Castle of Illusion was one of the first games I played on the Game Gear and also my first Jump’n’Run overall. Honestly, I was pretty lucky in that regard, considering this was also a license adaptation. That could have gone a lot worse (thanks mom and dad for picking this one).
As an introduction to platformers, this game was really good. This was due to multiple factors. One was the “Practice Mode”, which was a rather unique thing at the time. What you got when selecting that is a very abbreviated version of the game. Like with the regular mode, you could select from three levels. Instead of the regular level, you’d play a very short version of it, with no boss fight at the end (just the magical jewel to collect), to get a feeling for the game. After completing the three short levels, the game presented you with a “practice ending”, encouraging you to try your luck in “Normal Mode” next. Memory is a funny thing, when looking at some game-play footage recently, those practice levels seemed even shorter than I remembered them, but it HAS been a long time since I played it.
Additionally, the game is comparatively easy on Normal, but not excessively so, there are passages you have to be careful in and just running through without care doesn’t get you very far. Without collecting upgrades, you only have 3 health stars at the start. Health regenerating pickups aren’t rare though, so if you’re a bit careful, you’re able to make good progress usually. The bosses have easily learn-able patterns as well, so after a few tries they don’t pose much of a problem anymore.
Besides game-play, this game also brings great graphics, music and sound effects to the table, especially for a handheld game that is limited to a pretty low-resolution display. The overall length of the game (on Normal Mode) was well suited for a handheld I think, once you got some practice in it. There are six levels in it, which makes it not too short, but also not so long as to require a password system. Howlongtobeat has it at around 2 hours length, which would put it easily below one battery charge. I had a lot of fun with this game back in the days. Not sure how often I replayed it, but it was several times, that’s for sure.