GAME NAME: Epic Mickey
DEVELOPER(S): Junction Point Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Disney Interactive Studios
It’s no doubt due to the character’s unthreatening, family-friendly and decidedly non-edgy nature that, somewhere along the line, ‘Mickey Mouse’ became a euphemism for simplistic, juvenile and unchallenging. It’s hardly been fair, though; despite having Disney’s iconic rodent front-and-centre Mega Drive’s Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusions and PlayStation 2’s Kingdom Hearts were never Mickey Mouse games. And, if the concept, developer pedigree and pre-release buzz were anything to go by, Epic Mickey wouldn’t be one either.
When Mickey inadvertently unleashes a calamity upon a world populated by forgotten characters and stories from the Walt Disney oeuvre, he enters the resultant wasteland to try and undo the damage he has wrought. Armed with a magic paintbrush, he can either inflict damage through thinners, or make repairs through paint. This intriguing, dual mechanic forms the basis of much of the game, but the implementation stops well short of realising its potential. Only specific objects and limited environmental aspects can be interacted with, leaving this mechanic feeling a little too, well, mechanical. When you get down to it, the painting-and-thinning concept is not functionally different from the switches and levers usually found in action-adventure games.
This is not to say that gameplay sequences are entirely linear and pre-specified: there are often different ways to accomplish goals in a given area, and this is linked closely to the interesting morality system afforded by the gameplay. Often, Mickey has the option of taking either the more selfish but materially rewarding route through thinning, or the more heroic path of painting, and your choices will affect the unfolding and resolution of the story.
Speaking of which, the story is mostly excellent. The many themed areas and characters are colourful enough to draw you in, but all the while successfully communicate the melancholy inherent to once-great but now forgotten characters. There are times when it comes close to self-sabotage with needless and confounding re-use of character models and a definition of obscuritythat can seem a little broad (Peter Pan? Really?!).
Epic Mickey has the basic foundations of a good adventure game, but what’s built on those foundations often falls flat. Combat is consistently a drag and nothing more than a hurdle to your enjoyment and the platforming remains too simple throughout the course of the game. While areas are generally well-designed, needless backtracking and a plethora of joyless fetch quests can sour the experience. The worst offender is the camera, which ranges from troublesome to completely broken; you can usually count on it showing you everything but what you want or need to see. Manual control is possible, but tedious and the camera ends up serving as an obstacle to fully exploring the game world.
It’s a pity that Epic Mickey’s many flaws result in an experience that is just too thin for its own good. It’s by no means a terrible game, and Wii owners can certainly do worse, but it’s a little hard to shake the feeling that you’re playing a Mickey Mouse game.