in identical ways. Players will run, jump, wall jump and conduct a small number of other basic platforming skills to navigate their way around the sprawling Monoth map, but it is there where the problems begin. While the game is incredibly generous with checkpoints, the enemies and obstacles you have before you are incredibly simple and limited that you’ll quickly learn how to overcome everything that the game throws at you with ease, often making many of those checkpoints redundant. The fast-travel system is introduced incredibly late in the piece which means that players need to navigate their way through the same, quite basic, quite repetitious environments, multiple times, with little reason to stop and explore. Little joy can be derived from revisiting locations, and while there are opportunities to scoop up some nice throwback collectables, there’s little else to do, meaning players will be eager to breeze through the game. For newer players, the Metroidvania-lite approach will be well-received, and might serve as a great jumping-off point for players to explore more in the genre, but for the more experience among us, the fairly empty environments will quickly grow tiresome.
Disney Illusion Island features four optional protagonists and grants you the ability to share the experience with others in couch co-op. It’s yet another family-friendly decision that makes the game even more suitable for the younger, less experienced demographic while playing with others certainly makes the dull trekking across the large map, more palatable.
One of the things that will immediately catch the eyes and ears of prospective players are the games wonderful presentational qualities. From classic themes, exceptional voice acting, and a beautiful, hand-drawn art style, Disney Illusion Island engages the eyes and ears in all of the right ways.
Disney Illusion Island is brief, a standard playthrough is likely to span 6-7 hours or so with that varying dependent upon how completionist you are. The duration is about right, with the tedious levels of backtracking through fairly sterile environments growing tiring fairly quickly, but upon collection of the three books, the game comes to a fairly rapid end, thankfully not thrusting more upon the player, and bloating the game out to beyond a point of frustration.
Disney Illusion Island has a target audience, and it monumentally succeeds in addressing the needs of that audience, but as a Metroidvania, which will of course be picked up by some fans of the genre, it’s lacking in ways that will leave those core fans wanting. This is going to be a child’s first Metroidvania, and some of those kids are going to dive deeper into the genre, so of course, Disney Illusion Island is an incredibly valuable title, but for the entrenched, it’s certainly not a must-buy.
Disney Illusion Island was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia