Epic Mickey Review «

Disney’s beloved and timeless mascot hasn’t had his own solo game outing in half a decade, so when I learned that Deus Ex designer Warren Spector was at the helm for Epic Mickey, I nearly soiled my britches. Several standout games from my adolescence, like Mickey Mousecapades and Castle of Illusion, starred the mouse with the most — and even though I haven’t played a Mickey Mouse game in over a decade, I still associate the name with quality action gaming. So, what could go wrong under the creative vision of such a storied game designer and true Disney fan like Warren Spector on task? Surprisingly, the answer is: a lot.

The story kicks off as Mickey steps through a magic mirror and (in a moment of mischief) accidentally creates an inkblot monster, and lays waste to a haven for forgotten Disney characters. Mickey’s tools of destruction — magic brush, paint, and thinner — form the core game mechanic. Using the brush, you can fire paint to restore the rundown environment or conscript inkblot enemies, or you can spray thinner to erase/destroy either. It’s not a strictly good-versus-evil mechanic, but how you deal with bosses and certain in-game characters certainly factors into the details of the narrative, the overall game difficulty, and the ending.

The main attraction is the rich story, replete with long-forgotten Disney characters woven into the narrative. The picturesque cut-scenes, the variety of Disney-worthy licensed and original music, and the twisted and dilapidated environments inspired by theme parks and classic cartoons blend sublimely, providing a unique and nostalgic experience. And though the game features hardly an intelligible word of voice-acting, the writing is clever enough to compensate for the omission (and I’m not sure if I could stand Mickey’s voice for long stretches anyhow). All told, Epic Mickey would have made a great movie. However, this is a game… and it’s unfortunately a game with sloppy controls and excessive tedium.

Epic Mickey’s first and perhaps most damning problem is that it doesn’t feel good to play. Controlling Mickey feels mushy and imprecise, and collision detection is piss-poor for a platformer (leading to plenty of missed jumps that land you in a lake of thinner). The onscreen paint/thinner reticle motion is also jerky, and even when you place the target squarely on an enemy or a piece of the environment, it isn’t a guaranteed hit. I’ve fruitlessly fired countless buckets of paint into the floor in an attempt to paint ledges directly in front of Mickey, sometimes under pressure of nearby foes. Even if you can live with those problems, the camera is an unqualified disaster of bad angles, poor tracking, and inflexibility. In my 14-hour playthrough, getting locked into a bad camera angle became par for the course, and I hurled some very un-Disneylike language at the screen because of it.

The woes don’t end with the controls, though. Aside from standout boss encounters and a handful of clever puzzles, most of the tasks on the game’s critical path are as exciting as watching paint dry. You typically need to find a way to get somewhere while painting/thinning along the way, hunt for certain objects to paint, thin random locations (or everything) in search of an item, or run a fetch quest. Worse yet, the game is frequently unclear about what needs to be done to complete a quest, or why you should bother. Because of this, much of the game feels mechanical rather than fun; despite the shedload of quests, Epic Mickey’s charm wears thin in the face of such monotony.

Problems and headaches aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how — I can’t think of any other way to say it — lovingly crafted this game is. If you’re willing to put up with a protracted and often dull game, you’ll find a lot to enjoy, between all the cleverly designed 2D levels (which bridge the game’s usual 3D environments), unlockable animated shorts from generations past, a clever mesh of old and new Disney personas, and a pitch-perfect story that tugs at the heartstrings to tie it all together. If you’ve ever loved a Disney cartoon, you will sympathize with the plight of Wasteland’s denizens, and sometimes-nemesis-sometimes-sidekick Oswald the Lucky Rabbit all but steals the show.

Due to how it plays, Epic Mickey is ultimately a hard game to recommend, but it’s an easy recommendation for true Disney fans or players who’ve been dying to see Mickey in a new adventure. Even though I cursed and swore my way through the bulk of the game, the characters and the story moved me in a way that very few games do. But, epic disappointment or epic tale, it definitely earns its name.


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