What do you get when you mix together Mickey Mouse and obscure Disney history, coat them in the dark environments of American McGee’s Alice, add in a basic karma meter, and finish with a touch of Okami? Simply put, you get Epic Mickey. Do all of these elements combine well? They do, actually, but not quite as well as they could’ve been.
I’ll delve into the specifics of what the game does well and where it falls short, but let me start with some good news: the game does much more right than it does wrong. With that out of the way, let’s run it through the scoring system.
Story / Modes
The game provides all the exposition you’ll need, but the basics are thus: Mickey was once a very mischievous mouse who didn’t always know when to leave things like magical paintbrushes alone, and his overeagerness creates the Shadow Blot and messes up a model of a Disneyland for the company’s forgotten characters (henceforth known as Wasteland). This comes to bite him in the tail later on in his life, and the Shadow Blot comes to drag Mickey into Wasteland, where sinister figures wish to obtain the mouse’s heart in an effort to escape their ravaged home. All the while, Mickey learns about Wasteland’s toppled king, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and of the latter’s resentment towards him. Mickey thus embarks on a quest to return home and help the people of Wasteland along the way… but whether he does so as a dismissive jerk or as a noble-hearted hero is completely up to you.
The game’s setting is well defined thanks to drawing upon Disney’s long history. The key characters have strong enough personalities to leave an impression with you. Oswald stands out especially since there’s such a large lead-up to his introduction, and what a lead-up it is. While everyone has a different threshold regarding what’s frightening and what isn’t, the state of decay throughout Wasteland is as sad as it is intimidating.
And speaking of sad, that whole heart-stealing business has a different meaning. Mickey’s heart apparently represents the love he has received from Disney and animation fans, so the reason why no one in Wasteland has a heart is because nobody remembers them enough to love them. It’s as depressing as it sounds. The fact the game’s story can evoke this kind of emotion says a lot.
Even amidst all the sadness, though, the script is sprinkled with humour to prevent the tone from becoming too serious. The game’s rated E, after all, and a good story mixes up both its pace and its emotional impacts to keep people interested. Like this one. Fancy that.
Story Rating: Great
For the graphics, let’s start with Mickey: He’s been reverted to an older design of his, right down to how both of his ears are visible regardless of what angle you’re viewing him from; and you can see bits of the Blot rise upwards from his body if you sit still for a second. But that’s just the beginning: Each detail of Wasteland comes from some obscure part of Disney’s history, be it a character, a very old cartoon, products from bygone times, or a simple barrel. The people in the art department did their homework here, and it’s all great even if you don’t get all the references.
As wonderful as all the details are, though, the darkness permeating from every pore of the setting obscures some of them. This causes features of the environment to blend together because they’re all the same general color. The lack of lighting in some of these same areas only adds to this, which can make navigation through levels harder than it should. This isn’t to say that the darkness always gets in the way “â€ far from it, actually, given its necessity within the setting as a whole. For instance, ascending a spiral staircase during a key point in the game can send just as many goosebumps down one’s spine, if not more so, all thanks to the dim lighting and the decrepit state of everything. The darkness is indeed a blessing and a curse. Thankfully, it’s more of the former than the latter.
Perhaps more notable is the short transition levels between the different areas of Wasteland. These levels take their art styles from old cartoons from the Golden Age of Animation while their general design invokes that of the old 2D side-scrollers from video games’ older days. Who says today’s graphics can only make real-is-brown environments? The creativity in these levels “â€ the whole game, really “â€ is truly a sight to behold. The fact you can still see exactly where you can use paint or thinner in any environment is just icing on the cake.
All of this is, in a word, awesome. That’s not one of the words listed on our scoring system, but it should be.
Graphics Rating: Great
The music is subtle yet appropriate for the different environments. For instance, OsTown is backed by a sad-sounding tune that reflects the state of Wasteland as a whole. The levels inspired by old Mickey Mouse cartoons contain remixes of the music used in them and sound effects with the right level of grainy noise to give them a genuine Golden-Age-of-Animation feel. For reference, said era of animation started in 1928, right when sound started to feature in films. I don’t think I have to tell you that’s really freaking old. The audio department needs a congrats for this one. It also deserves credit for the other sound effects, such as the startup of old gears and that instrumental tip-toe noise whenever you have Mickey slow down to a sneaking pace. That’s some incredible attention to sonic detail right there.
The only drawback is the lack of full voice acting, though I’m not sure if that’s another tribute to the old cartoons as well. Mickey and the others have voices, to be sure, but they consist almost entirely of incidental sounds. Most cutscenes feature the characters’ using quips of sound instead of actual words, going back to an old pet peeve of mine. That said, the sounds are used consistently enough to almost pass, but they still come up short compared to what full voicing would’ve done. The only character who does use actual words when he speaks would be the sorcerer from the very beginning, and his is just narration. Is it a little grating? Yes. Is it enough to detract a lot from the game? No, not a lot, but I doubt everyone would agree on this point.
The general sound quality, at least, is top-notch the whole way through.
Sound Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay
The controls utilize the Wii’s Nunchuck configuration. You move Mickey with the joystick, and you jump or double jump with the A button. To aim where you shoot either paint (B button) or thinner (Z button), you use the Wii remote. Shake the Wii remote for a spin attack. The 1 button switches between third-person and first-person perspective while the 2 button brings up the menu. The plus (+) button allows you to rotate between different sketches that you obtain throughout the game, and the minus (-) button lets you use them. Finally, the directional pad allows you to rotate the camera when you’re in either perspective.
One of the main features of the game is the ability to paint objects into existence or to thin them out. You do this with paint and paint thinner, and how much you have of each is reflected in the blue and green meters on the screen, respectively. The 3D levels have areas where you can use either, and they’re marked by bright blue edges. Other meters you’ll be keeping track of are your health blips, of which you begin the game with five, and the guardian meter that sits below your health. The guardian meter fills with blue if you use a lot of paint and green if you use a lot of thinner. As you fill each third of the meter, up to three guardians will start following Mickey. Blue guardians, called Tints, will help befriend enemies; green guardians, called Turps, will attack enemies instead. If you hold the Wiimote upright for a few seconds, one of the guardians will fly off in the direction in which you’re supposed to go. Whether or not you can spot where exactly it’s gone depends on the environment you’re in, so they’re sometimes tricky to spot, unfortunately.
Mickey inevitably runs into Blot-based enemies he must either defeat with thinner or befriend with paint. You must deal with the bosses using the same rules, though the specific obstacles that come with them ensures you’ll find different ways to overcome each encounter. The exceptions to this are the mechanical-based enemies, on whom you must use thinner and then a spin attack in order to defeat them. Every time you’re about to encounter a new type of foe, Gus the hint-giving Gremlin will give you advice on how to best tackle the upcoming encounter. Aside from bosses, you run into many opportunities to either fight against or sneak by enemies, so what you do exactly is your choice. As you progress, your capacity for paint and thinner increase. Which one increases depends on how much of either you’ve used up to that point. You can also increase the number of health blips you have, though you can go through much of the game with the five you have by default.
You’ll obtain quests ranging from fetch-the-item ones to plot-based ones. How many of them you do and how you do them will influence an invisible karma meter, which ties into how much paint and thinner you’ve been using and will determine what ending you’ll see. As if to ensure that you can’t go back on your choices, the developers have made it so you can’t backtrack very far — ever. In fact, all the back-and-forth is restricted to Mean Street and OsTown, and that’s only at certain points in the game. This means if you miss something, you can’t go back to it unless you start a new game. I find this forces in some replay value in an annoying way, but I understand why the developers made such a design choice.
The flow of the game becomes evident in relatively short order: You journey through a 3D level in Wasteland until you reach a projector screen. Once you have Mickey jump through, he’ll arrive in a a short, old cartoon-inspired level that’s designed like a traditional 2D platformer. Once you reach the end of this kind of level, marked by another projector screen, you can let Mickey jump through and into another 3D Wasteland level. Rinse and repeat. This sounds more boring than it actually is. That said, the basic repetition is perhaps the game’s biggest drawback for it’s the one area that can render the novelty of this game has so much obscure Disney in it moot before anything else.
Most of the controls work fine, and the flow of the game is smooth even in its repetition. The bad is there and it’s noticeable, unfortunately, but you can still find a good amount of enjoyment in the game despite that.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Given all the points of no return you’ll be running into, you may or may not have the patience to obtain all the extras the game has littered everywhere on your first run. However, the usual one-hundred-percent-completion incentive is there for those who’d like to try to gather everything he or she has missed. The game has three endings, and which one you see depends on the actions you take. This adds to the replay value quite a bit, even if multiple endings is a somewhat common feature these days. Whether or not you find any of that a reason to actually replay the game, of course, is completely up to you.
But as I mentioned earlier, I think I would’ve appreciated this more if it weren’t half-forced on me.
Replayability Rating: Good
The obstacles in the different levels become more complex as you go along, requiring you to use both paint and thinner to varying degrees. They’re clever, though one obstacle “â€ the one where you paint in or thin out gears to make vertical platforms horizontal “â€ is a little overused. The challenges increase at a clip so gradual, you barely notice. Grabbing each and every extra item along the way isn’t quite as easy as it may look at first, though. One of the shops on Mean Street provides an easy alternative to taking quests, but at a cost of E-tickets.
Some areas are harder to navigate than they should, unfortunately, because the camera occasionally is fixed at moments where you might not want it to and all too flexible at others when it shouldn’t be. While ascending a series of platforms, for instance, I would’ve liked to see what was around me to see if it were possible to jump to a ledge without having to finish the climb, but that wasn’t possible because the camera wouldn’t budge much. I pouted for a bit and then moved on. That said, the amount of control you usually have over the camera is great, so the shortcomings don’t appear too often.
The beginning of Mickeyjunk Mountain has an obstacle that must be overcome by dialing a number on an old toy Mickey phone. How anyone was supposed to guess that number aside from trial and error is beyond me. If this were just a matter of my not checking the quest logs when I should’ve, then shame on me… but if not, then shame on the developers for providing no hint; I’d just have to assume this was a case of a possible old Disney reference that I just did not get on first sight. Considering how obscure the references are, the latter wouldn’t surprise me. The point here is, the hints you need to overcome certain obstacles aren’t always specific enough to help “â€ and sometimes, they just aren’t there. This is another factor that makes some parts of the game harder than it should be. Thank goodness this has happened just once and wasn’t required for completing the level.
Aside from that, though, the balance is actually good most of the time.
Balance Rating: Good
The twist of taking a beloved children’s classic and adding a dark coating over it has been done before. In fact, many parts of the game remind me of American McGee’s Alice, only Mickey isn’t catatonic and in an asylum. I haven’t seen this done often, though, and the way in which the developers have made a modern game featuring Mickey freaking Mouse still warrants a few points in the originality department. The story manages to keep the fourth wall intact even though the characters are aware they once had roles in old Disney cartoons and other products. Mickey walks around old NES cartridges in which he once featured at one point! How does this work? The script is written in a way that the characters are aware that they’ve starred in cartoons before, but not that they’re in a video game. I don’t recall anyone who’s pulled off a layered fourth wall of sorts prior to this, and especially not with Disney characters. Kudos to the writers for this one.
Epic Mickey‘s gameplay mechanics aren’t much different from what you’d expect from a platformerer or an action-adventure title, but as I’ve indicated already, it does feature its own flavor to make it stand out from other games out there.
Originality Rating: Very Good
Speaking personally, I’ve found that the novelty of playing a 2010 Mickey Mouse game wears off as the routine of the game settles into place “â€ at which point, it becomes another action-adventure platformer. The good-but-occasionally-shaky difficulty also puts me off a bit. Even so, I do want to continue playing the game, but I’m not sure how inclined I am to achieve all the different endings or every single extra. They’re there for those who’d like to nab that one-hundred percent completion, though. That almost-forced replay value that bothered me may very well be a legitimate motivator for other players.
Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable
Mickey Mouse and all characters associated with him “â€ remembered by audiences or not “â€ are designed in simple cutesy and super-deformed styles, so that alone will be enough to endear them all to young children and to parents who may want to pick up the game for said children. Granted, that cute factor is somewhat marred with the dark coating and potent fright factor that crop up often enough… but then again, some people like to be scared. In light of that, you don’t need to understand what each and every detail references, but it will most definitely help the game’s appeal factor. The story features some strong personalities, which can also draw in people and compel them to continue to the end just to see what becomes of the characters.
In short, Epic Mickey offers many different elements that can attract new and old gamers alike.
Appeal Rating: Good
The majority of cutscenes are done in a stylized concept art fashion, and they feature text that often scrolls by quick. Usually, I would think you’d want the text to stay on the screen for a little longer than needed to ensure that everyone who reads it can gather all the info. Other times, a text box will appear on screen and you can scroll through with the A button. The text box is semi-transparent, so this sometimes blends in with a brightly lit or similarly colored background. Add in how the text in general is on the small side, and you have the basic elements for making information hard to read when it shouldn’t be.
The game runs smoother than you’d expect for thirty frames per second, but slowdown occasionally occurs when many actions are going on at once. This doesn’t happen often, thank goodness, and neither is it crippling to the point of rendering the game unplayable. I just think it’s a pity it still happens.
I can say the same for the shake the Wii Remote to use the spin attack mechanic because, for some reason, I really have to shake the Wii-mote to make the action happen on the screen… and even then, I’ve noticed a delay between when I make the input and when the game registers it on screen. This hasn’t debilitated my ability to play the game, but it’s jarring to have to give the the Wiimote an almost-hurt-my-hand level of shaking for an action when I don’t have to exert nearly as much force when doing the same in, say, Sonic Colors.
Despite any of the drawbacks I’ve thus listed, I’ve enjoyed Epic Mickey quite a bit. So, Mickey? It’s great to see you star in a brand new game. Welcome to the 2010s.
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
Originality: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Rating: Good Game
Short-Attention Span Summary
Epic Mickey sets Disney’s famous mouse on a journey through a land of the forgotten, and it’s up to you whether the title character plays a noble hero, an insensitive jerk, or somewhere in the middle. The game falls a bit short of being as epic as the title implies, but plenty of elements work well: the controls are smooth and responsive for the most part; the numerous references to the obscure parts of Disney’s history are literally everywhere; and the over all presentation is good despite an occasionally fussy camera. Epic Mickey isn’t a groundbreaking game, but it’s still fun and is a definite treat for fans of Disney or animation in general. Try it out, and the little details may very well take you in before you know it.