Disney Epic Mickey had a lot of expectation and promise riding with it before release, as well as a lot of talent and financial support what with game industry luminary Warren Spector heading up the title’s creative vision, and the backing of a multibillion dollar in the Disney Company.
As an adventure game that takes players across several different exotic locations (all based on Disney franchises and areas of the Disney Land/World theme parks) and allows you to meet a vast array of characters from Disney cartoons gone by, Disney Epic Mickey is an extremely rich title, filled with history, detail, care and vibrance.
As an action platform game, however, Disney Epic Mickey has a good amount of issues that make the richness of the title a little difficult to access, and with a fairly serious case of schizophrenia it becomes less and less of a value proposition.
Give it a chance to shine, though, and the game will reward you with its wonderful characters, world, atmosphere and story, and at the very least live up to its promise in bursts, glimmers and glimpses. Despite its problems, Disney Epic Mickey provides one of the most memorable experiences in recent memory, with an addictive quality largely missing from Wii (and even blockbuster) games today.
Disney Epic Mickey stars Disney’s ubiquitous mascot, Mickey Mouse, in his first original adventure in many years, with events in the game set off after he curiously (Read: Mischievously) dabbles with magical paint imbued with the ability to create worlds. Seeing no harm in meddling with a world currently in the making, Mickey adds his own flair with the magical paint and brush, but accidentally makes a mess of things by spilling an equally powerful liquid over this world – thinner!
Thinner destroys paint, and wrecks the world, but before Mickey can see the results of this disaster, he scurries off to avoid the wrath of the original creator of the world. Decades pass, Mickey becomes a superstar cartoon and icon in the real world and appears in dozens of Disney cartoons and movies… but one day, with no warning, Mickey is pulled into this ruined world (The Wasteland) by a vicious, mysterious monster (The Blot) before being caught by the equally vicious (but completely demented) Mad Doctor who is keen on extracting Mickey’s heart for his own nefarious use.
Nimbly escaping the doctor, Mickey sets off on an epic adventure to get to the bottom of this story, find out what’s going on in the world of Wasteland and why he’s here, discover why the place is filled with old and forgotten Disney characters and how he can help them, and meet up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the world’s hero and leader.
You and Mickey are aided by Gus the friendly, floating (and teleporting) gremlin who will help you with information in different areas, teach you the ropes and direct you on your quest to ‘fix’ Wasteland following the ‘Thinner Disaster’ (perpetrated by Mickey in the first place when he messed with the magic brushes back in his world). Story segments are stylishly related with minimally animated cutscenes with no spoken dialogue, save for little grunts, groans and guttural noises used to intonate speech.
In-game actions learned from Gus include the ability to perform a spin attack (initiated with a shake of the WiiMote), jump and double-jump, and shoot ‘paint’ or ‘thinner.’ Other than the opportunity to use special items later in the game, this is the extent of your abilities in Disney Epic Mickey, and with this simple array of input you’ll be able to enjoy a depth of play rarely seen outside of games developed by Nintendo proper.
Jumping obviously helps you navigate the variety of environments, and agile use of the double-jump action will come in handy as you climb and explore marvellously imagined environments, from haunted mansions, swamp-side towns and pirate coves, to jungle villages, towering spires and oppressive dungeon-like locations. Every area has express care and detail, but despite the developer’s best efforts Disney Epic Mickey, overall, looks a little drab and washed out thanks to low quality assets. That doesn’t mean the creativity on display isn’t impressive, and there were a few times I was staggered by how well the artists had framed and constructed the game’s scenes.
The core jumping and double-jumping action works perfectly fine and as advertised (which is just as well seeing as how this is an action platformer), but an element that greatly interferes with this admirably performing mechanic is ‘the camera’ of Disney Epic Mickey – it stinks.
If you’re running down a corridor, say, the third-person camera will do a fine job of following you down that path. Turn around a corner and the camera will still keep up with you. Try and do anything more fancy than that, and ‘things’ get a little confusing. Turning around and running back the way you came, for example, is too much for the camera. Trying to perform a complex series of jumps in and around surfaces of varying heights is too much for the camera. Moving into a little recess in the wall is too much for the camera. If an object moves between you and the camera… it’s too much for the camera.
Got the idea?
So imagine, instead of running down a simple corridor, you’re making your way up a tower, jumping from platform to platform, and constantly increasing the space between you and the ground, climbing higher and higher. There are moving objects on this tower, as well as suspended platforms you need to use to continue on up.
This is too much for the camera.
In the scenario outlined above, the camera will do its utmost to make the simple act of jumping as hellish and awkward as it possibly can, twisting this way and that and obscuring your view of Mickey with other objects so you’re not quite sure where your little avatar is, and where the next jump is.
You try to make that next jump. You fall. You try again. And fall again. Repeat ad nauseam. Then you try…
… sorry, I had to take a little break there – I started having flashbacks and my blood pressure went through the roof. I’m OK now.
So hypothetically, how could one continue to play Disney Epic Mickey without flinging one’s Wii controls into the ocean? Well, Junction Point included some camera controls to mitigate the camera issues, and these tools actually just about do their job – there’s a button to swivel the camera around to match Mickey’s forward-facing orientation in the world (so you can actually change running direction without fear of blindspots) and you can also go into a first-person mode to get a look at the world through the eyes of Mickey and plan your next move.
These tools definitely help alleviate the game’s poor camera system, but now and again, you’ll still have visions of the WiiMote stuck firmly in your TV, or some poor seagull with a headache.
Jumping will also help you with taking care of more than a few pesky enemies in Disney Epic Mickey, which range from ‘very easy’ to ‘kind of tough’ in difficulty. Most enemies can be stunned with a quick jump on the noggin or a spin attack, but you also have your ‘paint’ and ‘thinner,’ to assist in dispatching foes – this is where you get to start making some light moral decisions.
If you attack an enemy with ‘thinner’ (a destructive, evil property) you’ll destroy that hapless creature outright, but the more enemies you destroy with this method, the more Mickey tends towards the ‘bad’ side, which affects the story, how other characters react to you, and what those characters think of you. If you use ‘paint’ on an enemy (a constructive, good property), however, you’ll convert that creature to your side and it’ll become a friend, even joining in battles with you and fighting against other enemies – it can be quite a sight as a half-dozen little creatures scurry about to attack a larger foe!
Some enemies, however, can’t be converted with this method and the only successful way of taking care of more challenging opponents is by corroding away pieces of their armour to reveal weak spots, and then attacking them (for massive damage, naturally). Individually, these enemies are easy to deal with, but when grouped together it can get extremely tough to juggle even a handful of enemies at a time!
Take the camera ‘issues’ into account, and things can get difficult for all the wrong reasons, but if you use those camera control tools and you fight intelligently, these combat encounters can be quite rewarding. Add in the option to use different objects and abilities (an anvil to drop on enemies, a slow-down ability, and a TV to distract the weaker foes) and battles are always interesting and multi-layered. If you fail once, you’ve always got a myriad of other approaches to try before getting too frustrated.
‘Paint’ and ‘thinner’ isn’t only used during enemy encounters, though. You’ll also be using it all throughout the adventure to solve puzzles (by painting in or thinning out the clockwork cogs of a machine, for example), paint in progression paths (like bridges), find secrets and hidden paths (by thinning out pieces of the world) and decide on moral quandaries (by choosing one reward or path over the other, with a moral price). The more ‘paint’ or ‘thinner’ you use, the more your alignment will change, and the characters you meet in the world will either greet you or snub you depending. If you’re extra good, you may even win over Oswald himself!
To mix things up a bit, Junction Point has included 2D perspective platform sections in Disney Epic Mickey which act as transportation devices between each of the 3D locations. These 2D worlds are based on classic Mickey, Oswald and even Pluto (that dog thing) cartoons and movies and each is presented in the correct style – some are coated in low quality black and white visuals, others have better animation and fidelity, while others still (like the Pluto-inspired one) is presented in a neon-filled dream-like landscape.
As Mickey, you’ll need to navigate your way from one end of the level to the other (or from the bottom to the top), collecting in-game currency and secret items along the way. It can get a little monotonous having to travel from one ‘world’ to another via these 2D sections (especially when you hit the middle of the game and you reach what is essentially a hub-level from where you travel to a variety of other areas), and it would have been a nice option to perhaps skip 2D levels you’ve already played and simply warp to your destination instead. Most of them are short and fun enough, but when you’ve seen them a half-dozen times already…
Another gripe I have (not with the 2D levels, but the 3D ones) is that making use of the ‘paint’ and ‘thinner’ can, at times, be a bit of a pain. You use the WiiMote to squirt ‘paint,’ and the Nunchuck to squirt ‘thinner,’ while aiming shots of either with the WiiMote. Sometimes, though, the ground can get in the way of your shots (…2-3-4…) – the ground!
Mickey must be incredibly short, because if he happens to be on even the smallest, raised piece of ground, and you try and shoot down, the shot will hit the ground at his feet, meaning you’ll have to reposition yourself just on the edge (like, right on the edge) of the offending piece of geometry, be it a platform, grass mound or crate. It may sound like a minor grievance, but during play, it’s definitely not!
I’ll offset that bit of whinging by applauding the music of Disney Epic Mickey – it’s brilliant! If I was objectively rating each area of the game, the score would (ahem) score the highest by far. Sweeping orchestral themes, moody lulls, triumphant leaps, perfect background pieces, excellent cues – all amazingly well done and probably the greatest contributor to the game’s incredible atmosphere.
Disney Epic Mickey, at first blush (or two hours in) could seem to be a bit of a disappointment given all of the incredible promise, talent and content it had to boast. Iffy visuals, a poor camera system, a slow-moving story and uninteresting actions are all more than enough to put a person off.
But. Disney Epic Mickey requires more than a cursory glance and a single gameplay session to fully appreciate what amounts to over 12 hours of intriguing story, well written and interesting characters, expertly realised and crafted worlds, challenging combat and adventurous exploration, and a truly epic journey with a rare addictive quality.
There still lies the problem of the game’s schizophrenia, though – Disney Epic Mickey is a challenging game, no two ways about it, and adults may have a tough time completing some of the tasks laid out before them, let alone children. When the game is seemingly aimed at kids, but actually contains a darker story element than you might realise, hardcore gamers looking for a reason to dust off their Wii will find Disney Epic Mickey a difficult proposition. Patience is also required – that camera isn’t going to manage itself!
If you’re willing to massage the system, sit back and (try to) relax, Disney Epic Mickey will reward you with a magical experience. Black-hearted rage-quitters need not apply.