Epic Mickey review

February 15, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Posted in Game Review, Wii Review | Leave a comment
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Being an animation buff I was incredibly excited about Disney’s Epic Mickey.  While it hasn’t ended up being everything I’d hoped for I still found it to be a highly enjoyable adventure.

Title: Epic Mickey

Format: Wii

Developed by: Junction Point

Published by: Disney Interactive

Genre: Adventure

Gamers first caught a glimpse of Epic Mickey thanks to an accidental leak of several pieces of concept artwork. Depicting Disney characters in a semi-realistic world and with a much darker colour palette that stood in stark contrast to the traditional bright and cheerful pastel hues, they generated a huge amount of buzz around the industry. The hype reached fever pitch after it was formally announced as a big budget Wii title, helmed by the man behind the Deus Ex series, Warren Spector, and based around a ‘paint’ mechanic that allowed players to create or erase characters and objects in its cartoon world.

As with so many projects before it, Epic Mickey’s grand unveiling failed to live up to the huge expectations placed around it. The (admittedly very early) demonstration build was as far removed from the beautiful conceptual designs as it could get, with graphics resembling early PS2 generation platformers, and very few examples of the core paintbrush gameplay in action. In short, it seemed the hyperbole and promise surrounding the ambitious project was really taking the Mickey.

The finished game is neither an epic nor a total disappointment, but sits somewhere in between. So what does the game get right and where does it go wrong?

Starting with the positives, Epic Mickey’s plot is darker and more complex than any other Mickey adventure, at least in video game terms. It revolves around a world created by the wizard Yen Sid to house all the forgotten characters from Disney’s extensive catalogue of critters including Oswald the lucky rabbit, who was the studios main star before a certain mouse came along. When Mickey finds himself in Yen Sid’s workshop his curiosity gets the better of him and he accidentally spills magic paint and paint thinner into a model of the world, and unleashes an evil ink blot in the process. The forgotten world is ravaged and left in ruins thanks to Mickey’s mishap, and becomes a wasteland. Decades later Mickey is dragged to the forgotten world and must help save Oswald and the other characters he meets along the way.

Given the calibre of Warren Spector’s previous titles it’s not surprising that Epic Mickey has a similarly high quality script and dialogue. Mickey’s mischievous nature has been captured perfectly and the darker themes of abandonment and revenge never feel out of place alongside the brighter side of Mickey’s personality.

It’s also a title that has clearly had a lot of resources thrown at it, which is pretty rare for a third-party Wii title. The graphics in some parts of the game are superb; with rich and highly detailed textures and expansive, complex environments that really pushes the Wii hardware. Levels are riddled with fan-pleasing nods to Mickey’s illustrious history (keep an eye out for SNES carts on Mickeyjunk Mountain). The character animation, as you might expect from a Disney game, is incredibly fluid and full of charm. Then there’s the soundtrack, which includes remixed tunes taken from Mickey’s cartoon catalogue as well as brand-new orchestrated tracks which are both highly emotive and memorable.

But while Epic Mickey looks and sounds the part, it falls short in some basic areas. This is the first platform-cum-adventure game that Warren Spector and his team at Junction Point have worked on and it shows. Camera control is one of the biggest issues; it’s slow and cumbersome and reminiscent of early 3D adventure games on the N64 and Playstation. The platforming sections that act as transitions between worlds, while being welcome nods to Mickey’s cartoon adventures, are basic 2D affairs that offer little in the way of gameplay that wasn’t being done in the NES era. There are also far too many uninspired fetch-quests used to pad out the time between unlocking each world.

The developer’s lack of experience in this genre certainly holds it back from being a truly epic title but this naivety and fresh approach also gives Epic Mickey quite a unique feel. For instance, the levels in the forgotten world don’t follow typical platforming themes; you won’t find a lava level or snow level here. Level design also eschews convention, making it feel less a platform game and more an adventure game that happens to have some platforms in it. Finally the way the paint/thinner mechanic is used in puzzles, despite being limited only to specific objects, is genuinely impressive. The game handsomely rewards exploration and experimentation with new routes through levels, and nearly every objective in the game can be completed in a variety of different ways (don’t want to hunt around for masks for a shopkeeper to get his valuable ships wheel? Why not erase the back of his shop and steal it!).

Despite its obvious technical flaws, Epic Mickey is still a solid title and highly recommended to Disney fans, if only for the cameos from long missed characters or the two bonus cartoons waiting to be unlocked. The developers love for the source material shines through, and if they can work on ironing out this game’s flaws then whatever sequel that spawns from Mickey’s adventure (if rumours are to be believed, the world of Duck Tales is in line to get a makeover) should be a true epic.


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