Illusoria fails to cast its gruesome spell.
Illusoria is the product of every platformer to come out within the past three decades, but it fails to build upon its predecessors in a meaningful way. It is filled to the brim with dated mechanics and dead horses long beaten. Illusoria would be a decent game for a student project, a third-place winner at a weekend game jam. Everything seems to work, but that’s about as much credit as I can give it.
There is plenty of room for growth and innovation in side-scrolling platformers. Ori and the Blind Forest, Salt and Sanctuary, and Shovel Knight are all excellent games that have brought something new to the genre. Even as they bank on nostalgia, these games use vivid art styles and innovative mechanics to make something truly unique. Illusoria fails to bring any of this to the table. Its style is bland and its content is frustrating.
A journey nowhere bound.
The Prophecy states that a Pupper Master will emerge from the mysterious void. This malevolent entity can manipulate creatures around him and corrupts the very ground he walks. When the kingdom’s princess realizes that the Puppet Master has come to wreak havoc, a grey-bearded wizard reminds her that The Prophecy also foretells of a hero that will save the world. This is the Keeper of the Flame, and—if you somehow had not already guessed—the protagonist.
Your hero begins his journey in a crumbling ruin. He must dodge all manner of deadly spikes and man-eating plants as he escapes. His demeanor seems serious but becomes emotive as he’s brutally slain by traps, monsters, and environmental hazards. Gruesome deaths are the singular unique thing about Illusoria. They look much more like they’ve come from the Tomb Raider reboot than a cartoonish platformer. It is just enough to give Illusoria the smallest amount of character; later levels add more to the macabre tone but fail to leave an impression beyond mild disturbance.
Murderous monsters harken back to anything and everything.
Early areas have a few basic enemies that behave more like environmental hazards than real opponents. One plant-like enemy shoots exploding orbs and another uses its tongue to pull the hero into its grasp. Both seek to punish hasty players, but only slow the game down to a tedious crawl.
Other enemies behave like more traditional monsters. Giant stag beetles scurry across the floor, pushing the player to sprint desperately onto the next platform. The worst monsters, however, are giant eye-gouging mosquitoes. It is no exaggeration to say that they were the bane of my existence in Illusoria’s first hour. They are absolutely massive, and if you touch even a pixel of their hitbox you can say goodbye to your eyeball… and a good chunk of your brain. Maybe these mosquitoes would have been less frustrating if the controls weren’t slow and clunky.
Back to the basics.
Dull levels are designed like chocolate chip cookie dough in a cookie cutter. There are wide gaps to leap over, tall vines to climb, gruesome spikes to avoid, and crumbling platforms to sprint across. Crumbling platforms don’t seem to respawn even after waiting around or leaving the room and coming back again. This makes for frustrating parts of the game where missing a non-fatal jump forces you to kill off your own character to progress.
Illusoria is fully content with condemning the player for a single mistake. There is no health meter to manage because any hazard can instantly kill the hero. Some games manage to pull this off, but unresponsive controls make it more irritating than challenging. Whenever the protagonist lands, for example, he skids across the platform like he’s on an ice block. Even a seemingly perfect jump can turn into a slip and slide into the pit of spikes below. Your only option is to jump again but any hope is dashed while you wait for the landing animation to come to a slow and weighty stop.
The long and the short of it.
If I wanted a lesson in rote memorization I would rather study the periodic table than play Illusoria. Completing a level is an exercise in remembering every little jump and crouch along the way as you die over, and over, and over again. Once you’ve finally nailed the timing you will likely bump into another frustrating section just ahead. Checkpoints are rare and have no visual indication, so you’ll be stuck repeating that process until you finally reach a moment’s rest. By that, I could only hope for the sweet release of closing out the game.
I cannot safely recommend Illusoria to anyone. There is little that it can pride itself on and even less that it does well. Anyone interested in the genre can find dozens and dozens of titles better than it on Steam alone. If you throw in modern consoles, the last generation, and three or four generations before that—you’ve got a rich history of platforming left to dig into. Just leave Illusoria off your backlog.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Badland Games ; Developer: Under the Bridge; Players: 1; Released: May 30, 2017
Full disclosure: This review is based on Steam key of Illusoria given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.