I Wish I Grew Up With A Metroidvania Like This

My first Metroidvania was Super Metroid and it’s still my favorite by the way. As a seven-year-old, I had never known true terror until I was trapped in Kraid’s lair as a massive beast appeared from the ground beneath me. The tone and atmosphere had a profound effect on my taste and the music stuck in my memory. I learned so many basics from Super Metroid that I could build upon in my gaming career, and I don’t know if I would have developed such a passion for gaming if I hadn’t had such a formative experience playing Super Metroid.

But even Super Metroid makes me feel like shit. I started playing it when I was seven and didn’t actually finish it until I was a teenager because parts of the game are almost impossible. To this day, I struggle to jump out of the quicksand in Miridia and escape through a block-wide hole in the ceiling. I’m just as mad trying to make that leap now as I was when I was a little kid. I also get lost. Despite having completed the game at least a dozen times over the years, I still find myself wandering around not knowing where to go next. All these years later, I’m still using the Super Metroid gameplay guide and think I must be a moron.


A lot of people don’t like Metroidvanias and I bet it’s because they tried Super Metroid when they were kids and it bugged them. Over the years, the genre has pretty much stuck to the level of challenge set by Super Metroid. Hollow Knight, Ori, and Cave Story are all considered Metroidvania masterpieces, but they’re all mechanically incredibly challenging and somewhat inaccessible.

Kids and other inexperienced players deserve an introduction to Metroidvanias that won’t overwhelm them, which is why I’m so excited about Disney Illusion Island. I spent some time with Dlala’s new co-op platformer at the Play Days Summer Games Fest this past weekend, and I came away thinking that this is the kind of game we’ve always needed but, for whatever reason, never had. The interconnected world of Disney Illusion Island and the freedom to explore have the power to inspire the same love for Metroidvanias that Super Metroid has for me without making you feel like you’re crap at video games.

As you can imagine, Disney Illusion Island is not pure Metroidvania. In fact, the developers at Dlala prefer the term Mickeyvania (and would really love it if everyone could do it). Its familiar elements are a large continuous map and item-based progression and transition. There’s a lot of exploring, a lot of upgrading, and a lot of backtracking to reach new areas that were previously inaccessible.

What he doesn’t have is any kind of fight. Lead designer Grant Allen explained that at the start of development, the team had a white board covered in stickers labeled with all the design elements they needed to tackle, and as they checked things off their list one by one, the sticker marked “combat” eventually became one of the last remaining. After some thought, they realized that the only reason they even wanted to include combat was because it was a major part of the genre. They agreed that it wasn’t actually suitable for the game, so Disney Illusion Island has no combat .

The game is built entirely on a strong platform and fluid movement. The developers envisioned each of the adorable four as toys: Mickey is a bouncy ball, Donald is a slingshot, Goofy is a bouquet, and Minnie is a paper airplane. These objects each determine their own animation and the energy with which they move through the world. They all have the same abilities and earn the same upgrades throughout the game, but their personalities are expressed through their movement, which really brings these familiar characters to life.

While chatting about the development process, Allen and I flew through a few different biomes, and I was surprised by how much fun it was to run around together. I never looked at a map and had no idea where we were going – luckily Allen did – but I had a blast running, wall jumping and setting up around the world as we searched for switches to activate and keys to collect. I could wander around Illusion Island for hours without any guidance or fear of failure, just enjoying how tight the platforming is and how interesting the world is to explore.

Accessibility has been built into the foundation of Disney Illusion Island. There’s a huge menu of customization features to tweak things like the number of hits you can take and the number of jumps you have. Each player can customize the game in their own way, so the amount of challenge can be increased and decreased for everyone, even when playing together.

As a certified Disney Adult, I have many reasons to look forward to Disney’s Illusion Island, but as an older gamer, I’m also very interested in the types of gaming experiences children are exposed to today. Illusion Island is an amazing transition to hardcore metroidvanias like Metroid and Hollow Knight, and I wish I had a ramp like this when I was growing up instead of blowing my thumb while trying to spin a quicksand jump. Disney Illusion Island is coming exclusively to Nintendo Switch on July 28th.

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