When the first concept art for Epic Mickey surfaced, I didn’t quite understand what I saw. Mickey in a dark, creepy world. Ok, Disney may have its scary moments, but it remains easily digestable for kids. This… this seemed completely different. As E3 came closer I grew my interest in the game. The hands-on at the show floor, however, proved things weren’t as scary as the concept art suggested. Still I was sold the moment I played it and it was when our editor-in-chief, Speed, put the review copy in my hands, he made my day.
The story starts with Yen Sid (got it?), the magician famous from Disney’s Fantasia movie, who created a maquette of a kingdom that looks exactly like the famous Disney fun parks, but names it Cartoon Wasteland. It’s a place for Walt’s long lost creations. The first inhabitant is Oswald, the lucky rabbit, his first character and the inspiration for Mickey Mouse himself. Oswald decides to take on the task to make Cartoon Wasteland a place where ephemerality doen’t exist. Oswald tries this by using all plans for Disney Land that were deemed not good enough, refused or written off and hopes this way to give all retired characters a fun afterlife.
His jealousy towards his half brother Mickey keeps growing, though, and comes to a climax when Mickey accidentally arrives at Yen Sid and starts playing with Cartoon Wasteland. Without bad intentions the mouse creates Phantom Blot with pain and thinner. Mickey gets scared and flees back to his world but the damage has been done and the consequences for Cartoon Wasteland are beyond imagination. Time passes by and Mickey forgets what he did to Oswald and co until Phantom Blot drags Mickey back in the perished model.
After the beautiful and Fantasia-inspired intro a new exciting but also funny cut-scene follows in which Mickey tries to escape from a mad scientist and his giant mechanised Swiss pocket knife. It’s your first introduction to the game, but also your first fight against a decent boss. While playing the first moves are explained. Jumping is with A and swinging from your wrist lets Mickey perform a swirl attack, showing he’s been following lessons from Crash Bandicoot. Armed with these simple controls you can easily take down this first giant boss.
Unfortunately the memorable first fight is immediately a blow to your face and you quickly notice where Junction Point dropped the ball. A camera with a life of its own quickly makes you jump in the dark and that easy jump suddenly becomes extremely difficult. The contradiction with the other responsibe and smooth control couldn’t be bigger.
After lots of trying the jump succeeds and a swirl later Mickey takes out evil. But with these attacks you clearly don’t have enough to undo the self-designed misery in Cartoon Wasteland. For that you need more than one destructive weapon, no? A lancer from GoW or a sword named Excalibur? Not in the world of Mickey of course! A magic brush, some paint and thinner bring salvation. Spray your enemies with paint to make them allies and if you want to get rid of them, then all you need is thinner.
The brush isn’t only a weapon but also an element that can repair the environment by repainting parts, or erasing them, and solve environment puzzles this way. The concept paint & thinner forces players to think. Do you remove Captain Hook or do you use paint to make him a friend? Do you make certain things disappear or do you repair them to their original state? The game is filled with dilemmas that influence the course of the game from start to finish.
Links to the past of Disney are present in abundance, ranging from old Mickey Mouse products, the e-tickets from Disneyland, old rides, themes from the classic cartoons and projection screens that act as portal to other worlds, but are a 2D platform level thoughout an oldfashioned and often black&white short like Steamboat Willie or Mickey and the Beanstalk.
Graphically this game is one with highs and lows. One moment your jaw will drop in amazement while minutes later you get back with your feet on the ground due to bad finihsing of a texture in low resolution. The most memorable things remains the intro which is of rare quality on the Wii. The audio is what you would expect from a Disney game, beautiful music that first perfectly and great sound-effects. Only the choice to not use voice-over but stick with text is an unfortunate decision and an added value we see taken out more often with games on the Wii. The positive thing about the text is that we get a fully localised version so that also kids that don’t speak English have an idea of what’s going on.
The atmosphere, story and alternative endings make that the game remains in your console. It’s a rock solid platformer, only too bad that the camera makes some of the magic disappear. Epic Mickey sounds like a title for the younger generation, but the game prooves the contrary thanks to the many winks towards the Disney from the past. A perfect homage to the biggest cartoon heroes… ever!