Reviewed: December 14, 2010
Released: November 25, 2010
Released a few weeks ago, Disney Epic Mickey has proven more challenging and time-consuming that this editor cares to admit, and not so much in game design or gameplay, as just the mental conditioning it takes to stick with this game to the end. I admittedly had high hopes considering the pedigrees of all involved and the unprecedented access Disney was allowing Warren Spector and his newly founded studio to have to their legendary vaults of previously inaccessible material, and for the most part those expectations were met. |
I’m sure the designers had just as much pressure put upon them by the watchful eye of Disney overseers as I felt playing this game. On the surface, Epic Mickey looks impressive, sounds amazing, and is chocked full of delightful content that will charm those plastic ears right off kids and their parents. And speaking of parents, I would caution those with younger kids that once again the ESRB has failed in their duty to inform. Epic Mickey has some scary parts not to mention certain sections of levels and boss fights that are quite challenging, even for adult gamers. – easily an E10+ game.
The story for Epic Mickey is quite simple in premise and even lends itself to the primary game mechanic. In the opening movie Mickey sneaks into a parallel world behind the looking glass and discovers a wizard's laboratory. Poking around, he accidentally unleashes an evil entity and spills paint thinner on the wizard’s latest creation – the original concept for Disney World – as he stuffs the monster back into his jar. Mickey retreats back through the mirror before getting caught by the wizard and unknowing of just how much harm his actions have caused, but it will be months later before the Phantom Blot stretches out his inky tentacle and drags poor Mickey back through the mirror and into the world he has corrupted.
Thankfully, Mickey was able to grab that magic paintbrush on his way into the vortex and this is his (and your) tool to repair the damage you have done and set things right. One of Walt Disney’s first characters was Oswald the rabbit, and this relatively obscure character proves to be your arch nemesis throughout the game. Oswald is in charge of the Wasteland and always proves to be just outside your grasp. You’ll have to explore all sorts of new, original, and even some oddly familiar environments in your “epic” journey.
Warren Spector opted for a minimalist approach to the overall presentation of Epic Mickey, which is perhaps why it is best suited for the Wii. Simple cel-shaded graphics, simple architecture, and heavy use of primary colors work well on the system, plus the motion input of the Wii-mote is perfect for replicating the point and paint gameplay required in Epic Mickey. Carefully crafted into the exploration, puzzle solving, and even the combat is a slick system whereby you paint the world around you, either recreating blotted artwork with fresh paint, or dissolving existing ink with thinner. Your use of thinner vs. paint is tracked with a carefully balanced system that will ultimately determine how certain parts of the game play out and how others interact with you. You can be the renaissance hero or the destroyer of worlds.
The concept is quite brilliant from a gameplay standpoint, especially in keeping with the whole artistic theme of the game and the premise you are actually inside a living cartoon. This level of surrealism is carried over even further in moments where you are allowed to jump into a movie screen and play out any of numerous classic Mickey moments; some, like Steamboat Willy, in traditional black and white.
One thing worth special mention is that all of the mid-game cutscenes are animated versions of actual storyboards created by the in-house design team. These assets are typically unseen by those outside the studio, and I’m sure those unsung artists were just as pleased to see their work celebrated as I was watching these conceptually brilliant story moments.
The soundtrack for Epic Mickey, created by Jim Dooley, is quite astounding, mixing in all sorts of hauntingly familiar tunes and twisting them into Wasteland appropriate themes. If you thought the real Small World theme stuck in your head, wait until you hear this. For as inspirational as the music is, it manages to lurk in the background, tweaking your emotions in just the right way as demanded by the current situation. Minimal voice work and narration kick off the adventure but we are left with grunts, squeaks and subtitled gibberish for the in-game conversations.
Epic Mickey is a fairly linear adventure and despite have a few hub-world moments you are generally told where to go and what to do, but you’ll have to figure out how best to accomplish your mission. Often, the completion of one quest is only part of solving a much larger puzzle, and you always have to weigh the decision of using paint versus thinner in instances where both are viable options. As in real life, destroying something is often the easier choice, but it could make your journey that much harder later toward the end of this 15-20 hour adventure.
While painting might seem intuitive with the Wii-mote, moving Mickey around as well as fighting with a clunky camera system will wear your down fast, especially as the level designs become more complex and jumping puzzles work their way into the mix. Surprisingly enough, some of these lack-of-precision control issues are more pronounced in the 2D movie levels than the main 3D adventure. Camera issues plague the 3D game for much of the adventure and despite being able to center or even manually control the camera, many portions of the game disable your camera controls for presentation purposes. Truly, the controls and camera are far more deadly than any boss in the game.
Epic Mickey is an animated love letter to all things Disney. It captures all of our favorite characters plus some we had forgotten about, or some we never even knew. Kids will certainly love the game, even if they need help getting past difficult parts. They’ll likely have the patience to endure the controls and camera more so than adults. And yet, despite some critical flaws, the charming visuals, inspired music, and a lengthy story mode with a ton of collectibles, Disney Epic Mickey still manages to make it to my top ten Wii games of all time.