Epic Mickey Review

Epic Mickey [Available only on Wii]
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1
Genre: Action Adventure/Platformer
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Release Date: November 25th, 2010

Parent Talk: Epic Mickey is ideal for children simply because of Mickey.  Disney has a long history of creating memorable cartoons, so children, parents, and grandparents should recognize the brand.  Epic Mickey isn’t a bright and colorful platformer though; it’s strangely dark with a unique, unsettling twist.  Bright and cheerful Disney images are combined with bizarre and gloomy settings.  The game isn’t inappropriate however; there’s no vulgarity, and Disney’s classic magic is all over.  If anything, EM is an interesting spin on one of their old characters—it references tons of old (even forgotten) Disney cartoons, merchandise, and even video games!  Young children might find some of the images a little scary, but the game is otherwise fine.

I don’t think comments for Mickey Mouse are necessary.  Everyone knows him.  There are countless cartoons, merchandise and video games based on him, among other Disney properties.  Disney has enjoyed a rich and…well, “epic” history.  Walt created so many characters in his time, and the studio is responsible for an unbelievable number of cartoons.  Epic Mickey explores unfamiliar territory though: Disney’s past, especially the forgotten aspects.  It’s sometimes somber and lonely…dark and twisted.  It takes the care-free, bright, and cheery Disney persona and juxtaposes it with a striking and visually-arresting art style that only Warren Spector could dream of.  The Wasteland is a sprawling and unique combination of landscapes: a mad scientist’s castle adorned with crooked spires, a bustling downtown, a mountainside cluttered with classic memorabilia and much, much more.

I doubt many would recognize the name Oswald, but that helps make the game interesting.  It creates curiosity in the player about Disney’s forgotten work.  It brings to light concepts we never considered.  While there are hitches along the way, Epic Mickey is one of the finest platformers this year and a must-own title for the holiday season.

The Great:

Fantastic art.  Among all of Epic Mickey’s positives, the art is the most noteworthy.   Disney’s characters look like the classic cartoons; lanky figures, cheerful expressions, bright white gloves, etc.  The scenery is an amalgamation of locations inspired by classic Disney influences (Mean Street especially), but it’s given a huge dose of extra imagination.   Robot Goofy, for example, is classic and creepy.  He first appears as a disembodied head in a glass case, with a single green eye glowing out of his cracked face, but sounds and looks as cheerful as ever.  The cutscenes also sport a cool visual style.  Rather than use the in-game engine or CG cinematics, the designers opted for 2D scenes.  These sequences have EXCELLENT animation and character expression.  Mickey is incredibly likeable, and the game is simply fun to watch.

The Good:

+ Solid design.  Epic Mickey values quality platforming, despite the art and visual emphasis.  Despite hitches, the game is genuinely balanced and fun.  The campaign is a 3D platformer, where you explore a large environment.  There’s usually multiple routes to discover.  You can quickly bypass most of the extraneous stuff and focus squarely on the story, but the environments and character interactions offer so much more.  You’re never forced to proceed and explore, but quests softly nudge you along.  Quests can even be skipped effortlessly, and sometimes quests assign conflicting objectives, meaning you must play through multiple times in order to witness different events and collect items.  For example, one quest asks you to return Little Pete’s ship log to prove his innocence, while another requests that you pawn it off to another character.  It’s a subtle good-or-bad pathway that makes things more interesting.

+ Paint and thinner.  The “Paint” and “Thinner” are the creative gameplay elements.  Think of them as positive and negative, good and bad, creation and destruction.  Paint fixes objects, rebuilds things, and even brainwashes enemies into behaving.  Thinner by contrast demolishes walls, removes enemy defenses, and reveals hidden passages.  Each employs unique functions to help you explore, but much of it depends on your approach.  For instance, you can conquer a section by using Paint to rebuild a broken machine, or just break through with Thinner.  Characters respond differently to your methods.  Some consequences are more subtle than others, and characters may reprimand you or think differently depending.  It’s a neat “good or evil” dynamic that’s present in many other games, but not often seen in a platformer.  You could think of the Paint and Thinner as the Super Mario Sunshine F.L.U.D.D., or the Okami brush.  Epic Mickey is unique though because you can alternate your actions depending on the situation.

+ Nostalgia.  Epic Mickey draws on much of Disney’s lore.  People may not recognize the characters, but that’s part of the message: exploring a forgotten past.  Compared to what the developers could have done (i.e. churned out a soulless game), this is a huge plus and it exceeded my expectations.  Exploring Mickeyjunk Mountain (which lives up to its name) features tons of references to old Disney products.  You can even see old Mickey Mouse NES and Super NES games stacked among everything else.

+ Value.  The adventure requires around 15 hours to complete, which is fair for a platformer.  It’s a far cry from the absurd content in Super Mario Galaxy 2, but there’s still plenty of bang for your buck considering the 15 hours applies to one playthrough.  By making different decisions (mostly by using Paint or Thinner), you can interact differently with characters and acquire different items.   The end also reflects on the choices you made, so there’s motivation to play more than once.  The results aren’t always immediately apparent.

+ 2D sequences.  When visiting other areas, accessed via “projector screens,” Mickey enters some fascinating 2D platforming sections, which could have been their own game.  They’re short, consisting of a few screens or sections.  Despite the lengths, Disney made ample use of the license by designing each one as a “film reel” of sorts, as if Mickey entered another cartoon entirely (reels even run on screen)!  Mickey can’t use his Paint or Thinner abilities, but instead must rely on basic attack and jumping skills.  There’s also a collectible film reel to grab during each scenario.  Playing multiple times can be annoying, but you’re never forced to.

+ Great music.  The score is awesome.   The lead composer, James Dooley, has an impressive resume.  He worked with Hans Zimmer, the orchestrator for The Da Vinci Code and Emmy winner in 2008 for Pushing Daisies.  The music in Epic Mickey combines the playfulness of classic Disney, with strangely dark themes and rousing orchestral scores to create a wholly satisfying mix.

The Bad:

– Lack of voicework.  I said before that everyone knows Mickey.  Well, you see him in the game, but why doesn’t he talk?  Despite capitalizing on the license, Disney dropped the ball by choosing to forgo voice work.  Characters are incredibly expressive during cutscenes and act convincingly through animation, but the cutscenes could have been better with voice work.  Nintendo fans are entitled to a presentation, but alas we’re disappointed.

– Inconsistent framerate.  Sometimes during hectic moments, the game slows down.  It never reaches “game-breaking” territory, but it’s noticeable and can grate on the nerves.

The Ugly:

The camera.  This is unmistakably EM’s biggest problem.  It can be circumvented once you learn how to manipulate it, but it’s a pervasive issue especially during the more difficult platforming segments.  The worst comes with mid-jump camera transitions, which are disorienting.  Aiming your Paint or Thinner can also be challenging.  The viewpoint either makes targeting tougher than necessary, or objects obscure your line of sight.  It’s very frustrating at first, and the main problem of Epic Mickey.

The Lowdown:

Despite the camera, Epic Mickey is a wonderful game and must-own.  The design has a few hiccups, but the experience is pleasantly imaginative.  It doesn’t dethrone Super Mario Galaxy 2, but it should still be played.  It surpasses expectations for visual style and music, meets the criteria for a solid and fun platforming game, but falls a little behind in presentation and polish.

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