Disney Illusion Island Preview: Playground Parkour

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Disney Illusion Island aspires to bridge a generational gap, bringing the spirit of 16-bit Disney platformers to the modern family-friendly co-op.

As Disney celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, it’s hard to go about your daily business without seeing the smiling face of Mickey Mouse somewhere. Yet, the mouse who “started it all” has somewhat faltered from at least one field—video games. He appears in plenty, either as a token inclusion in the roster of any ensemble game like Disney Infinity or Dreamlight Valley or as a powerful figurehead in the Kingdom Hearts series. But it’s been a full decade since he’s properly been the star of a video game, in the Epic Mickey series and Castle of Illusion remake.

So it’s all the more fitting that Mickey and his friends are poised to retake the spotlight this summer with Disney Illusion Island, a 4-player co-op platforming adventure from Dlala Studios and Disney Interactive Studios. We were invited to a special preview session at Disney’s campus in Los Angeles last week, and the game’s charm was truly infectious.

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Announced at D23 last year and shown again at last month’s Nintendo Direct, Disney Illusion Island takes heavy visual inspiration from the award-winning Mickey Mouse and The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse shorts—melding modern sensibilities with the classic cartoon spirit that made the company a household name.

As seen in its most recent trailer, Disney Illusion Island transports Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy to a new land called Monoth, where they have been summoned to find three magical tomes and save the adorable Hokun. To this end, they’ll have to traverse three diverse biomes, master some impressive acrobatic moves, and help the people of Monoth as they go.

Watching the intro cinematic (the full version of the exposition scene shown in the trailers so far), I almost forgot I was previewing a game, not a cartoon. With help from the current voice actors, Disney Illusion Island feels like another installment of those excellent shorts. The final version will utilize about a half hour of full cutscenes to help tell its story.

“The team described Disney Illusion Island‘s gameplay as ‘playground parkour’…”

Between the cutscenes, however, Dlala’s new adventure is every bit a playable cartoon in its own right. The team used traditional Disney techniques, mimicking the hand-keyed animation from the shorts that inspired it. Each character and enemy I saw in motion exuded that classic feel in-game—a feat perhaps only Cuphead can touch.

Our demo featured Minnie in a segment a couple of hours in, near the first major boss. Throughout the stage, both her style and the first biome’s unique platforming focus were readily displayed. The team described Disney Illusion Island’s gameplay as “playground parkour,” that feeling of being fully caught up in your make-believe games at recess as a kid. That perfectly sums up the feeling I got from watching Minnie gleefully bounce and float across the screen.

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The individual theme for Minnie’s movement style was “paper airplane,” which shone through as she floated between gaps or rose on air currents with a parasol. While I only saw her skillset in action, Dlala’s CEO & Creative Director AJ Grand-Scrutton described Mickey as a bouncy ball, Goofy as a slinky, and Donald as a slingshot. While each has the same pool of moves, they have their own unique animations and feel to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting.

Likewise, I only saw the single-player experience, but Disney Illusion Island has the potential to become a truly great local multiplayer experience as well. Bouncing around Monath’s imaginative world with friends, each with distinct cartoon physics sounds like a blast in itself, but the full game will go much deeper than that.

Settings will enable players to individually adjust their difficulty settings to match their skills or desired experience, even when playing with others. This could make Disney Illusion Island the contender to beat for Best Family Game at this year’s Game Awards. For instance, younger players can increase their health (or even set themselves to invincible) to prevent undue struggle or frustration. In contrast, older, more experienced players might want to impose heavier handicaps upon themselves by reducing their life.

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This inclusion is beyond welcome. The Nintendo Switch has plenty of 4-player couch co-op options, sure, but having spent a lot of time playing the likes of New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe and Yoshi’s Crafted World with my daughter, I’ve found that even cooperative games can become unnecessarily competitive when players can get in each other’s way or accidentally harm each other. Kirby’s Switch outings have been my golden standard, but Dlala’s thoughtful inclusions could very well raise that bar.

Disney Illusion Island‘s different tone also shone through in the boss fight I witnessed. “Fight” may be a strong word, even—these struggles are less of a bare-knuckle brawl and more of a platforming trial. This encounter requires the player to apply all the skills they’d just mastered in order to manipulate the environment, thwart the boss, and recover a tome.

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The textbox-based cutscene that followed showcased more of the game’s genuinely funny script (including a great callback moment from the intro) before Minnie raced back to the pseudo-hub world. Dlala has put genuine thought into changing level designs so that return trips feel just as fun and natural as the trip there. Even without the full context and only a glimpse of the other areas beyond the demo space, I was impressed with the environmental diversity on display.

I had a heartfelt grin on my face the entire time I watched this sample of Disney Illusion Island, and I foresee having a great time playing it with my family for years to come. Mickey and his friends have been overdue for a true return to the video game spotlight instead of riding in the background. By all indications, Dlala has nailed the right exuberant tone for their digital renaissance this summer.

It could be a hot dog day when Disney Illusion Island launches exclusively on Nintendo Switch on July 28.

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