Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Junction Point
Release Date: Available now
People may misplace the past, but they never seem to forget promises. Too many game developers have learned that hard lesson – especially the more outspoken gurus, such as Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux who through three Fable titles has still neglected to deliver on his prideful boast that players could imprint their green thumb on the title and watch as a tiny seed transformed over time into a mighty elm. Past indiscretions and broken promises make for a compelling backdrop surrounding Disney’s Epic Mickey – a title that when teased awhile back seemed pregnant with such possibility, as gamers chewed on the dreamy concept art that foretold a dark fairy tale for the beloved Mickey and promised a well-deserved resurrection for this regal rodent. The question looms – has Warren Spector learned from others’ past mistakes?
It’s this concept of confronting the past and correcting misdeeds that drives Epic Mickey’s narrative. As the story goes, the mischievous Mickey sneaks into the wizard Yensid’s workshop one evening and through his curiosity unleashes a horrible blight upon the magician’s latest creation. By spilling some magic ink on his map of a very familiar looking theme park, Mickey creates a haunted mirror world version of Disneyland. Soon, he’s sucked into that tragic Wasteland and is forced to confront characters long lost to the ravages of time, including Walt’s original toon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey then embarks on a lengthy adventure through the various themed worlds that spread from the Wasteland, hoping to set right what went wrong.
Controlling Mickey in the third person, players travel through special projectors that ring from the central hub world (Mean Street stands in for Disneyland’s Main Street), and work to resolve a number of calamities in each new locale. Through the characters Mickey meets, he will be given a series of sub-quests that send him chasing down doo-dads and engaging in a series of platforming challenges. Armed with a magic brush, Mickey can also paint or thin select portions of the environment to access new areas or restore the lands to glory. Through the player’s liberal use of paint or thinner, certain quests may be opened or closed off and the narrative may change slightly, thereby prompting players to think before running through each environment splashing with reckless abandon. The use of paint tends to result in a more challenging experience, but that risk is balanced with the reward of a better ending. At the very least, players have an incentive to run through it again and see how they might do things a differently.
This title has been on my radar for a long time, and for good reason. While I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Disney buff, I do enjoy their properties, and when I saw the twisted spin that Spector had planned, it really charged me up to try it out. I was also impressed that Disney granted the veteran designer such license to paint their prized mouse in an interesting new shade. And that’s where this game soars; in its exciting use of the familiar to show us something new. From a narrative perspective, Epic Mickey is a tale worth following, as Disney has set Spector loose to take their mouse in some compelling directions. It’s telling that Spector has resurrected a character I knew absolutely nothing of (poor forgotten Oswald), and made him a sympathetic foil that I want to learn more about. In real life and in the funny pages Oswald is a mirror of Mickey, and while he may have been lost to time, one can see where Mickey evolved from this forgotten creation. Like the best parallel universe tales, one can’t exist without the other. It’s this tangled tale that makes this game an experience worth chasing to the end.
While Epic Mickey has been maligned for its camera control, I never found it insurmountable. There are issues, to be sure, and I think the reason they stand out is because the heavy lifting inherent in world building was done with such effortless magic, these simple mechanical flaws loom larger. From a visual perspective, this is one of the better looking 3rd party adventures on the Wii, and Spector and company have followed Nintendo’s core design philosophy in embracing the benefits of creative art style on a system that notoriously lags behind technologically. While the graphics may not enchant immediately, the visual motif really begins to soar after completing Mickeyjunk Mountain , which is piled high with licensed relics from Mickey’s merchandising past (including his Super NES covers). Despite the camera issues, the game controls just fine with the Wiimote used to aim Mickey’s paint and thinner stream, making me wonder why it’s taking Nintendo so long to prep a Mario Sunshine remake.
Disney: Epic Mickey may not conjure up the same magic that Nintendo’s in-house development wields, but it comes closer than most. This is a vital game experience that you should seek out! Despite some dodgy camera work and cookie-cutter fetch quests, the title rises above those miscues based on the strength of its visuals and the fantastic tale Spector has told. It’s obvious that this is a labor of his love. One more coat of paint may have rendered a masterpiece, but on a system so often neglected by the top-tier 3rd party developers, Spector’s haunting tale proves to be reason enough to hunt this mouse.