When Warren Spector, of Dues Ex and Thief fame, was announced as the Director of the new Mickey Mouse game, I was shocked. Generally Mickey’s forays into the video game world are overflowing with cuteness – something Spector doesn’t really project in his games.
Now I’m no stranger to Disney – I used to live ten minutes from the Magic Kingdom, I own almost every animated feature on video, and I love all the classic SNES Mickey titles. If you’re like me, odds are you’re going to get more enjoyment out of Epic Mickey. If not, read on to find out why you may want to be more cautious.
The premise, like most Mickey Mouse cartoons, is fairly simple. Mickey wanders into the home of Yensid, a powerful Disney sorceror, and screws up a tiny magical world that he’s been creating. A powerful evil force sucks mickey into the world, where he has to deal with all the chaos he created, in addition to some old friends that have fallen by the wayside; including his bitter and forgotten brother, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Once you jump into the new world, the narrative is pretty straight forward from there: Mickey has to “set things right while balancing his difficult relationship with his brother”. We’ve seen it all before, but Disney fans will most likely see this as something 80 years in the making, as Oswald was actually supposed to be the original Mickey Mouse, before the character was stolen due to a contract loophole: which lead to the creation of Mickey himself. Basically, almost everyone is out to get him.
Mickey won’t be going in powerless, however. At his disposal are two pretty simple tools – thinner and paint. In Epic Mickey, there are tons of “hollow” bricks, blocks, and characters that need to be “filled in” by paint – which allows you to interact with them, or use them to get across a gap. By using thinner, you can erase set walls and eliminate enemies. When attacking enemies, you have to make the decision to either erase them forever, or paint them into allies – using one over the other will affect how Mickey looks (similar to Fable), and his moral standing; which I’ll get to later.
The control scheme itself is remarkably similar to the Mario Galaxy series – movement is controlled by the nunchuck, and attacks are controlled by shaking the Wii-mote and aiming at the screen to fire your projectiles. While it’s not nearly as tight as other 3D platformers, it gets the job done for the most part, as the vast majority of the platforming isn’t too difficult. However, people who are tired of waggle at this point will probably be disappointed, as you’re required to raise your arm up and point at the screen for just about every platforming section in order to paint or thin out obstacles, or shake the remote violently to break every single vase or barrel in the game.
But the real problem isn’t the controls, it’s the camera: it never really does what you want it to, which is distressing given how much platforming the game has. Speaking of platforming; while it may seem at first glance that the game is entirely “open world”, in reality, it is basically just a platformer with closed hubs. Think of it kind of like Banjo Kazooie in that you sort of have freedom where you want to go, but you have to go to certain places that are linked together by small caves and tunnels. While that is completely fine with me, it doesn’t break any molds, and certainly isn’t on par with an Elder Scrolls game when it comes to being “open”.
In addition to the 3D settings, every once in a while, you’ll find a projection screen that links you into a 2D platforming world reminiscent of an old Mickey short: these sections are easily the best part of the game. It’s just platforming in its most simple form – no annoying camera, no drab backgrounds – just raw fun. In fact, Epic Mickey could have just been released on the Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and WiiWare fronts entirely based off these sections. Sadly, they’re extremely short, and over before they start: so don’t expect a whole lot of gameplay out of them.
While Spector claims the game has RPG elements – it really doesn’t. The “quest screen” is basically the star summary screen from Mario Galaxy: in that it barely describes what you need to be doing, and the tasks are fairly menial – and by menial, I mean get ready for lots of fetch quests. The guardian system (fairies that are attracted to you depending on how much paint or thinner you use) is also pretty bare-bones – they don’t really do anything spectacular in terms of gameplay, and the entire moral mechanic ends up just feeling unnecessary, and thrown in just because Spector liked it from his past games.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t contain full voice acting – in fact it doesn’t contain any voices at all – they’re just gibberish, and as a result, the ”N64″ style speaking feels really outdated. We’ve heard Mickey speak in recent games like Kingdom Hearts (even on the PS2, last generation) – it wouldn’t have been a stretch to give anyone voices, given how Spector and Team did have the full backing of Disney, and full access to Disney resources. Whether it’s hardware constraints, budget issues, or time management is yet to be known, but the game would have easily benefited from full voice acting.
Epic Mickey really fails to become exciting for anyone but the most hardcore Disney fan until really late in the game. But by then, you might be asking yourself if it was worth $50 for a haphazardly designed platformer.
While the visuals aren't "bad", per se, they just aren't as sharp as a lot of other Wii titles on the market.
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Epic Mickey's controls aren't nearly as tight as other first party titles, and the aim/shake mechanics are feeling a bit tired out.
The jibber jabber voicework was outdated last generation, but Jim Dooley's soundtrack is, for the most part, great.
The main story is around 15 hours or so, and multiple playthroughs will let you experience more content - provided you're excited enough to play it again - and do all the extra boring quests.
Epic Mickey could have been a much better game than it ended up. If you're a Disney fan, I'd highly recommend picking it up: if not, you can pass this one up without too much fret.