Epic Mickey’s attitude in art, concept, and direction is undermined by bland gameplay
The first few glances that the gaming world was able to take at Epic Mickey revealed a game that was supposed to be the antonymous of everything that has the Disney name added to it. Instead of shinning splendid castles, the first art screens showed torn landscapes; where once happy characters existed, sad, broken and troubled figures inhabited a disturbed world that mirrored the happiest place on the planet.
The choice to go in an opposite direction in every sense of the term ends up reflecting positively in the overall result of the Epic Mickey experience. Mickey games of the 3-D era have always had a tendency to be shallow, unimaginative, and too silly for their own good. Epic Mickey – on the other hand – takes itself seriously enough not to come off as dumbed down, but not excessively to the point of pretentiousness. It delivers a one-of-a-kind experience for Wii owners.
However, although Mickey moves towards a brighter horizon with this gloomy adventure, there are still a few number of stumbles along the way that prevent his most ambitious gaming outing yet to be called anything other than a good platforming game.
Epic Mickey begins with Yensid, the sorcerer from the legendary Fantasia segment “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, at his workshop crafting a world that is a carbon copy of Walt’s Disneyland. This world is created with the intent of serving as a home for the Disney characters that were forgotten with time. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – Mickey’s predecessor, is the leader of this world, and everything is in fine balance until Mickey’s big curious nature leads the mouse inside the room where the gates to that universe reside.
When playing around with the brush that was used to engineer that place, Mickey ends up accidentally creating an evil creature – the Blot. In his desperate attempt to destroy his devilish creation, Mickey throws tons of thinner into the peaceful Disneyland, creating havoc and tearing apart the life of its inhabitants. Mickey returns frightened to his house; however, a few months later he is surprised when a mysterious shadowy figure breaks into his place while he sleeps and drags him into the broken Wasteland. Mickey, then, has to choose between two diametrically opposite fates: fix the mess he caused, or extend the reach of the damage he did.
The greatest delight offered by Epic Mickey is that it works as a vault packed with Disney references, some of which are rather obscure and destined to fly over the heads of a big part of the audience, while others will be as clear as water. For big and knowledgeable fans of the company, opening that treasure chest is a sheer pleasure on its own.
The biggest universally accessible nod the game executes is the setup of the Wasteland itself, for the overworld where the adventure takes place is a virtual version of Disneyland with twisted versions of Fantasyland, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Tomorrowland and Toontown being organized around a crooked Sleeping Beauty castle.
Being able to play and fight enemies in such a scenario is an amazing experience for Disney fans, one that is made even more fantastic due to how the game bursts open the door to the company’s rich artistic history. Sadly, though, those who have a neutral relation with the entertainment giant and come in simply looking for a great platformer to play will be able to look past all those fanservices and notice that, in its central structure, Epic Mickey is a little bit rusty, as if a soft blowing of the wind would be able to bring everything down.
In the game, players take the role of Mickey, who is armed with both a brush and thinner. By using those contrasting tools, the mouse will be given a series of goals by the inhabitants of the Wasteland who had their lives affected by the thinner disaster. The good thing about those missions is that all of them can be performed in two different manners: a friendly resolution, dubbed the Paint Path; or a not so honest solution, dubbed the Thinner Path.
Choosing to solve problems more frequently in one way, instead of the other, will directly affect the final outcome of the game, which is surprisingly deep for a Mickey Mouse title. Besides, as an obvious consequence, the game gains huge replay value from the two manners through which all of the missions can be cleared; Epic Mickey cannot, in any way, be finished in only one playthrough. The software’s value is further helped due to the impressive number of extra quests the game presents.
Those extra missions, in particular, will certainly lure in players who are looking to fully complete the title, for their rewards are unquestionably alluring. Pins, the same ones that are a huge success around Disney’s parks; film reels that unlock remarkable old Mickey Mouse cartoons; and paper sheets that reveal amazing pieces of art in the game’s extra section are the three biggest ones, and they show extra tidbits of Disney’s history, revealing the astounding care that was put into the title.
The creativity applied to the conception of the game’s basic premise, however, is nowhere to be seen when one looks at the way it has been structured. Most of Epic Mickey’s missions consist of silly fetch quests; there aren’t many moments in the journey when players will be amazed by the ingenuity applied to the platforming sections. Everything Epic Mickey offers in terms of level design has already been done, and in a much more inspired fashion.
As a consequence, missions that should involve fun segments and obstacles stopping you from reaching a certain item become a simple exercise in jumping and running through bland challenges that just don’t go anywhere for players who are into the genre. It all comes down to the combination of running, jumping, and either erasing a wall or painting a missing piece of the scenario to reveal a new possible path towards your final goal. The missions, which are many, get repetitive pretty fast and after a certain point in the game the only thing that will keep players going is the surprisingly intriguing and heart-warming story that is very well developed.
Another considerable problem Epic Mickey presents are its sidescrolling levels, which are always used to connect distinct 3-D areas of the Wasteland. The concept is brilliant: not only do they work as references to the fantastic Mickey sidescrollers of old, but they are also smartly centered around black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons, with obstacles and enemies coming right out of those unforgettable animations.
Going through them for the first time is a blast. Sadly, though, players will have to clear them over and over again. Given they separate 3-D locations, whenever Mickey travels between those, players are forced to play the 2-D stages, having no option whatsoever to – after a nice first playthrough – skip them and just proceed to their destination. Naturally, those extra trips through the levels add nothing to the game, turning a possibly fun transition between scenarios into an extremely annoying activity.
The third major issue the game presents lies in its combat. Enemies can be found all across the Wasteland, but while they are visually great, their design makes up for skirmishes that are quite dull. Battling all enemies comes down to using enough ink to make them friendly, or enough thinner to make them disappear from the world. Therefore, combats are restricted to running around while spraying the enemy in question with as much paint as possible.
Much like what happens with the levels themselves, there isn’t a moment of awe-inspiring creativity in the enemies’ designs, and even though they have different forms of attack, defeating all of them requires pretty much the same method. The fact that game’s camerawork is decent at best also doesn’t help make fights more compelling than they are; on the contrary, it can turn them into frustrating ordeals.
Epic Mickey is not all about shortcomings, though. Despite its slip-ups the game is still a fun platformer, and the biggest part of the credit goes to the artistic department involved in its production. The artists behind the title were able to transform an environment – Disneyland – that is, by all means, a real-life artwork, into a distinct videogame scenario full of personality, crafting – therefore – a highly artistic version of a place that is already artistic in itself.
The scenarios are wonderful in their torn-apart state and they become even more overwhelming if players work on filling them up with ink and restoring a part of their original beauty and colors. Painting the environment and watching it fluidly transform is one of the most fun activities in the game, and it compels players to explore and play around with the scenarios around them for a little bit. The Wasteland is an extremely immersive location, and the solid story behind it turns it into a rather believable place.
To go along with the great visuals, a masterpiece of a soundtrack was also crafted. The game is full of dark instrumentals that perfectly convey the feeling of despair and sadness one has upon walking into such broken environments. The tunes are not catchy, but they are deeply atmospheric and very successful in bringing players closer to the action. That outstanding combination between sound and sight is the main factor that makes it worth it giving Epic Mickey a try. The title also features good voice acting into some of its key cutscenes; the ones who don’t possess that mark make up for it with extremely high artistic values in their presentation.
To sum things up, Epic Mickey is a mixed bag. The creativity and attention to detail that are seen in its visuals and soundtrack are on a far higher level than the craftiness applied to the stages and challenges that keep the game rolling. For a 3-D Mickey game, it is without a doubt better than average, but when compared to top-tier platformers, it fails to impress. Still, anyone who has a love for what Disney has produced through the years will be delighted to know the license was well-used by the game’s developers. Epic Mickey is definitely not the brightest platformer out there, but its interesting concept and unique attitude make up for a nice package.