I love Donald Duck, a memorable character who accompanied me throughout my childhood and adolescence with his misadventures: I was a loyal subscriber to the paper magazines ‘Donald Duck‘ and ‘Paperinik‘ for at least seven to eight years and I have the entire PK collection still in perfect condition. In videogames, I voraciously ate Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers! and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow. So imagine my hype at the announcement of the imminent release of Disney Illusion Island, the new metroidvania starring Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, available for Nintendo Switch and developed by Dlala Studio: I haven’t played a Disney video game in like 20 years, how could I not be excited!
An island in danger and three tomes of knowledge to be recovered to save the world. I choose Donald Duck of course – not that it changes anything in terms of gameplay and that is a great pity – and start my run. Before proceeding with the reading, a brief preamble: I am very sorry I was not able to try out Disney Illusion Island’s co-operative, whereby up to four users can play as the title’s protagonists.
Disney Illusion Island: the only metroidvania I didn’t get lost in
Donald Duck always moves with his trademark gait, perpetually raging against the world and, frankly, I understand him too: the second power up I picked up to jump from one wall to another and thus reach otherwise inaccessible high points, is a plunger. The first? A firework. Minnie, Mickey and Goofy, on the other hand, have always received from the grotesque Mazzy – one of the many colourful characters you will meet in the approximately six hours of gameplay it takes to complete Disney Illusion Island – cool items such as jetpack, origami and so on (the skills to be unlocked are diverse and fun to use).
I am facing an island flamboyant in colour but also quite easy to deal with: the difficulty is never high and most of the game-overs occurred mainly during the platform phases, due to my general superficiality in performing the jump, which is essential to avoid the attack of the enemy on duty (which we cannot hit in any way) or to set foot in a new area. In addition, the high number of checkpoints allows you to proceed calmly and serenely. Forget long platform sessions to be learnt by heart after several unsuccessful attempts: at a rough guess, I would say we are faced with a save point every one to two minutes of the adventure.
I often checked on the map the direction to follow, pointing towards the dark areas where there is always something interesting to be found, be it collectables (between memorabilia and easter egg, the Disney collector might go crazy) or useful objects to continue in the story. Yet, I never got that feeling typical of metroidvanias – in all likelihood because of the low challenge rate – that makes you think ‘oh my God, if I continue in this direction, where will I end up‘. Therefore, I somewhat missed the thrill of discovery, of finding myself in areas where I was not supposed to be and running away from. Each biome, finally, confronts us with a boss fight that tries to squeeze our skills and reflexes: I died a few times against the Keepers of the Books, again because I tried to end the practice as quickly as possible.
What wonderful cutscenes
In short, Disney Illusion Island is not meant to be a complex game, except for the last two hours of play, where the difficulty increases slightly without ever becoming insurmountable. From a playful point of view, then, the work acts as a starting point for the metroidvania genre: start with a user-friendly production to become familiar with complex and interconnected maps, where you need to unlock the right skills if you want to proceed with exploration.
Howeverwhat really won me over were the interlude scenesthrough which Dlala packages an excellent cartoon on Nintendo Switch, in which there are lots of laughs, thanks mainly to Goofy and Donald Duck, protagonists of several gags and hilarious moments (no offence, a step above Minnie and Mickey Mouse in terms of comedy).
Just recently then, after I had a sumptuous binge watching of the three reboot seasons of Ducktales on Disney+ (speaking of returning TV series, here is a review of the latest Futurama season available on Disney+), I also watched a few episodes of the new series directed by Paul Rudish, The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse. The author breathed new life into the four Disney protagonists, characterising them with a fresh and modern visual style that we also find in Disney Illusion Island: in fact, I really felt as if I had become an active protagonist in a new episode of the series.
Pull the plug and laugh out loud for Goofy’s naive jokes; listening with pleasure the voice of Donald Duck (the dubbing is the same as in the cartoons) and admire its moments of harmless angerIn the end, it took very little for me to immerse myself in a product that, apart from its rather basic gameplay, is a rare commodity nowadays. I really needed a Disney video game that would take me back in time, and Illusion Island successfully manages to evoke that nostalgia effect I was expecting once I started the game.