In my 20 plus years on this earth (okay, okay, more than a few plus) I have been privy to very few epic moments. Sure there are the monumental moments that affect us all and even individuals in my personal life (yes you my darling wife) that have gone on to become outstanding personalities, but I cannot quantify specific moments or events that have earned the epic title. Therefore, it behooves me to think that a game developer would be so bold as to label a sequel as such. Now I know that the title is in reference to the events that take place in the game and that said events were showcased in the original title, however such a bold statement is akin to a nine year old exclaiming that ‘this is the greatest game ever’; absolutely unfounded and without merit.
The original Epic Mickey was introduced in 2010 with exclusive distribution for the WII entertainment system. This title was touted as a more mature take on the famous mouse with darker tones and even darker story. But as the launch date approached the exclusivity of the game with the WII became clear as it was revealed to be a kid’s game with a unique idea.
So here we are in 2012 and Junction Point Studios is sharing the limelight with Blitz Games Studios in order to bring the “Epic” title to a wider gaming audience. Now on the XBOX 360, surely this should have a deeper appeal and open the opportunity to expand the story for more advanced gamers. Sadly however, it seems that this just expands upon the existing story without offering any truly advanced gaming mechanics.
This time round, gamers will see Mickey returning (to the scene of the crime) to Wasteland, joining his past compatriots to repair past damages and to address the seemingly helpful efforts of the ‘Mad Doctor’. Helping Mickey along the way are many of the residents of Wasteland with a great emphasis coming from Oswald the Luck Rabbit. Oswald is the leader of Wasteland and not only helps to guide Mickey through the various environments but also becomes a sort of extra hand in an effort to expand the games functionality. Again Mickey is armed with his paint and thinner to alter his surroundings in order to achieve certain goals. While Oswald provides an electrical jolt or ‘helicopter’ style ears to glide through areas.
The game play itself isn’t entirely unique, the platform gaming style has been around for ages but having the mix of 2D and 3D style platforming makes nice use of the surroundings. As with most games of this fashion the true antagonists are the controls and the camera. In third person mode you use the two control sticks to move and to control a targeting reticule. The targeting reticule shows where your streams of thinner or paint will go but your camera will almost invariably fight you every step of the way. The side scrolling platforming does away with the default camera placement and instead showcases a point of view that leaves many of your targets just off screen. You will, in short order, resort to hastened leaps of faith rather that timed jumps just to keep frustration at bay.
The ‘Power of Two’ in the games title is meant to showcase the co-op aspect of this title and should be as simple as working together for a common goal. Now consider for a moment that my gaming partner was my very capable daughter and that both of us had to endure the incredibly lackluster camera while watching through the traditional split screen mode and I’m sure you can imagine how quickly this reverted to a one person game. In single player mode you are meant to still retain a sense of co-op as many of the tasks require elements from both characters. And it is at this moment that the games horrible AI decides to rear its ugly head. The game clearly needs me to utilize Oswald’s shock feature and he should be running nearby post haste, instead the AI decides that Oswald doesn’t want to be in the same vicinity as Mickey and keeps him just out of reach.
The games visuals and sound are by far the titles saving grace. Personally I caught the Disney magic late in life and still the number of references to the numerous Disney characters, movies, places and things is astounding to encounter in this game. You are instantly transported into the sense of wonder, exploration and adventure and I honestly couldn’t wait to see what reference I would come across next. The environments are well established and utilize the Disney properties only when necessary. Visually the only downfall is the use of the thinner and paint that Mickey wields. Rather than having any substantial impact, these tools can only be utilized in predetermined areas for predetermined goals.
The core sounds are joined with excellent voice acting for all of the characters and even some of the musical numbers show evidence of how much importance sound plays in the game. Sure some of the audible cues for gameplay will grate after a time but the often sweeping score offsets any annoyance I may have felt.
That being said, I can’t help but imagine what the board meeting would have been like after the ‘success’ of Epic Mickey on the WII:
Director A: Well this has gone well even though we created misleading storyboard art and released it to the public as concept drawings.
Director B: I think we could have done better if it had been available on those more mature consoles A: Great idea, let’s do more ‘concept drawings’ and re-release it on other consoles.
Director B: That won’t work, gamers are far too media savy to fall for that one again.
Director A: Well we have to do something to expand this cash Clarabell (Cow, get it…).
Director B: Let’s just change around the environments, make it almost co-op and release it as a whole new title.
Let’s face it, the Disney media empire is here to stay and for the most part they seem to come out on top (except for Eddie Murphy’s Haunted Mansion). The foray into the gaming media has been a long time coming and Mickey deserves to have a firm foothold in the genre. Developers need to accept that it’s time for the mouse to take some risks otherwise they should revert to stamping the games with the Disney Jr. seal and be happy they didn’t release Snow Dogs: the Game.