Hands-On with Disney Epic Mickey

Warren Spector and the folks at Disney were kind of enough to bring members of the press out to Disneyland in Anaheim last week to talk Epic Mickey, and we got to spend about two hours messing around with various portions of a complete build of the game.

The first thing that’s striking about Epic Mickey is that it’s kind of huge. After the opening cinematic, Mickey is tasked with fighting his way out of the Mad Doctor’s lab, pursuing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and generally figuring out exactly which rabbit hole he’s tumbled down. The room is massive — it’s actually part of a bigger castle.

Before long, Mickey gets ahold of the brush, his primary tool for getting around The Wasteland. It works a lot like Mario’s FLUDD water-sprayer from Super Mario Sunshine, with the player aiming the reticule with the Wii Remote and shooting either paint or thinner at various objects and enemies. Paint creates objects in certain areas, which are portrayed as paintable with a thin outline. Bridges are created with paint pretty often, as are objects for completing puzzles like gears or weights to affect scales.

Thinner, on the other hand, annihilates things such as barriers and enemies. You can paint enemies as well, which converts them into allies until they’re hit with too much thinner by other enemies. Thinner and Paint play into Epic Mickey’s choice system, although to call thinner “evil” and paint “good” isn’t exactly what Spector is trying to achieve, he said. In fact, throughout the event at Disneyland, Spector kept returning to the phrase “play style matters.” Using Paint or Thinner in a given situation affects how it plays out — and even has effects on the game world as a whole — but neither is inherently bad or good. “I don’t like to judge,” Spector said of players’ decisions.

Spector also mentioned that players in test have repeatedly found ways to deal with situations in the game that aren’t the solutions the developers at Junction Point intended. He described a situation in which one staffer playing the game got to a point in the game that was designed to only be solvable by applying Paint — and eventually found a way to solve the problem with Thinner instead.

“For most developers, that’s a bug,” Spector said. Not so at Junction Point, however. Spector is excited that players can actually find creative ways to solve problems, and it allows more instances in which play style actually does matter.

Wandering through the castle, there are a lot of things that can be painted and thinned. Paint is fired out of the right hand using the B button, while Thinner comes from the left hand on the nunchuck’s Z button. That’s not to say everything in the game can be blasted with Thinner or Paint. Actually, the objects that can be interacted with in this way are pretty specific, and usually denoted with brighter colors (they’re “painted,” after all). But those objects are literally everywhere, and just about any time you see an object that’s can be painted or thinned, you should generally exhaust all options.

That’s because there are a ton of things to find in Epic Mickey, and many are hidden in plain sight in places you might not normally think to look. A staircase in the castle is the clear path not long after Mickey escapes the lab, but nail it with Thinner and it reveals a hidden collectible. Spector mentioned that there are hundreds of such things to find in Epic Mickey, and that doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration. The game is awash with Easter Eggs, unlockables and things to discover. At one point, Spector said the nearest anyone at Junction Point could figure, it would take at least three full playthroughs to see, do and find everything Epic Mickey has to offer. There’s an insane amount of content — Spector’s own first playthrough took about 26 hours, he said.

After a few battles and basic puzzle-solving in the castle, we left it for Mean Street, which is modeled after Disneyland’s Main Street USA and acts as a sort of hub between many of the game’s major zones. The transition is handled with a 2D level modeled after a Mickey Mouse cartoon — this one happens to be Mickey and the Beanstalk — and once you arrive on Mean Street, the game takes a decidedly more open-ended turn.

Take note: beyond here, you’ll probably find spoilers. Proceed with caution, or not at all.

Wandering around Mean Street, Mickey picks up a series of quests, a few of which are meant to push the story forward, and a few more optional ones. While the early stages of the game handle much more in the sense of a traditional platformer, hitting the Mean Street hub takes the game in an RPG-style, Deus Ex direction. Epic Mickey is pretty story heavy and there’s a lot of interaction with NPCs. You have access to a quest log to keep track of all your jobs, and the quests we got to mess with this first time through Mean Street were mostly of the “go fetch a thing” variety.

The tasks on Mean Street involved tracking down parts to run a projector found in the town, which served Mickey’s portal to other locations (think paintings in Super Mario 64). A few characters in the town had gears for the projector, and we had to fulfill a quest for each of the characters to get hold of their gear. One character asked for a book he’d lent to another character to be returned, so it was off to a nearby building to speak with the character who had that object. Another bit of dialogue sent us to another building to find the person who really had the book, and after speaking with that person and getting the book back, the first gear was ours.

After another few interactions to get the second gear, we had to fulfill a third collection quest to get a “spark” to power the generator. That involved finding a key another NPC was missing by thinning out a nearby manhole cover to discover a hidden area that housed the key. With the projector powered and running, we were bounced out to Mickeyjunk Mountain, a new area that hasn’t been announced before now.

The mountain, which is similar to Disneyland’s Matterhorn, is where Oswald waits. It’s a collection of all kinds of licensed Mickey merchandise, huge chucks of which can be thinned or painted to create paths and reveal different areas. We messed around at the base of the mountain and had to power a crane to reach the top of the mountain by painting in three TV sets scattered around the area. Everywhere were big pools of damaging Thinner that had to be jumped across or otherwise avoided.

Mickeyjunk Mountain is basically a huge garbage pile, like a landfill, but with a crazy number of objects that could be interacted with. Thinning out one object revealed three number codes, and Mickey could then punch those numbers into a huge nearby Mickey telephone by jumping onto the keys. The codes did various things, like open up new areas that held collectibles. The number of things to do was kind of crazy.

Also located at Mickeyjunk were Oswald’s bunny children, which are not quite enemies but who have a tendency to freak out when Mickey is nearby. They cling to you and slow Mickey down or hamper him entirely, and the only way to get rid of them is by using Mickey’s spin move to throw them off. A shake of the Wii Remote trigger’s the spin move, which also has its use in combat by bouncing enemies away and for solving puzzles by turning gears and switches.

After sufficiently exploring the base of Mickeyjunk Mountain and powering the crane, we skipped ahead to Mickey’s fateful meeting with Oswald. The Lucky Rabbit is actually Walt Disney’s first major cartoon character, and while he was popular in the 1920s, Disney eventually lost the rights to Oswald and he became the first of the forgotten characters who populate Wasteland. Oswald explains his irritation with Mickey for having the life and fame that should have been Oswald’s — Mickeyjunk Mountain is the physical embodiment of Oswald’s jealousy — before deciding to work together with Mickey to get him out of Wasteland. Forgotten characters populating Wasteland don’t have hearts, but Mickey does: that’s what all that stuff with the Mad Doctor in the opening cinematic was about. Since Mickey has a heart, he can exist in the outside world, and so the characters just need to get him out of Wasteland. To do that, the characters decide to head over to Tomorrow City to use a rocket there to help Mickey escape.

The next big portion of the game has Mickey searching for rocket parts to rebuild the ship and leave Wasteland. We skipped over that and went straight to a boss fight, in which Mickey headed to Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger to retrieve a rocket part from the pirate’s grasp.

Hook himself isn’t a Wasteland character, seeing as he hasn’t been forgotten. The Hook we had to fight was an animatronic version of the character. Arriving at the Jolly Roger, we got a taste of Epic Mickey’s choice system at work.

There are two ways to battle Hook, who bounces around the deck of the Jolly Roger using various machine tracks and barrels. One route requires the heavy use of Thinner, and the other is all about Paint. How you choose to deal with Hook affects the game going forward, and while we never did make it back to Mean Street, apparently choices made in situations like the Hook fight have a physical effect on that town and other places as well.

The Thinner route had us going toe-to-toe with Hook in a typical combat situation, although it had a decidedly puzzle-solving aspect. Hook uses gears scattered around the deck to change the tracks, and he seals off the plank that Mickey used to get aboard the deck using one such gear. First off, we had to get Hook to extend the plank and connect the tracks by rotating them in such a way to eject him from the Jolly Roger.

In order to do that, we had to blast various barrels that Hook appeared in to attack us with Thinner. Hook had several attacks — shots of Thinner as well as bombs — and we had to spray down his barrel with Thinner in order to make him vulnerable. Using the spin attack on an unprotected Hook sent him flying down the track he was on, as did using the spin attack to bounce a bomb back in his direction. When Hook went down to the end of certain tracks, he’d hit a gear that would change how they connected.

After a few carefully planned attacks against Hook, he had connected one long track to the plank, and then extended the plank over the water below, as well as an animatronic Crocodile. Another Thinner attack and one more spin move sent Hook flying down the track, off the plank, and then down to the Croc below. Finally in the clear, we were able to thin out the wall protecting the rocket piece and be on our way.

We also got to try the fight again, this time taking the Paint path. Using Paint was literally a path unto itself — rather than fight Hook at all, we had to use Paint to recreate a thinned out staircase and reach the upper deck of the Jolly Roger. After painting in a few more platforms along the way, we were able to reach the sail rigging: our job was to cross it to free Sprite, a Wastelander fairy not unlike Tinkerbell.

The Paint path is all platforming and puzzle-solving, but it all takes place under the angry harassment of a Thinner-throwing Hook. By spraying Paint at the thinned out sails of the Jolly Roger, we were able to create a path across the ship. Painting in the sails would cause them to rotate toward Mickey, creating a path. Hook actively works to thin the sails and cause the path to shift back, so in addition to trying not to get killed, you have to keep hitting the sails with Paint to be able to jump from place to place.

This version of the fight was tougher in some ways and didn’t involve engaging Hook at all. Finding the way across can be difficult, sometimes requiring Thinner to remove objects in the way, and other times looking for platforms that aren’t extremely obvious. We jumped from sails to crane platforms and back again, all the while dodging incoming fire from Hook. A sail further on moved up and down and had two big sandbags placed on it, which had to be thinned out to move forward. Then we had to paint in another sandbag to raise a sail further on.

When we finally got across all the sails after a few falls and mismanaged jumps, we reached Sprite’s cage. A spin attack freed the fairy, who quickly flew off to find Pete Pan, a version of the oft-appearing Disney bad guy Pegleg Pete. Pan showed up immediately afterward in a cutscene to do battle with and distract Hook, while we snagged our rocket chunk and left in peace.

Depending on which path we chose to take through the fight with Hook, we received a weapons upgrade at the end. Beating Hook with Thinner meant we got an additional segment added to our Thinner meter, which depletes as you use the ability but can be recharged slowly over time or by finding Thinner items in the environment. Conversely, completing the Paint path meant an increase to the Paint meter.

Final Impressions

We only got to see a series of smaller portions of Epic Mickey, and they didn’t exactly flow in a logical order, but what was there was lots of fun and felt like it was full of freedom. Mean Street had lots to do, and it seemed like there would be a fair diversity in quest activities (there are apparently “more than 100,” as one Junction Point staffer told me, but he wasn’t sure as to an exact figure).

Platforming and the Paint and Thinner mechanics were also pretty satisfying, although hopefully the aiming mechanic gets a bit of a tweak before Epic Mickey is shipped. Trying to shoot objects got a little difficult because of other objects that didn’t seem to be in the way but apparently were. That’s a bit of a nitpick, but it did seem to make it harder to quickly make use of Paint or Thinner when the situation warranted quick action.

The only other possible issue with Epic Mickey is difficulty. Once we had a fair handle on how to get Mickey around and how to handle Hook, the boss battle went pretty quickly. Battling Hook with Thinner seemed harder at first than it actually ended up being, and while falling off the platforms on the Paint path happened once or twice, after figuring out where Mickey needed to be, we blazed through that portion as well. Hopefully there are some slightly more challenging battles, puzzles and obstacles ahead in the story.

That said, Epic Mickey does, in fact, feel epic. The game comes off as massive and with a high degree of possible interaction, as well as conveying a feeling that your choices are very important for how you move through it. And there’s a lot to do, find, and experiment with.

Got your own hands on Epic Mickey? Use our complete walkthrough to help yourself out!

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