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Disney Epic Mickey


Mickey, yes! Epic? Not so much.
If you have ever seen an interview with Warren Spector about his reverence for everything Disney, then you would be hard pressed to believe that Epic Mickey was going to be anything but a rampant success on the Nintendo Wii and certainly one of the best Disney related games in the past 10 years. And to a certain point, Spector achieved his goal of creating one of the most impressive storylines and use of forgotten animated characters in a Disney video game. Unfortunately, the developer (Junction Point Studios) didn’t put the same amount of love and care into creating entertaining, fresh gameplay for this Disney platformer. But more on that in a moment.

epic mickey disney steamboat willy

The narrative in Epic Mickey revolves around Mickey’s journey into a dark, forgotten wasteland of Disney characters. Mickey has inadvertently harmed the world that these characters lived in and allowed the Phantom Blot to wreak havoc in their world. It’s up to Mickey and the other members of the wasteland to reverse the problems that he’s created as well as defeat the Phantom. Mickey is joined by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the first popular animated character that Walt Disney created, but had to abandon due to a disagreement over usage of the character. (Oswald returned to Disney in 2006 when Universal traded the rights as a minor inclusion in a trade to get Al Michaels to NBC Sports.) Oswald, in many ways, is Mickey’s long lost relative and really doesn’t care for the mouse that much. Interestingly, Mickey’s actions within the in-game world directly affect Oswald’s opinion of him.

The presentation of the cutscenes is really phenomenal and is at the core of what makes you want to continue playing. Spector and company actually contracted to a separate studio to specifically create the emotional cutscenes and the result is nothing but stellar. The cutscenes are some of the best that I’ve seen on the Wii and drive the internal development of the characters as they grow and learn about each other. Key to the development of the story, there are moral choices given to Mickey along the way. With the ability to control paint and also thinner, the problems that Mickey is presented with can be solved by solving the puzzle with paint or skipping the puzzle by erasing the problem. As an end result, the final cinema clip in the game is altered by Mickey’s choices in the same fashion that we have seen in games like Fallout: New Vegas.

epic mickey disney paint landscape

Sadly, this is where the accolades end. The control setup is one of the main problems with the game in combination with the difficult camera and the repetitive design of the game tasks. The game alternates between 3D platformer view and a 2D side-scroller view on different levels. The controls are a bit loose in regards to controlling Mickey and that doesn’t translate well into the 2D world. You will end up dying far too much due to the inexact nature of the control scheme and terrible platform detection. Add in a camera that you have to constantly fight with for the entire game and playing the game becomes a chore. Whoever designed the camera was an idiot as it gets stuck all the time on areas that have nothing to do with the action. Trying to fix the camera though the directional pad rarely works properly and is vastly frustrating. If that weren’t enough, you have to grind away at a pile of silly fetch tasks to progress the story.

Combat is tough to handle while trying to balance the camera issues, but the idea is novel. Enemies can be turned into friends with the application of a bit of paint or they can be destroyed completely by using paint thinner. You just have to figure out how to move and keep the camera angle on the enemy at all times. Boss fights are also solved in a similar fashion, but typically require a bit of thinking to finishing them off. I just wish there were more instanced boss fights throughout the game and less fetch quests.

epic mickey disney platform cow jump

Graphics

There are a variety of visual achievements and faults in Epic Mickey, more achievements though. The environments are really amazingly crafted and will remind you of the Disney parks as well as scenes from the movies / cartoons. Characters, while somewhat limited in their actions, are animated wonderfully. The game runs smoothly for the most part, but there are noticeable framerate drops during the action scenes; fights for instance. It doesn’t hamper gameplay, but it can get distracting at times and reminds you of the Wii’s limitations as a piece of gaming hardware. Still, the dark, depressing Wasteland is brought to life beautifully by the developer.

Audio

Oddly, there are no voiceovers in the game, pretty shocking considering the source material. Mickey has one of the more recognizably cartoon voices and they choose not to include it or any other original voice. Characters are instead voiced with sound effects of the murmuring variety. They do a decent job of giving the characters more personality, but it really seems like a missed opportunity. The musical score, however, is really spectacular. It was created by James Dooley, a composer that’s worked on the score of Pushing Daisies (one of my favorite shows in the past 10 years) as well as games like Infamous and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. He does an exceptional job of creating a moving, original score that narrates Mickey’s journey with music.

Conclusion

It's unfortunate that Epic Mickey has such a nasty barrage of poor gameplay design choices as the story is absolutely top notch. The frustration of dealing with the problematic camera angles and the general malaise that sets in during the repetitive missions will turn away many players. It’s really amazing to see a story built around these forgotten Disney characters and, in some ways, see them come back into the limelight. If you or anyone in your family is a Disney fanatic, there’s definitely lots of value to be found in seeing how the entire story turns out. Just be wary of the smattering of control issues in the game. While it’s definitely not the best platformer released this year on the Nintendo Wii, Epic Mickey is worth playing for the narrative and the 14 to 16 hour journey is likely enough to keep you playing through the end of the year. Recommended.



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