Review: Epic Mickey

Russ Pitts | 3 Dec 2010 10:00
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Epic Mickey is a tragedy. Narratively and in real life. Epic Mickey is one of the few games I've been eagerly anticipating since learning of it but the experience of actually playing the game is such a disappointment that it's hard to know where to begin with describing it.

The story of Epic Mickey (Wii) begins when Mickey Mouse, in a moment of foolishness, sneaks into The Creator's workshop and accidentally introduces a powerful monster to the world of Wasteland, the mirror-image version of Disneyland. Wasteland is the nursing home of the Magic Kingdom, populated by characters like Clarabelle and Horace the Horse, who, while once incredibly popular, have long since been overshadowed by the more iconic Mouse and are living out their days waiting to be written off the books. Years after the accident, the monster captures Mickey and drags him back to the now-ruined Wasteland in an attempt to steal his heart. Mickey must escape the monster's clutches and find a way out of Wasteland, leaving it either better off or worse than it was before.

Make no mistake, this story is phenomenal, and is easily the high point of Epic Mickey. Unfortunately a strong and engaging narrative can only carry a game so far, and in this case is torpedoed by sloppy game mechanics.

The core mechanic of Epic Mickey revolves around Mickey's ability to use the magic brush to shoot either paint, which rebuilds things made of "toon," or thinner, which destroys them. Some creatures Mickey encounters can be turned to his side by brushing them with paint, or washed away by dousing them with thinner. And, accordingly, many puzzles in the game can either be solved by constructing things, helping others, or by cutting right to the chase and thinning your way to victory.

In theory this is a unique mechanic, as it allows for multiple resolutions to practically any scenario, and the repercussions of your use of either paint or thinner echo through the game. You get different rewards for using each power, for instance, and the more you use your powers, the sooner you will attract helpers who show you where to go or can defeat enemies for you. Which helpers you get, however, will depend on which you use more: paint or thinner.

In reality, the divergent play styles are hard to resolve in any logical fashion. It's frequently hard to tell whether a particular puzzle's mechanic is set up to be the "thinner solution" or the "paint solution," and you'll find yourself accidentally resolving quests just by looking around or by talking to someone when you didn't intend to. When the game does present you with an obvious choice, the incentive for doing the "wrong" thing is hard to grasp. Most of the clearly morality-based choices will either offer you a collectible reward for using paint, or in-game currency (tickets) for using thinner. Since there isn't much you can use the tickets for besides purchasing collectible rewards it feels a bit pointless.

Collectors will find some enjoyment in tracking down the rarer pins (awarded for solving puzzles in a certain way, or by helping certain characters) and the concept art and film reels scattered throughout Wasteland. The 2D platform levels which serve as Mickey's gateway into each new level of Wasteland are also fun, each being modeled after different Disney films like Steamboat Willie. In these levels, characters and settings appear as they did when first presented, in all of their monochromatic or Technicolor glory. This only adds to the nostalgia value of the game, and does help somewhat lessen the impact of the game's painful mechanics and play.

This is where Epic Mickey really shines; in its innovative use of the vast catalog of Disney characters. Even hardcore Disney-philes will occasionally be overcome with waves of surprise nostalgia when spotting this or that random character they knew as a child. Encountering the Mickey Mouse telephone on Mount Mickeyjunk, for example, brought to mind many pleasant childhood memories for me. Unfortunately those memories, like most of the brief pleasant experiences I had with Epic Mickey, were dashed to oblivion by trying to actually play the game.

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