The Curious Case of Castle of Illusion Scoring

I’ve participated in the RGB (@RetroGameBrews) High Score program on Twitter for the past couple of years, and, entering season 3, we’re tackling a lineup of SEGA Genesis game titles. The RGBHighScore series features 10 games (season one was NES, season two was SNES), which award points to qualify for an end-of-season tournament/elimination round. Season 3 began roughly a month ago, challenging players to get their highest score in Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse by SEGA.

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SEGA’s Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse as prepped for my “very serious” score runs for the RGBHighScore series.

Much praise gets thrown around for Capcom’s Disney series on the NES (sort of stretching over to the SNES with Aladdin), but SEGA handled the early 16-bit duties of launching Disney-based games, alongside Master System and Game Gear entries. Castle of Illusion tasks Mickey with entering the Castle of Illusion to gather magic gems that will form a path that allows him to rescue Minnie from the witch Mizrabel.

World of Illusion was my first SEGA Genesis game, so I don’t share the same love of Castle of Illusion as most people seem to, but I always enjoyed Castle of Illusion’s magazine coverage when I was a kid. Despite its popularity, I actually never played Castle of Illusion until 2004.

The platforming in Castle of Illusion is pretty straight-forward, with Mickey bopping enemies by bouncing on top them or throwing a limited stock of projectile items at them. It has a rich variety of environments to travel through, and its visuals and music still hold up to this day. By default, it isn’t terribly difficult, but it serves as a very satisfying casual stroll and it does have an active speedrunning scene.

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I had a few deaths in the World 4 stages, but I generated a solid, no-continue clear just shy of 400K.

Many people did a jog through Castle of Illusion for week one of RGBHighScore, and, by our estimation, a straight-laced approach to clearing the game (not purposely milking points on the endlessly respawning enemies) generally yields between 300,000-500,000 points. Some of the submissions received for the contest showed obvious signs of score padding, but it was handled in good spirits and it generated a conversation.

Looking at the score counter in Castle of Illusion, even though 500,000 is sort of the “peak” of a standard playthrough, the game sees fit to display score characters up to 99,999,999 – essentially 100 million points. That’s quite a spread to cover!

As I mentioned, I used to read about Castle of Illusion in magazines a lot, and a scoring tip from more than 20 years ago still stuck out in my mind. Some of the stages feature vines/ropes Mickey can swing from, and, if he strikes an enemy during this time, he takes it out. This make Mickey invincible, and, with the endlessly respawning enemies, the player can leave him to swing back and forth and take out ranks of enemies at 200 points a pop.

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The TOP SECRET Castle of Illusion tech, as printed in the December 1996 Tips & Tricks magazine.

The general intent of the tactic is to set the controller down for a little while, so players can come back later and have a stock of extra lives built up through point-based extends. However, as a joke, I thought I would leave Mickey swinging in an emulator as long as I could to witness how long it would take to reach the cap of 100 million.

Based on notes I took to record points milestones, on the first vine/enemy spawn point on stage 1-2, Mickey generates somewhere between 90,000-110,000 points per hour. Averaging that out to 100,000 points per hour, if we left Mickey to his own devices, it would take him approximately 41 2/3 days to hit the maximum score.

Running in an emulator, I sped the game up with frame skips to let Mickey rip and light up the scoreboard. As Mickey ran up 100 million, things started getting interesting, and it led to a nearly three-week experiment that surprised me a handful of times.

I’m sure many people are familiar with the lives counter in games such as Super Mario Bros., where, once you surpass the displayed digits, the game starts throwing in all manner of text and graphics to represent “values.” This is exactly what happened in Castle of Illusion, thrusting Mickey into the territory of “A-ty” million points once the score counter rolled over into the hundred millions territory.

The game proudly displayed letters of the alphabet before rolling into special font characters (+, -, =, “, etc.). The game then started displaying HUD details in the ten-millions digit, showing snippets of the apple graphic (Mickey’s projectile in the first stages), his power (health) spheres and his trademark silhouette (Mickey’s “tries” counter). It further shifted into the text featured in the HUD, displaying small combinations of the letters in “POWER,” “TRIES,” “ITEMS,” and “SCORE.” Even the HUD’s border got worked into the rotation.

After this point, the game started cycling in snippets of game assets that included Mickey himself. I eventually got to the point where the game cycled through variations and clips of the “sparkle” graphic that shows when an enemy is defeated. This happened several times before my save state corrupted this week, wiping roughly three weeks of experimentation. As far as my research shows, the game caps at “SPARKLE-TY million points.”

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But, it begs the question, if six digits is sufficient for a “normal score,” did SEGA expect kids to sit for a month and half and build toward a score that would roll through eight digits? Probably not, but it’s interesting the game can account for scores in the hundreds of millions even though 500,000 points is a “good score.”

To pull a quote from a user on Twitter, Mickey can feel free to come forward and accept his award from Twin Galaxies. He’s earned it.

mickeyday5

 

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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