How Dlala Studios Is Constructing Mickey And The Pleasure Of Moving In Disney Illusion Island


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Disney changed its strategy for gaming years ago. After years of exclusive Star Wars contracts with EA, movie tie-ins, and mobile releases, it hired former PlayStation portfolio boss John Drake to head its games licencing division because it saw the potential to connect its global audience to the most financially successful entertainment sector in the world.

Since then, we’ve gotten titles like Marvel’s Midnight Suns from Firaxis Games and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor from Respawn Entertainment, among others. The future of video games based on Disney properties is promising, especially with upcoming titles like Star Wars: Outlaws and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora from Ubisoft. However, those games were created through licencing agreements, just like the majority that made use of Disney intellectual property. Disney Illusion Island differentiates itself from the competition in one important way: it is the first game to be produced by Walt Disney Games, which means it might be the first success or failure with Disney’s direct involvement.

I can confidently state that I believe Disney has a hit on its hands after playing Illusion Island for about four hours during an exclusive hands-on preview, including 30 minutes of 3-player co-op. If nothing substantially alters after the game’s first three hours, fans of Disney, platformers, and Metroidvanias, as well as their kids, are in for a treat.

Illusion Island has a stunning visual that confidently and distinctively straddles the recent, top-notch Mickey Mouse shorts that have been airing for a decade and Mickey’s Toontown design. Illusion Island’s cutscenes have a very Mickey Mouse-like vibe to them as a result. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy appear to be alive throughout the games. Despite the fact that each character runs at the same speed and makes identical moves, variations in animation give each character a unique vibe. For instance, Mickey moves like a great animated character come to life, whereas Goofy lumbers as he platforms. The fact that real actors are voicing these characters increases the sense of authenticity.


Illusion Island director and CEO AJ Grand-Scrutton explains how Mickey’s entire history—rather than just the newer material—inspired the game’s aesthetic. “I definitely adore the new stuff, but it’s Mickey’s entire history,” he says. I’m a huge fan of Mickey’s cheeky, naughty behaviour from the 1930s and 1940s, when he did things he probably wouldn’t do now.

We had a lot of fun hand-animating four of history’s most well-known personalities. There are a lot of goofy animations there, but our main concern was our happiness.

How Dlala Studios Is Constructing Mickey And The Pleasure Of Moving In Disney Illusion Island2

With Illusion Island, Dlala also built a new realm named Monoth for the larger Mickey canon, complete with several unique characters. When I inquire about expanding the illustrious canon of Disney, Grand-Scrutton trembles. No word, he claims, scares him more than “canon,” but the team did its best to come up with a “beautiful story for Mickey Mouse and companions to continue on,” and if it turns out to be one that is mentioned elsewhere by Disney, he’ll “probably cry for two weeks straight from happiness.”

When discussing the game, Grand-Scrutton, lead designer Grant Allen, and the rest of the team I spoke to emanate enthusiasm. It is the team’s commercial product, and Dlala has been working on it ever since the Xbox Battletoads revival’s development was finished in 2020, but I detect true affection for Disney in every response I receive. The staff is knowledgeable and has studied not only Mickey Mouse cartoons and features but also the culture surrounding the character, including its history, theme parks, and more.

Illusion Island’s Metroidvania-style environment is littered with Memorabilia Bundles, and as I gain new skills like an extended boost leap, wall jumping, and ground pounding, I can find new items that unlock sections of Mickey Mouse history that have been reimagined in Dlala’s design. I discover Pete’s Underpants from The Prince and the Pauper from 1990 as well as additional footage from Lonesome Ghosts, Grand-Preferred Scrutton’s Mickey Mouse short from 1937.


In addition to reinventing well-known Disney characters and items, Dlala’s also created Tokun cards to honour the 37 employees that worked there. These memorabilia items offer lore regarding original characters, creations, and team information. Keh, who lives in Monoth’s Gizmopolis and paints everyone who comes, represents a Dlala artist by the name of Rachel. Based on a different Dlala crew member I come across, Grand-Scrutton enthusiastically reveals the history behind each in-game character’s artwork and “legend.”

I liked the platforming in Illusion Island as I travelled from Terrarium Town in Pavonia, which resembles a more natural area of Monoth than the mechanical underbelly of Gizmopolis. This suggests that Illusion Island is more about the enjoyment of exploring than the difficulty. When platforming across Monoth, there are tens of thousands of Glimt money pieces to find, and the more you gather, the more lore you unlock. You can also find dozens, if not hundreds, of collectibles like Tokuns and Memorabilia Bundles.

Illusion Island doesn’t seem to be a suspenseful adventure. I won’t deny, though, that I passed away or was “marked.” Disney’s laws state that characters like Mickey and his pals cannot pass away; therefore, when they get stamped, they are changed into mail that respawns at different mailbox checkpoints.

Given that kids make up a significant portion of the target market, this is not surprising. Yet there are built-in options to adjust the game’s difficulty. You decide a character’s heart count when you choose them. In addition to setting an unlimited number of hearts, you can choose one, two, or three. Characters can hug each other to win hearts, leapfrog off each other for simpler gap clearing, and drop ropes to players below, letting them completely skip platforming elements in multiplayer. Fans of 1992’s World of Illusion may recognise these features.

Illusion Island’s “Mickeyvania-type map was created by Dlala and includes a number of high-quality life features. The crew calls a small creature that appears to be a hidizard; it seems to signal that a concealed location has already been investigated. A question mark shows on the map whenever I come across a pathway that I can’t entirely investigate yet. I notice a new marking there that mimics the skill I presently possess that is required to advance when I eventually get the necessary ability.


Allen informs me that Illusion Island does not feature traditional combat and that Dlala made an effort to strike a balance between enjoyment and skill advancement. That translates to enjoying the capabilities of Illusion Island’s mechanics after having played it myself. It’s not about climbing a hill covered with innumerable adversaries who will kill you at the first sign of error. Most of the adversaries I run into just seem like people living on Monoth who occasionally move and act dangerously, rather than being actual enemies.

That is, until I encounter the game’s first boss, a thief who is in possession of one of the three tomes Mickey and his pals are supposed to retrieve for Monoth’s sake. She is seated with a shield in the middle of the screen. I platform over incoming blades and other dangers to rise a little bit higher on the enormous arena-like stage rather than attacking her straight. I jumped on several yellow buttons to decrease her shield. A hazard falling from above harms her after the shield is down, and after performing this a few times with increasing risks for me to platform around, the fight is done. I enjoy how this boss battle simulates conflict without actually engaging in it, and I’m interested in how Dlala fills that gap in future fights.

Grand-Scrutton declares, “I detest boss battles in video games.” It’s simpler to list your least favourite boss battle than your best, right? Hence, we go over the objectives of what we’re attempting to achieve with this feature [the boss fight] for our artistic vision. This is the emotion we want the player to have, and since we all aspire to be like Imagineers, we borrow a lot of it from their method.

“I believe the idea behind [this boss fight] was that it ought to resemble a little level in some way. Instead of seeing the boss as an adversary that must be defeated, it was about viewing bosses as a single screen level. And it shifted to focusing far more on putting skills and movement together to create something like a puzzle. Combat wasn’t missed by us. That just seemed to match the rest of the game and felt correct.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the score David Housden, who also created the score for Dlala’s Battletoads, has provided for this boss and the remainder of what I play in Illusion Island. It immediately sticks in the mind, is whistling-worthy, and fits in perfectly with the rest of Disney’s outstanding music library. It most reminds me of strolling around the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, which begins with lovely whimsy on Main Street before veering off into the various kingdoms of the park. It is easy to see how Disney’s separate approach to theme park lands inspired both Dlala’s design and Housden’s tune, given that Illusion Island’s Monoth is divided into several lands and biomes.

This team has unmistakable Disney expertise; it is aware of the company’s rich and famous history and incorporates it into fluid and enjoyable platforming, a colourful and spacious setting, and a fresh but well-created interpretation of some of the most well-known mascots in the world. It’s working for me so far on every level, but these kinds of games are all about increasing the amount of exploration, so I won’t be able to assess that until Illusion Island launches on Switch in July. Given that, please consider me content to join the queue that will form during the delay before the release. I hope the complete ride is worth the wait when it’s waiting for me on the other side.