The creative output of Pixar Animation Studios has become synonymous with the face of Disney, with characters like Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, Lightning McQueen and Wall-E generating millions, even billions, of revenue for The Walt Disney Company. But there was once a time when the face of Disney belonged to one person, one mouse in particular, of course, I’m talking about Mickey Mouse.
Once upon a time Disney’s favourite mouse was everywhere, from animated cartoons and comic strips to films and every kind of merchandise you can possibly think of. Mickey was everywhere, including computer games. In fact Mickey has starred in a long list of fantastic games from the likes of Mickey Mousecapade and Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge to the superbly brilliant Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion.
However, recently he’s taken a back seat and his game appearances have been limited to a few cameo appearances in Square Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts series. That was at least until Disney announced that Mickey Mouse was to undergo a rebranding, with a brand new game in the works acting as the catalyst. The game was Epic Mickey, a title which had created a certain degree of intrigue since it had been revealed that not only was the game to be a Nintendo Wii exclusive, but that it featured Warren Spector aka The man that brought you Deus Ex, at the helm of the game’s development.
To the shock of Disney fans and game journalists the world over, Disney also announced that Epic Mickey was to show a darker side of Mickey Mouse, one that perhaps we’d never seen before, hence rebranding his own image. Such an idea does seem very shocking but after some thought, isn’t so strange. After all, people have been pointing out the darker undertones in Disney’s output for years. Whether it’s the dark genocidal and lustful themes in The Hunchback of Notre Dame or the overtly distressing scenes in Bambi, Disney have never shone away from including more sinister elements in their work, but Epic Mickey is perhaps the first time Disney have openly admitted to it.
As you would expect from a Disney game, Epic Mickey’s presentation is almost faultless, and the dark, twisted world that Spector and Disney promised has been delivered tenfold. Ranking up there with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros Brawl as one of the best looking games on the platform, Epic Mickey brings to life the magical land of Wasteland with some flair and gusto. It’s use of colour is incredibly vibrant and vivid, a feast for the eyes, however it doesn’t quite hide the fact that Wasteland itself lacks a little bit of variety. Everything seems to look the same, which only enhances the repetitive nature that plagues the game from start to finish.
However, whilst it may lack in the diversity department (try saying that one fast), Wasteland is filled to the brim with Disney imagery. With so much history and folklore at it’s disposal, it was a challenge within itself to ensure that the game used Disney’s vast IP properly. But thankfully, Epic Mickey does a brilliant job of utilizing Disney’s incredible back catalogue of characters, locations and themes, meaning fans of Disney will no doubt get a kick out of being constantly surrounded by assets from their favourite Disney films. Epic Mickey is a nostalgia addict’s dream.
Whilst Disney, over the years, has become famous for their memorable characters and stories, it’s perhaps their work with sound that is most overlooked. It’s all too easy to forget that Disney has provided some of the most iconic soundtracks and scores in cinema history (Fantasia anyone?). Thankfully, Epic Mickey continues in the same vein with a score that has been lovingly crafted, providing the perfect backdrop to the magical journey you must take. The soundtrack is huge, orchestral and grand, the perfect accompaniment, in fact all that’s really missing is the inclusion of some voice acting work which would’ve been the cherry on the icing of the cake (seriously, I thought the idea of having to read text speech in games had been a thing of the past, or at least relegated to old school, handheld RPGs).
Whilst Warren Spector and the team over at Junction Point Studios have crafted a wonderfully looking, beautifully sounding, dark and at times unnerving, tale from inside the Disney universe, its Epic Mickey’s gameplay which brings disappointment and in many ways, leads to it’s downfall.
As a 3D platformer Epic Mickey is made or broken on the way it controls and unfortunately this is at the heart of the problem the game has. Epic Mickey possesses an inability to control fluidly, every jump, every turn feels as clunky as the last which, at a time where we now have the Wii Motion Plus, is frankly unacceptable. Smattering your paint and thinner everywhere (yes..that innuendo is intended) is all fine and dandy, if a little awkward at times, but Epic Mickey just doesn’t get the basics right.
It’s camera angles are the source of all the evil, they’re awkward, frustrating and more of a hindrance than the actual real obstacles in your way. In the end, having to stop every minute to adjust your camera angle manually becomes such a chore that you often find yourself not even bothering, missing enemies that were hiding, jumping down pits you couldn’t see and misjudging jumps you thought you could make. Soon enough Epic Mickey turns from what could’ve been a beautiful, fun adventure into an attractive, frustrating mess.
Unfortunately all the problems that lie with Epic Mickey do not just fall at the feet of it’s controls and camera system, it’s the actual gameplay itself that does the game no favours. The lack of variety within the game’s use of locations is a complete reflection of the game’s overall gameplay. It lacks variation, every quest/task you complete feels the same as the next, and what on paper is a fun, exciting adventure turns actually quite dull. It’s all a case of talk to them, do a task for them, get the item you need off them as a reward, then move onto the next quest, rinse and repeat.
The only redeeming feature comes in the form of the bonus staging that you must travel through each area you go to. Not only do these take you back to the early days of Disney with their various cartoon animated themes (the Tugboat Willy stage is probably my favourite), it also harks back to the early days of gaming with it’s retro, side scrolling platform gameplay, reminding me why I miss those types of games so much. All in all they bring a welcome relief from the frustrating, monotonous nature of the rest of the game.
It’s a huge disappointment really, the idea, the design choice, even the story (which is brilliant by the way!), everything was in place to make Epic Mickey one of the very few, “must have” Wii games. And whilst the vision of Warren Spector and the Junction Point Studios team has come to fruition in tremendous fashion, it seems they have overlooked perhaps the most important thing when designing a game, it’s gameplay.
Review Round Up
Graphics: 4/5 – One of the best looking games on the Wii. Dark, magical and vivid, if at times repetitive.
Sound: 4.5/5 – Beautifully orchestrated score which works hand in hand with the wild adventure you will embark on. Would’ve been nice to have some voice acting though.
Gameplay: 2.5/5 – Repetitive and monotonous. Lacks variation and is ultimately the biggest disappointment even though the game is redeemed slightly by the brilliant bonus stages between worlds.
Longevity: 2/5 – If your willing to put up with awkward controls, camera angles and some monotonous gameplay you might want to play the game once just to enjoy it’s presentation and it’s story. But one play through is enough.
Overall: Epic Mickey gets 3 Buckets of paint and thinner out of 5.
- Kieran Roycroft