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Disney's Epic Mickey Review
Epic Mickey is an adventure game for the Nintendo Wii. It was developed by Junction Point for Disney Interactive Studios, and released on November 30th, with something of an ambitious premise; Epic Mickey is trying to be a lot of things. It is a Disney game featuring Mickey Mouse, their oldest and most iconic character, so there is definitely a need for it to be a family friendly experience, but at the same time, they did want it to be a little darker and edgier, to appeal to older audiences as well. It's also an adventure game, so platforming elements are certainly abundant, but at the same time, Epic Mickey brings plenty of its own unique gameplay elements with it to put twists on that too. Also, to truly create a gaming experience that appeals to all ages, it's necessary for the gameplay to be simple and accessible, but at the same time, it needs to provide enough of a challenge to keep the more seasoned gamers interested.
With all of this on the table, the developers of Epic Mickey had a pretty daunting task on their hands, to create a game that was all of these things, and still managed to be a cohesive gaming experience that was, above all else, fun. Read on to find out if Epic Mickey succeeds in that effort.
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Epic Mickey takes place in a place called "The Wasteland," a world created to be a home for Disney's forgotten characters. Wasteland is ruled by Oswald the Rabbit, a character who looks suspiciously like Mickey and used to be Disney's star, before Mickey's rise to fame caused him to be forgotten. The denizens of Wasteland make the best of a bad situation; they've been forgotten, but they can still live a happy life in their new home. That is, until the "Thinner Disaster."
Mickey is drawn through the mirror in his bedroom to the painted model that represents Wasteland, and out of curiosity, he accidentally spills a bottle of Paint Thinner into the world, causing large portions of it to become destroyed, and causing a terrible villain that the residents of the world refer to only as "The Blot" to come into being.
From that basic premise, the story is peppered with a very simple sort of morality scale, something that's becoming popular in games, even if true moral conflict has thus far proven difficult to obtain. Depending on how the player chooses to interact with the world and its characters, Mickey will become either a Hero or a Scrapper, which will affect the overall storyline and the way that Wasteland's characters interact with him. It's fun and family friendly, and it offers up some of the morals and lessons that I think many have come to expect from Disney, but it does an excellent job of never being too heavy-handed about it. The story is fun and generally well-written, but it does tend to be overly simple in an effort to be family friendly and feel like a cartoon, and it probably could have benefited from some added complexity.
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Mickey Mouse himself is obviously the main character of the game, but early on, you meet Gus, who serves as your guide and your companion for the rest of the game. He'll offer advice from time to time, and he's also the one that teaches you how to use new attacks and abilities as they are added to your arsenal throughout the game. Gus is a goblin, and there are many other goblins throughout the game who serve as minor characters. They're the resident technicians of Wasteland, able to fix just about any machine. Most of them have been kidnapped and imprisoned, and it's up to you to free them as you progress in your adventure. Many of them, upon being freed, will fix a machine for you that you would have otherwise had to fix manually.
Oswald is the other primary character, and he serves as a companion and, at the same time, a mysterious figure who sometimes feels like he may be a villain. His intentions and motivations are unclear at the best of times, but it's hard not to feel sympathetic towards him. After all, it's Mickey's fault that he was forgotten in the first place, and everything going wrong in Wasteland is a result of the Thinner Disaster, which is also directly Mickey's fault.
Other than that, Wasteland is full of characters that you'll come across in your travels. Some are friendly, and others are servants of the "Mad Doctor," a mad scientist working to destroy Wasteland, and Mickey Mouse. You'll sometimes be asked to run errands by the minor characters, which gives you an excuse to interact with them a little more. The characters, like the story, are not overly complex. The game tends to err on the side of a simple cartoon personality when it comes to things like that, but while they may be simple, all of the characters, even the minor ones, are colorful and lively, and above all else, fun.
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Graphics And Art Style
Epic Mickey isn't the most graphically impressive game on the market. It's not even the most graphically impressive game on the Wii, and the Wii certainly isn't the most powerful console on the market, with limitations well below that of its competitors, even at its highest settings. Still, it knows it own limits and works well within them. It has an excellent, sort of whimsical art style that brings Saturday morning cartoons to mind. The game is bright and colorful, and it's filled with small touches that bring it to life. There are a couple of different types of cinematic scenes as well for different types of circumstances, and all of them have the same fun cartoonish feel that evokes the nature of Disney and especially of Mickey Mouse.
A few of the movements of Mickey and some of the other characters, as well as the shapes of some of the objects in the world, can sometimes appear a little less smooth and rounded as they ought to; the limitations of the hardware showing through, perhaps. Overall, however, the art style works in a way that both fits into the capabilities of the Wii system, and serves to compliment the gaming experience.
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Music and sound effects have always been a strength of Disney's, and the sounds in Epic Mickey are absolutely no exception to this rule. The score is almost always fantastic and serves to set the mood of every scene in a way that is always effective and is in fact usually memorable. The sound effects provided for the interactions that Mickey makes with the game world are effective, and the game is full of wonderful little touches that complete the task of bringing Mickey to life. For instance, if you walk slowly, to sneak by something, the game makes the tip-toeing sound effect that many of us are sure to remember from the cartoons of our childhoods.
Something else Disney can usually be counted on to do extremely well is voice acting, and Epic Mickey, unfortunately, is completely missing this aspect. In cinematics, the sound effect that goes along with the subtitles on the bottom of the screen is a sort of chirping noise, reminiscent of the "Simlish" that characters in games such as The Sims speak, or the speech patterns of characters in Nintendo's popular Animal Crossing series.
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Controls And Camera
The controls in Epic Mickey are exceptionally simple. You jump and run to move around, and that's pretty much it. The jump physics are well-executed, so it's generally pretty easy to tell when and if you can make a certain jump. You do your spin attack, which is your primary method of interacting with objects and enemies, by shaking the remote. Paint and Thinner are fired by pointing your Wii remote at a specific spot on the screen, and then pressing and holding the appropriate button once you've aimed.
When it comes to controls in a game, less is definitely more, and this is especially true on the Wii system, where it's always important to use the system's motion controls, but use them in a way that doesn't hinder the experience. The simpler a developer can make things, the more intuitive the control scheme is going to be. If it feels natural after a short amount of time, controls will help the gamer to have fun rather than impede it by frustrating them, and Epic Mickey keeps things very simple.
The camera mostly follows you well as you roam around the world, and it can be manipulated manually, but it does fall into the trap that 3D games sometimes experience where, especially in certain tight corners, the camera can become stuck and immovable. Epic Mickey does a better job of avoiding this than most games, but it still isn't perfect.
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The gameplay mechanics pivot on the idea of Paint, and Thinner. At the beginning of the game, Mickey picks up a magic paintbrush that can fire either Paint or Thinner in streams. Certain objects in the world are constructed from "toon," a material that can be either erased using Thinner, or filled in using paint. This forms the base for nearly every puzzle in the game. Toon is recognizable, as it will always be more colorful than the surrounding environment, and once you've recognized that something is Toon, you know you can remove it. Something that can be filled in will always leave a silhouette behind as well, so that it's easily recognizable where you can paint something in.
Some situations will call for one of the two choices, specifically, but you will often have a choice of which to use. The game's enemies can be destroyed by using Thinner or made friendly by using Paint, and many puzzles can be solved by using one or the other. The game will take a slightly different path, placing you in the role of either Hero or Scrapper, depending on whether you choose to use Paint or Thinner in the majority of situations, putting their morality system in the spotlight once again.
Beyond that mechanic, you can jump and use a spin attack to smash enemies or objects in the world, and the game plays mostly as a standard 3D platformer. There are plenty of collectible items to obtain as well, many of them optional, to give the player tasks to do in addition to advancing the main story, and all of the tasks you're given, both optional and required, are added as "quests," which can be viewed in your pause menu. This works as a great way to organize the things you have to do. The game doesn't often let you know when you're about to go past a point where you can't turn back, which can unfortunately make it easy to fail quests you had planned to come back to. The great thing about the quests, however, is that the number of optional quests provided are a great way to add challenge for those that want it. Some of them are downright punishing, whereas the main game tends to be much simpler, to remain accessible to a wider and often younger audience.
Finally, to add one last bit of variety, to travel between levels, you jump through projector screens, which each catapult you into short 2D levels where all you can do is run and jump, all done in the style of vintage Disney cartoons. (Such as Steamboat Willie, which is literally one of the projector screens you go through.) This is an excellent way to break up the gameplay with something that has a much more retro feel, both visually and in terms of the gameplay, and because they're short levels, they never feel like they're taking away from the rest of the experience.
Epic Mickey has many different gameplay elements at work, all dressed in something that is primarily a standard 3D platform adventure game. It does an excellent job of providing a lot of variety without ever being too busy, and the main elements of the 3D world, where you can always count on coming back to, are all beautifully executed.
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There are a couple of places where Epic Mickey falls short on the delivery. The story is even simpler than it needs to be. The camera isn't always perfect. The lack of voice acting is disappointing, especially knowing what Disney is capable of when it comes to voice-over work. The game isn't perfect, and there are a few places where that shows through.
In the rest of its areas, however, it comes pretty close to perfect. The gameplay is varied, both in type and in challenge, the characters and the story, while simple, are a lot of fun, the art style is beautiful and wonderfully whimsical; the controls are intuitive and simple, the music and sound effects are spot-on, etc.
Overall, Epic Mickey is a great game. It's more than worth picking and up and adding to your Wii library even if you're not a big fan of Disney and Mickey Mouse, and if you are a fan, then it's even more worth it, because the game is a great twist on the iconic character and universe of Mickey Mouse. It's a lot of fun, and it's a great new family game for the Wii, but it also does a great job of being accessible on a sliding scale so gamers of all levels can find something to enjoy.
All images courtesy of Disney's official website.