Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Look at Wii's Epic Mickey



I have a confession to make: I've never been a big Disney fan. Sure, I've enjoyed many of the Disney movies and the theme park in Florida and I know bits and pieces about Walt Disney's early attempts at getting his animation career off the ground during the early years of cinema. Yet I've never felt the urge to immerse myself in all things Disney ... at least until Epic Mickey came out for the Wii in late 2010.

The concept behind Epic Mickey, where Mickey Mouse ends up in a dystopian world that's the warped mirror image of the Disney universe, was just too fascinating for me to ignore. Now that I've finally gotten my hands on a copy and completed the game, I'm glad to say that it lived up to--and greatly exceeded--my expectations. Read on for my complete review.

Epic Mickey's plot is just that: epic. Taking a cue from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment in Fantasia, Epic Mickey begins with Mickey entering the Sorcerer's workshop after the Sorcerer, Yen Sid, finished a long day of work. Yen Sid was putting the finishing touches on the Wasteland, a magical place where lost, discarded and forgotten Disney characters and ideas can go to continue on in their own special world. Unfortunately, Mickey's mischievous nature gets the best of him and he accidentally unleashes a dark force called the Shadow Blot into the Wasteland. Decades after Mickey's mishap, the Blot suddenly appears and drags Mickey into the Wasteland as part of a plot to take over the entire Disney universe. Armed with only a magic paintbrush, Mickey sets off to fix the damage he caused and to befriend many of the Wasteland's inhabitants as part of his quest to foil the Blot.


Epic Mickey tells a whimsical, touching story and its game play, which alternates between 3D and 2D platforming, is simple and fun. Yet what really sets Epic Mickey apart from other platforming titles are its magic paintbrush features and the Wasteland itself, which overflows with over 80 years of Disney history.

The magic paintbrush allows Mickey to use paint or thinner when interacting with the Wasteland and fighting the Blot's minions, and you use the Wiimote to aim where the paint or thinner should be applied. Using the thinner will dissolve enemies, while using paint will convert enemies into allies. The game tracks decisions that you make throughout the game, such as how often you use paint and thinner when dealing with enemies: If you use thinner more than paint, the game assumes a somewhat darker tone. Like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, your choices are supposed to change the game's outcome, although from what I've heard only a few cut scenes are changed and the game's overall ending isn't affected at all. Thankfully, the game's story is entertaining enough to compensate for this feature's shortcomings.

The paintbrush also allows you to draw in objects that the Blot destroyed (objects such as walls, platforms and gears) to progress through an area, and to erase objects that conceal hidden passages, power-ups and other bonus items. Since Epic Mickey centers on cartoon characters and cartoon logic, the usage of paint and thinner as weapons and tools make perfect sense and add much to the game's entertainment value. That said, I kept expecting Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to show up with a few drums of his deadly Dip mixture.

What impressed me the most about Epic Mickey was the Wasteland itself. Many areas of the Wasteland look like an alternate, skewed versions of Disney theme park attractions. For example, Wasteland areas such as Mean Street and OsTown are analogous (both in form and function) to the Main Street and Toon Town attractions in the Disney parks. There's also a Wasteland area called Mickeyjunk Mountain, which looks like a landfill made up of nothing but Mickey Mouse merchandise. These areas feature all sorts of visual nods to Disney's long history, and many of the game's characters were pulled from Disney's earliest efforts at animation. The most noteworthy of these characters is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character that Walt Disney created with cartoonist Ub Iwerks before they created Mickey Mouse. In Epic Mickey, Oswald is portrayed as one of the first residents of the Wasteland. The game's central story revolves around Mickey and Oswald and it utilizes that relationship as a way to reflect how Disney has changed from its early, modest beginnings to the entertainment giant it has become since then.



(In the real world, Walt Disney lost the license for Oswald to Universal in 1927, which is why Disney had to create Mickey as a replacement star for his animated shorts. To get Oswald back for Epic Mickey, Disney CEO Bob Iger traded sportscaster Al Michaels in exchange for Oswald. Personally, I think that Epic Mickey would've been even more fun if it had Mickey Mouse raiding Universal Studios to get Oswald back--perhaps trashing the Universal Studios Theme Park in the process--although I doubt that Universal would've been very happy with that.)

In addition to the Disney-rich 3D sections of Epic Mickey, there are also the 2D sections. The Wasteland's areas are connected to each other through portals that are represented by film screens, which Mickey jumps into to enter a portal. To make it to the other end of a portal, Mickey has to traverse a 2D side-scrolling landscape. Each 2D portal landscape is based on a Disney short or feature-length film, and they look like they were pulled directly from the original cartoons and put into the game. Even when the platform play gets tiresome from time to time, the 2D screens are absolutely amazing to see. As an added bonus, clips from the animated shorts that inspired the 2D screens play during the game's end credits. You can also unlock and watch two full-length cartoon shorts: "Oh What a Knight" (1927) and "The Mad Doctor" (1933). Both of these shorts feature characters that tie in to the game's plot. With such attention given to Disney's early animation, I think that animation history buffs would enjoy and appreciate Epic Mickey much more than die-hard gamers.



Epic Mickey does have some problems. The most annoying for me were the numerous "fetch" mini-missions, mini-missions where you have to go from one area of the Wasteland to another to fetch a particular item and then come back to the previous area to collect your reward. This wouldn't be so bad if there were only a handful of these mini-missions, but there are dozens of them scattered throughout the game. To make matters worse, many of them are embedded in one of the game's charming aspects, the ability to "talk" to other cartoon characters. After several of them ask you to complete mini-missions for them, it becomes easier to just avoid them altogether as you progress through the game. Then again, I've read complaints in other reviews about the game's camera system, although I did not encounter many significant problems with it. It can be stubbornly inflexible at times, but never enough to hamper my progress and overall enjoyment of the game.

Epic Mickey is a delightful experience from start to finish. It takes Disney's rich and extensive history and turns it into a story-based game that's tailor-made for both Disney and classic cartoon lovers alike. There have also been rumors of a cross-platform, two-player coop sequel in the works for release in December, so I’m hoping that the sequel will live up the original and allow players to explore more of Disney’s early days.



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