Ed: Please welcome new guest author Jeff Heimbuch with this excellent review
When you think of video game stars, Mickey Mouse isn’t exactly one of the first to spring to mind. In fact, he might not even be on the list that is populated by Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, and so on. However, Warren Spector and Junction Point Studios want to change that. While the House of Mouse isn’t exactly known for its video games, Spector wanted to bring Mickey into the fold and introduce a brand new concept that would help him join the ranks of his video game colleagues.
Did they succeed?
In my mind, absolutely. Epic Mickey, while some times flawed, is a great way to bring Mickey Mouse to stardom in the world of video games. Not only that, but Spector was given the task of reintroducing the world to Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Walt’s original creation, who has not been seen in a Walt Disney production of any kind for over 70 years.
The story is simple: Mickey enters his mirror into the world of the wizard we all know as Yen Sid, where he stumbles upon a model made with a magic paintbrush. Mickey accidentally creates the Shadow Blot, whom he tries to erase with paint thinner. Instead, he causes more of a mess, turning the model into a world filled with chaos. Escaping back to his home, Mickey thinks he is safe. That is until one day, many years later, when the Shadow Blot comes through his mirror and drags him into the Wasteland he created, which has become home to Walt’s forgetting creations. Mickey must restore order to the Wasteland and defeat the Shadow Blot to regain the trust of Oswald and return home.
To me, bringing Oswald back into the world of Disney in this way was a genius idea. Oswald is the older, half brother to Mickey. Forgotten to time, he has observed his younger brother’s accomplishments through the years, and has become slightly resentful of them. He wants the respect and attention that has always come so easily to Mickey, and he tries to mimic it in his world.
The design of the game is great. Wasteland is an oddly twisted version of the Disney Parks, with things you may recognize and things you probably won’t. According to the in game story, Oswald, the benevolent ruler of this place, recreated some of Walt’s finest creations to make the residents feel more at home (and to try to be more like his brother). While they are slightly twisted versions of the real thing, it’s still very interesting to see how far they veer in some of the recreations. Tomorrow City, The Bog Easy, and Ventureland all look pretty familiar to most, but are not quite what we remember them as.
All of the inhabitants (and even some locales) of Wasteland are other forgotten characters from the vast catalog of Walt Disney’s past. Old favorites such as Clarabelle Cow or Horace Horsecollar play supporting roles and appear throughout the game, either helping you along your journey or providing interesting side quests for you to complete. There are even some distorted versions of characters we already know and love in Wasteland. Goofy, Donald, and Daisy make an appearance, though as mechanical versions of their real selves that Oswald created to keep him company. However, my favorite by far is the many incarnations of Pete. Pete has always been a thorn in Mickey’s side, but here, he can be very helpful. Pete shows up in many different versions in Wasteland, all related to each other, and each one funnier than the last. You’ll see what I mean when you come across them!
To get to and from these the open world areas, Mickey must use projection screens as a means of transportation. These screens bring you to a world that plays like a traditional side scrolling game. Each one is based on an old Disney animated short, and brings them to life in a new way. While you will do a fair amount of back tracking through these levels and they are often repetitive, I found them to be one of the highlights of the entire game.
Epic Mickey plays like a cross between some of the more popular platforming games. Junction Point clearly isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, which is definitely not a bad thing. It makes it easier for most gamers to pick up and play the game with ease. The one new thing they add, which has been touted for months as a revelation to gaming, is the paint and thinner aspect. The Wii Remote acts as the magical paintbrush, which Mickey can use to paint things back into existence or thin them away into nothing. It’s a novel concept that works quite well, but only to a certain degree.
While being able to defeat your enemies by either painting them into creatures filled with love or by thinning them out of existence is fun, it does get to be somewhat tiresome after awhile. And though they claim you can paint and thin practically everything in the game, this is far from the truth. While I understand the need to NOT let players completely destroy the world around them (because then you’d be left with a world filled with nothing!), it would have been fun to have a little more variety in the things you could do with the brush.
For example, almost every building has a part of it that you can “thin out.” This makes it helpful to reach hard to reach areas and acquire secrets you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. But the key word there is “part” of every building. Only a tiny portion of the world you erase or paint can be altered. And on top of that, once you leave an area, everything you did will go back to its original state, no matter what. It’s a minor annoyance, but one that makes sense given their “good or mischievous” system.
Yes, much like other games such as Fable or Mass Effect, this game also touts a system in which it keeps track of how good or mischievous you are. While there is no real “meter” to see what side you fall towards, you can generally get a pretty good idea of what side you’re leaning toward by your actions. Using a lot of thinner and the inhabitants of Wasteland aren’t too friendly toward you? You can generally assume you’re a little bit naughty. Mostly painting the world around you, and helping local populace?
Then it’s the good path you are following. It’s even possible to straddle the line a bit, weighing your options on both sides of the fence. Your actions in the Wasteland will affect the world around you somewhat, just not in major ways. If you lean more towards the mischievous side, certain side quests will be closed off to you. However, other ones that you would never see if you were good will now be granted. Even the endings are different, depending on how you play the game and the choices you make. This really helps the re-playability of the game, and makes it more interesting.
And replaying the game is exactly what they want you to do. Much like the real theme parks, you’ll come across pins throughout your journey. Depending on your actions earns you different pins, most of which you can only receive while leaning toward the good or bad side. While serving no real purpose in game overall, for the true Disney fan, it’s a fun little challenge to try to collect them all. For the real rewards, you’ll want to collect the film reels found in the 2D transition levels. Every ten reels you collect you can trade in at the theatre on Mean Street for an animated short that you can watch from the game’s main menu. While most of these shorts can be found across the Internet, it’s still fun to be able to watch these old cartoons on your TV.
The biggest complaint in the entire game though, and one that will even deter a few people from ever really finishing, is the camera. Again, like most other games, the camera is a point of discontent. Junction Point Studios was smart enough to add in a “camera center” button on the control scheme, making it easy to get your bearings again in most places, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. The camera really fails in enclosed spaces, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to see the action. It’s not really a problem in the beginning of the game, but more towards the end I found myself getting more and more frustrated by not being able to see the action and dying in the process. It’s my only real gripe with the game, and to be honest, it’s one that regular gamers are already familiar with.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music as well. While it’s not the sweeping score that accompany Disney films or theme park shows, it’s pretty amazing stuff. Jim Dooley, a seasoned veteran of other countless scores, has created a soundtrack that’s already been nominated for the Best Original Video Game Score award by Hollywood Music in Media. Much like the rest of the game, expect to hear some familiar jingles that are slightly different, along with some other really fantastic new musical pieces. Hopefully they will release a CD of the music soon.
All in all, if you are a Disney fan, Epic Mickey is definitely a must play. Even for traditional gamers that aren’t necessarily Disney fans, it should provide a new and unique experience. I would highly recommend it for anyone, and I look forward to the next entry in this soon to be classic series.