Disney Epic Mickey Review
The “epic” in Disney Epic Mickey is a bit of a misnomer. Vast Mickey? Yes. Engrossing Mickey? Most definitely. But the game fails to ever find “epic” among its many qualities, largely because it lacks a degree of challenge and because its core game play isn’t so much about doing huge epic things as it is about small, menial ones.
Down to its simplest form, Epic Mickey is a 3D puzzle platformer. The game is at its best when you’re staring at an object in the distance, trying to work out how to get to it. In between sweeping, cleverly built 3D levels are shorter cartoon-inspired 2D ones that trade up the gameplay and bring the game back to its old-school roots. Taken together, those qualities could have helped the 15-hour long or so Epic Mickey find itself ranked among some of the better platformers of this generation.
Disney Epic Mickey (Wii [Reviewed])
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: November 25, 2010
It’s such a disappointment, then, that the game is hamstrung by minor weaknesses that quickly pile up, and feel like they should have been fixed back in the days of the N64, when games like this were first coming to the fore.
There are times when Epic Mickey is a joy to play, and others when it’s absolutely irritating. But there’s a framework beneath that saves the game on many occasions, born of a deep and abiding reverence for the Disney source material at heart here. There’s a reason most of the trailers for the game up to now haven’t really showed off the game, but rather, feature the people who made it talking about how deeply they cared about what they were making. It’s also the reason it would probably collapse on itself if it were any other game.
Epic Mickey takes the iconic Mickey Mouse into a world called The Wasteland, a place created by the Fantasia sorcerer Yen Sid to be home to all of Walt Disney’s forgotten creations, be they cartoons, animatronics, or something in between. It was largely constructed and run by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the cartoon Walt first created back in the late 1920s that was replaced by Mickey after the rights to the original character were lost in a contract dispute. Mickey was created in his stead and went on to be world-famous; Oswald, forgotten, cobbled together a world in the image of Disney, but filtered through his vision. Thus, the entirety of Wasteland is based rather painstakingly on things like Disneyland rides and classic cartoons.
It makes for an ambitious game, in all respects. For one, the very gameplay conception demands the player rethink platforming and exploring the world, because as you move through it, you have the ability to reshape the Wasteland. Mickey carries a magic paintbrush that allows him to either paint objects into the world (in certain places — paintable objects are silhouetted), or thin them out to eliminate them (again, only the certain ones that are painted). Walls, platforms, the ground beneath your feet — much of it can be manipulated on the fly, and so solving puzzles demands imagination, and creates a lot of the game’s best moments. Every puzzle and most battles have more than one way to be completed, and so the game design of Epic Mickey becomes more like a conversation between game creator and player. Here are your tools: play the way you see fit.
How you deal with the world and the characters using these tools is a key portion of the game and the story. While the big brain behind the game, Junction Point’s Warren Spector, has said that paint and thinner, are not supposed to equate one-to-one with good and evil, in practice this is more or less the case. Your choices to destroy objects and enemies or to create and redeem them reflects the rewards you receive and what areas of the game you’ll be able to access, as well as the story. And while Spector said that he doesn’t like to judge characters’ gameplay choices, when it comes to Epic Mickey, you have a pretty good idea early on from other characters that thinner is the Dark Side, and will leave Wasteland potentially worse for your having influenced it.
Still, paint and thinner, creation and destruction are interesting concepts for a video game to tackle, and these are places that Epic Mickey really excels. The story, too, has a rich multi-dimensionality that hovers around similar concepts. For one, Mickey is a fully fleshed-out character, working through a world where he can be its hero or just another villain. In truth, he’s already a villain — it was his meddling that put Wasteland in peril to begin with, after he accidentally created an evil force called the Phantom Blot and spilled thinner all over Yen Sid’s model in the game’s opening cinematic. There’s a question of responsibility, as well as conflicted feelings from Mickey about his own success as he deals with characters that idolize him or despise him.
And Oswald is a dynamic character himself, with his own conflicting desires and perceptions. He feels a connection and sort of brotherly love for Mickey, as well as empathy for him, at the same time as being jealous and angry with him for his success and Oswald’s ultimate failure. As Mickey more or less invades Wasteland, Oswald’s overall goal is to encourage Mickey to just leave — the younger brother is overshadowing the older once again as Mickey battles through this world and reshapes it. The story of Mickey and Oswald is the best part of the game, and helps pull players through the slower and more tedious portions of the experience.
And there are definitely slow, tedious things to be dealt with, which is why “Epic” Mickey isn’t really an indication of what this game is. Most of the game is actually about working through large areas, hopping around and exploring them, while occasionally dodging enemies or speaking with other characters. Demure music permeates the towns, as do numerous fetch quests. Mickey is most often occupied by finding some object or person to get some other object or person to do something.
When a boss or major battle interrupts the (somewhat boring) fetching and the (much more fun) exploring, it can be exciting but never to the degree that players will be blown away. These situations are more interesting on an intellectual level than a visceral one, mostly because they don’t ever feel dire or challenging. Each boss can be dealt with in a sort of classic fighting style (with thinner), or by finding a more diplomatic and difficult solution (employing paint). These are the real challenges 0f the game — the easy path versus the hard one, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
That’s not exactly epic, though. None of the challenges Mickey faces are very challenging, which is probably a direct result of the Disney/Junction Point philosophy of “entertainment for everyone.” Spector has touted the idea repeatedly in the run-up to Epic Mickey’s release, and it makes for a nice slogan. Hell, it even works when applied to some works, like those of Pixar. But it doesn’t really translate for a video game, because interactive entertainment for a 5-year-old and a 25- or 45-year-old are rarely the same thing. The game maintains its kid-level of difficulty and ability requirements more or less throughout, and that can detract from the level of excitement it can build.
When Epic Mickey does get difficult, though, it’s not because of the plans of the designers. The game suffers from controls that aren’t really up to task with what the game sometimes demands, and a camera that must constantly be wrestled into submission in order to get the right view of the action or the path ahead. These two flaws seriously weaken the experience as a whole, and when they join forces, they create some stupid and frustrating situations, as well as quite a few cheap deaths.
It’s almost impossible to gauge Mickey’s ability to make a jump — ever. He’ll constantly fall short of jumps that seem well within his reach. Worse, it’s impossible to tell whether a jump is just simply impossible from a certain position or if you’re just doing it wrong, which will often lead to death after death as you attempt to reach a place you’ll later realize you were meant to approach from a different angle.
Overshooting jumps can also be a serious problem, and Epic Mickey often lacks the precise controls of something like a Mario title that would allow you to handle problems like that. You can usually work through it with some practice and luck — provided the camera is cooperating at that particular time. Just as often, it won’t; the camera will go to a fixed position and you’ll be unable to move it (or access the first-person view that can usually help you divine where to go next), or you’ll only be able to move it in tiny, useless increments. It also loves to get hung up in corners and around structures — resulting in pointless deaths. Many times, the solution is to jump away from where you want to go in hopes of being blessed with an angle that allows you to see what you need to do, then go back.
The amount of attention paid to the Disney world and the story create the framework that keeps Epic Mickey propped up, though, and that will often offset the sometimes broken portions of elementary gameplay. I’m not much of a Disney fan, but it’s hard not to be infected with what is clearly an intense respect for the creations and imaginations of the visionaries behind Epic Mickey’s inhabitants and setting. Classic Disney fans will have a great time in Epic Mickey, whether it’s completely fun to play or not. People without such a foundation might not have such a great time.
It seems that since so much time was spent watching old cartoons, reading over blueprints, recreating places like Space Mountain and Main Street U.S.A. in a digital form and dreaming up Disney Epic Mickey’s interesting and intelligent story, that the designers at Disney Interactive Studios and Junction Point spent a lot less time on the basics. As such, Epic Mickey suffers a lot of stupid problems that detract from a potentially amazing game and make it only a pretty good one.
But despite its flaws, this is still a title that should be played for its many great high points, good ideas, and story. There’s still a lot about Epic Mickey to get excited about, and a lot of things about it that are very fun. All the good parts about Epic Mickey make pushing through the bad ones more than worth it.
- Paint and thinner system encourages players to be creative in solving problems
- Interesting, fully fleshed-out story
- Strong implementation of choice and consequence
- Massive world that’s fun to explore
- Lots of cleverly hidden collectibles and rewards, some accessible only through certain play styles
- Vision of the Disney inspired world is deep and engrossing — a lot of time was spent on setting and characters, and it comes through in the experience
- Appealing style and reverence for the source material that’s hard to ignore
- When it functions properly, there’s some great platforming to be found
- All the attention paid to the game’s lofty concepts and larger world left basics of good video gaming ignored
- Repositioning the faulty camera will occupy a lot of players’ time
- Controls aren’t very precise and get annoying; jumping is hard to control and aiming doesn’t always work the way it should
- Never really lives up to being “epic,” as players have a lot of menial quests and activities to complete
- Kid-friendly difficulty means everything feels a little too easy
Final Score: 79
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