Review by HailToTheGun

"While the adventure lives up to its name, the experience is hampered by serious fundamental flaws."

The Mischievous Mickey Mouse

Lewis Carroll's classic tale of Alice in Wonderland is a bizarre reflection of the real world consisting of uncanny encounters with peculiar individuals. It is appropriate, then, that our star Mickey finds himself sucked into a strange parallel world through his own mirror after reading Through the Looking Glass, whereupon he discovers a marvelous and meticulously crafted small-scale replica of the place he calls home. Yensid, the creator of this not-so-Disneyland, built this world as an offering to the cartoon characters whom the world has forgotten. When Mickey stumbles his way into Yensid's place of work, his innocent curiosity prompts him to add a few final touches to the forgotten kingdom, but in a clumsy haste, Mickey spills a jar of paint thinner across the desk, leaving the world of former icons in shambles. He retreats back through the mirror, and as the years go by, his popularity and success as the Disney mascot award him unparalleled notoriety. But the darkness born from that horrible mistake finds its way through the looking glass and drags the unsuspecting mouse back into the bowels of the wasteland that he created.

There was a time before the clubhouse, before all of the promotional ads, before even the theme parks, that Disney's squeaky-clean mascot portrayed a more deviant side to his personality. As mischievous as he is cute, Mickey Mouse was that lovable kind of terror. With the release of Epic Mickey, Disney has begun their campaign to move away from that boy scout image of the iconic mouse and return to his roots. Not only is this an exploration of Mickey, but a discovery of forgotten characters and particularly a rebirth of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney‘s very first creation. Though the journey succeeds in showing Mickey and Oswald in situations of surprising growth and heroism, as a game it struggles to find proper footing and in the end results in a rather clumsily put-together concoction.

The Happiest(?) Place on Earth

The bulk of your time spent in the Wasteland will be exploring every nook and cranny this expertly crafted world has to offer. You'll do so primarily through the use of the game's most unique feature, its magic paintbrush and the paint and thinner that supply it. There's a deceptively complex element tied to this, and it all has to do with moral righteousness. It would be foolish to call paint “good” and thinner “bad,” because the game isn't as black and white as you'd imagine. Sometimes thinning objects out is the more resourceful option, even though you're erasing it from existence. You can always paint it back in, if necessary, but player choice is a big part of Epic Mickey. For the most part, the consequences of your actions will result in significant events. Even seemingly superfluous decisions might have some effect on the outcome of the game, so never take the choice for granted. Though, while the concept of moral choice is profound enough to deserve praise, the practical use of paint and thinner could do with some touching up.

Frequently you'll be faced with issues where Mickey will use his paint or thinner lower than where you're actually aiming, resulting in wasted resources and time. This is especially troublesome in the midst of combat when you're being swarmed by a handful of enemies. To make matters worse, the lack of a proper lock-on system complicates otherwise simple combat, causing needless frustration. When used for puzzle solving, it's a bit more lenient, particularly because you're rarely being rushed to completion so you can explore and experiment at your own pace. But otherwise, the primary mechanic of the game ends up being an unpolished concept that required a little more time on the drawing board.

In addition to your magic paintbrush, Mickey has a few other tricks up his non-existent sleeves. You'll soon gain the ability to use sketches, an ability that allows you to call in one of three various cartoon tropes: you can drop in a TV to distract enemies or to trigger certain power switches, use a stop watch to slow down time, or drop an anvil to crush opponents beneath it or use as a platform to reach higher places. These work well for the most part and the stop watch is particularly the most useful. Finally, with a flick of the Wii remote, Mickey can perform a spin attack. If I may draw a parallel to Super Mario Galaxy, a game which features an identical move handled with uncontested superiority, in Galaxy, even a moderately delicate waggle of the remote would provoke Mario into a spin. Here, it seems you have to shake it rather aggressively to get Mickey to react at all. The response time feels clumsy and sluggish, making combat even more troublesome when you start facing enemies that require you to spin attack them.

The game struggles in more ways than that, and most notably - and unfortunately - is in the camera department. When it's not a fixed camera, your control of it is very restricted. You can move it around with the D-pad, but it rotates sluggishly, and in some cases doesn't even move at all. The game rarely distinguishes when you can control the camera and when you can't, resulting in senseless trial and error platforming. You can jump into first person mode or focus the camera around to the direction Mickey is facing, but again, the situations when these are possible seem random at best. It is the game's greatest misfortune - perhaps its heroic flaw.

There are bright spots within this barren Wasteland, however. The world is vast and wildly imaginative. Disney buffs will certainly get the most out of exploring every nook and cranny of the game. Epic Mickey boasts a tremendous amount of replay value in the way of collectibles, quests, and the morality system mentioned earlier. A single playthrough will not be enough to gather all of the treasure pins, film reels, or concept art, and multiple endings ensure that the most veteran of players will find themselves wanting more. Progress through the Wasteland is structured like a traditional RPG, where you'll explore various environments then return back to a hub or town and turn in quests, resupply, etc. Your primary base of operations here is Mean Street, the Wasteland's twisted version of Main Street. Your journey will be accompanied by Gus, a Gremlin of early Disney fame. Along the way you may encounter plenty of other Gremlins whom you will have the chance to save. In return they may offer you rewards, sometimes in the way of opening a locked door, giving you treasure, or supplying you with materials. On rarer occasions, they may even aid you in a boss battle. Whether you save them or not certainly reflects your stance in the game. Of course, you have to find them first.

Passage from one area to the next is done via projector screens which allow you to play through inspired side-scrolling platformers based on one of several Disney classics. You'll be forced to run through a few of them multiple times throughout your journey, and while the first time might be a trip down memory lane for some or a first look at a forgotten treasure, tedium slowly catches up with you as you're running through the same simplistic environment for the fifth time in a short while just to finish a mundane fetch quest. You can complete them in roughly 30 seconds without stopping to collect everything, so while it's not a major fault, it rears its head enough to be a significant annoyance.

No Waste in the Wasteland

One thing that Epic Mickey does exceptionally well is present its world with class and style. Each individual area of the Wasteland successfully captures the attraction or film on which it was based while still offering an uncanny sense of unfamiliarity. Special attention should be given to Tomorrow City and Mickeyjunk Mountain, both of which are possibly the highest points of the game in every sense. The world is appropriately dark and foreboding in areas that have been stricken by the thinner disaster, while the lands you restore are vibrant and pleasant. This contrast perfectly captures the essence of the Wasteland and the dichotomy between Mickey and Oswald: the former is the cherished and beloved mascot of a world wide enterprise, while the latter is the dethroned pioneer bit by the jealousy bug. It's poetic, in a bittersweet way.

Cinematic scenes utilize that classic Disney style of stretchy athleticism while most of the story will be presented through stylistic scenes in the vein of renowned Disney artist Mary Blair, whose work consists of concept art for Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and character designs for the Disney theme park attraction It's a Small World. The frame rate occasionally dips, most notably in areas of intense weather or special effects. The game's soundtrack is largely inspired by many Disney classics and overall evokes an appropriate sense of nostalgia while maintaining the necessary freshness to fit the Wasteland. Voice acting is all but nonexistent, as the only character to receive a proper voice role is that of Yensid. Everyone else speaks in small sound effects and yelps for which they're recognized. It works well, especially given the expertise with which the scenes are crafted and the dialogue written, but the lack of a full cast might be off-putting to some.

Summary

Like the theme parks from which it was mostly inspired, the game has its many high and low points. As an exploration of Disney history and a discovery of forgotten legacies, it succeeds on multiple levels. Mickey certainly evolves as a character, beyond what the world knows him as now, and Oswald's re-introduction to the public eye is rightfully a heroic one. With so much to explore in each world, and plenty of incentive to replay, the game will appeal more toward those with an appreciation for adventure games. A respectable 15 hour length encourages extended playing without feeling like it's too cluttered. But if it's solid platforming or a complex combat system you're looking for, you're better off passing on by. Mechanically, Epic Mickey fails to exemplify the quality for which Warren Spector is known.

Graphics: 97
The cinematics evoke classic Disney cartoons and much of the narration is told through gorgeously-crafted scenes inspired by famous Disney artist Mary Blair.

Gameplay: 70
The idea of the paint and thinner still allows for some flexibility in the ways you can play the game, but the practical use of it, along with the clumsiness of the controls and the abysmal camera effectively sap all of the ingenuity out of it.

Production: 72
As a total package, Epic Mickey still achieves some level of success. It's a wholly-engrossing saga worthy of the impressive 80 year lineage on which it‘s based. But the closer you look, the more cracks you start to see: repetitive quests and tedious backtracking, unpolished gameplay, and occasional framerate hiccups make this feel like an unfinished project despite the level of depth to the story.

Sound: 88
The score is a wonderful blend of classic Disney tracks and Disney-inspired melodies that perfectly capture the essence of the Wasteland and although the game lacks any proper voice acting (with the exception of Yensid), it more than makes up for it with excellent dialogue and animation.

Lasting Appeal: 90
Those who enjoy the game's adventure aspect are likely to return to the Wasteland for several more trips trying to collect all of the hidden items and experience the alternative story routes; however, if the mechanical faults prove too much for you, then you might be lucky to finish it even once.

Overall Score: 83
While the adventure lives up to its name, the experience is hampered by serious fundamental flaws.\


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/06/10, Updated 12/08/10

Game Release: Disney Epic Mickey (US, 11/30/10)


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