Thursday, August 21, 2014

Platformer Analysis: Castle of Illusions

As preparation for creating our own platformer we’re analyzing a platformer tutorial level. I chose a game I recently bought on steam called Castle of Illusion. I bought this game mainly because of my unhealthy obsession with Disney, mainly the theme parks and Mickey as an iconic figure, but that’s another story. While the game is simplistic and not extremely innovative, I believe it is a solid, challenging, and aesthetically appealing basic platformer.

Castle of Illusion is a reimagined 3D platformer originally made by Disney and Sega for the Sega Genesis, but updated for current and last gen consoles and PC. The story is pretty simplistic, Minnie and Mickey go to the woods to enjoy a “picnic”. However, the evil witch Mizrabel, (The Queen from Snow White in her old hag form) has always been jealous of Minnie’s youth and beauty and conjures a plan to steal it. Mizrabel turns day to night and casts a storm over the land, as the lightning flashes and Mickey shields his eyes, Mizrabel captures Minnie and whisks her away to her castle.

Basically the Disney version of the whole Mario, Peach, and Bowser thing.

Mickey must platform his way to Minnie, by collecting gems throughout various levels in order to create a rainbow bridge that connects Mizrabel’s castle to the tower in which Minnie is trapped.

You get occasional hints from the narrator, who also carries the story throughout the seemingly unconnected levels, and there is a list of “hints” if you open the options menu, but otherwise the tutorial level is very simple and straightforward. The tutorial actually only takes under a minute to complete, and the layout is paced with obstacles one after another. The tutorial really doesn’t need to be longer, the pace was fast while still being comprehensive and easy to digest. The tutorial phase never gets extremely challenging, but it’s fast enough and ramps up the difficulty at a quick enough pace as to not be a bore.

Obstacles presented are tall and narrow jumps, one stationary enemy, and one mobile enemy. The positive feedback comes mostly at the end when you know you've made it past the gate to Mizrabel's castle, knowing you've arrived at your destination and you're on your way to save Minnie is a satisfying feeling. Negative reinforcement comes from the fact that if you fall off a platform, you'll have to try again, which can get tedious. Another negative is running into the enemies rather than jumping on or over them. If you hit the enemy you lose stars, and if enough of Mickey's stars are lost he dies, meaning you restart the level at the beginning.

You begin with the very basics, move forward and jump over this obstacle.

You jump over the log into a small trench that leads to a taller more challenging jump than the log. This implies that players should hold down the jump button for slightly longer to complete the higher jump.

As I mentioned before this tutorial moves fast. Directly out of the trench you're made to platform onto taller more narrow ledges.

From the wooden ledges you hop onto the cliff, where you meet your first enemy. The soldier guarding the gate. He doesn't move, just stands. But the wooden ledge attached to the gate implies that the player can reach it. Being that the door is guarded and your only experience so far has been jumping and moving forward, the only option is to jump onto the soldier's head.

Jumping on the soldier's head propels you to the ledge

After the ledge you're introduced to a moving enemy, which moves forward with no sign of stopping. The only option is to jump either over him or onto his head.

After this, you arrive at the castle, which is the portal for the next levels.

While these are not part of this tutorial level, I felt it worth mentioning that slightly more complicated mechanics are introduced on an as needed basis in following levels. For example, in the next level you are introduced to the throwing projectile and swinging mechanics. The pace at which these extra mechanics are introduced is enough to keep the game interesting and fresh, but not fast enough to overwhelm or alienate the player.


Apples that can be used as projectiles against enemies.

Here's a full video of my play through of the tutorial level:

And here's a layout I created based on the tutorial level. 

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