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Disney Epic Mickey (Wii) artwork

Disney Epic Mickey (Wii) review

"The themes in Disney Epic Mickey are more complex than you might expect from a children’s game, but they’re handled in the best way possible: through gameplay. The developers didn’t simply give the player dialog choices and consider that sufficient. Instead, they presented Mickey with a more fundamental means of making his choices. As Mickey works his way through Wasteland, he’ll need to decide whether to rely on paint or thinner."

There was a time when the mere thought of Mickey Mouse was exciting. Most of us probably remember that time, but it’s hard to imagine that today’s kids will share our fondness for the beloved character. He simply has too much competition these days and Disney nostalgia can only go so far when the studio has barely made any effort at all to make the character relevant in the 21st century. The occasional re-release of old material just doesn’t cut it, particularly when so much of that content was produced in the 50s and 60s and modern animation seems to have advanced along the mean-spirited trail that Looney Tunes so effectively blazed. So it is that one of the most famous mascots in the history of mascots is fading away from the public eye, relegated to the role of Disneyland greeter.

In more than one way, Disney Epic Mickey is a chance for the famous mouse to find the redemption that he so desperately needs. It might be his last opportunity to avoid the fate with which so many other cartoon characters have met: obscurity.

The game opens as Mickey Mouse wakes from reading “Through the Looking Glass” to find that his very own mirror now serves as a portal to another world. That other world isn’t particularly interesting at first. It’s just a basement in a workshop, where an old wizard has created a scale model of a fantasy world in which cartoon characters can live out their remaining days together. Tired from his work, the wizard heads upstairs to get some shuteye while Mickey creeps into the workshop and lifts a magical brush from its resting spot. Enthusiastically, he begins swinging the brush to and fro across the miniature world as sparkles of light bathe its towers, mountains and swamps in magic. From the midst of that sorcery, there rises a mysterious black blob. As its visage grows increasingly menacing, Mickey tries in a panic to clean it all up but in the process he spills thinner all over everything. Blue and green liquids swirl together into a nasty brew that sucks in an empty bottle and (finally) the blob itself. Just ahead of the maelstrom, Mickey Mouse flees through the magic mirror, retreats to his bed and falls asleep as if nothing ever happened.

Decades pass, and one evening Mickey is awakened from his sleep by droplets of black ink. A massive and vaguely familiar form towers over him. Huge, inky arms grab him and drag him through a mirror and down into the very world that Mickey so carelessly ruined so very long ago.

When the game begins properly and Mickey awakens to find himself strapped to an evil scientist’s table as a whirling saw blade descends toward him with deadly intent, it’s tempting to think that perhaps he had it coming. Start to play the game, though, and that attitude goes away. As you work to help the mouse escape from his current predicament--because, after all, you or a loved one paid to buy or rent this game and you might as well give it a shot--it quickly becomes evident that Junction Point has imbued the whole adventure with that familiar but sometimes forgotten sense of Disney wonder that caused so many of us to fall in love with Mickey Mouse in the first place. Before long, you will likely have forgotten that Mickey was such a scoundrel because you’ll be having too much fun meeting the residents of the world that he nearly ruined and helping them live a better life… or not.

The strange dimension in which Mickey finds himself was once a beautiful place, before the calamity that its inhabitants remember so well. The thinner accident changed lives, and not for the better. Now, monsters known as Blotlings roam the land, terrorizing its inhabitants. As if that weren’t bad enough, a Mad Doctor has built an army of mechanical minions who seem to be working toward the same dark end. The result is that the land’s citizens have retreated to a few last places of refuge, yet even there the magical paint from which the world is constructed has begun to peel away. Once-beautiful houses have holes in their roofs. Bridges built along verdant landscapes are practically gone, with nothing but translucent outlines to remind anyone that they even existed in the first place. Most fearsome of all is the realization among the cartoon populace that they are on the verge of being forgotten and erased, even from this one place where once a bright future seemed tangible.

As Mickey, you bring hope. At first, you do so reluctantly. After all, your only real goal at first is to escape with your life. To do so, though, you’ll have to make things right for those who you wronged all of those decades ago. You’ll have to face the Blot in combat, but first you’ll get to know the inhabitants who would surely hate you if only they knew what you had done to their peaceful lives.

The themes in Disney Epic Mickey are more complex than you might expect from a children’s game, but they’re handled in the best way possible: through gameplay. The developers didn’t simply give the player dialog choices and consider that sufficient. Instead, they presented Mickey with a more fundamental means of making his choices. As Mickey works his way through Wasteland, he’ll need to decide whether to rely on paint or thinner. The first has the power to recreate and to forge friendships. The second can just as easily help him reach the end of a given stage--or even help him to do it more easily, in many cases--but it will deprive him of the true rewards that creativity can afford him. A blustering, robotic Pete is a challenge to bring down with thinner and a more fearsome foe still if Mickey relies on paint, yet going the latter route is the only way to acquire the friendship of the very real Pete who waits back in Mean Street with the other cartoons.

Choices come fast and furious, and the player might not even always know that he is making them. That allows Wasteland to feel like a dynamic place. Do you try to help the pirate find love with Henrietta? Of course you do. But do you accomplish that by bringing her ice cream (it’s the easy choice) or do you go the extra mile and bring her flowers? There’s no way ahead of time to tell what the outcome will be. The result is that you’ll very likely want to play through the game twice just so you can experience everything that you might have missed along the road not taken. The game encourages repeated playthroughs, even requires them if you want to experience every last action stage and snag every last collectible pin.

Will most players want to play through a second or third time, though? Actually, yes. Strip away the questions of morality and choice and what you’re left with in Disney Epic Mickey is a solid platformer that harkens back to the days when we could afford to take solid platformers for granted. There are definitely issues with the camera and they do crop up in some of the most inconvenient of places, but otherwise there are few technical flaws and the game looks absolutely gorgeous. This is perhaps the most artistic world that we’ll ever have the chance to explore on Wii, a world comprised of vibrant and detailed textures that don’t always seem like they should even be possible on the hardware. The artists at Junction Point should be commended, truly.

Similar praise is owed the people who designed the stages. Each new area is full of life, or it will be by the time you leave it behind. You’ll activate forgotten carnival rides, take boat rides down rivers while avoiding swirling whirlpools, ascend the masts on a pirate ship that rises like a ghostly apparition from a dark mist and travel through dark corridors where menacing tentacles reach in from the sides to grab you and bring your adventure to an end.

In addition to the three-dimensional stages that make up the bulk of the game, you’ll also be able to experience a healthy number of two-dimensional stages that have been given a wonderfully retro feel. Such areas have the grainy look of old film, and you can even see the sides of the filmstrip flashing about as you work through rudimentary platformer stages. You’ll wish that they could last longer as you navigate familiar environments from cartoons such as Steamboat Willie and Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty. Some of the stages must be played through multiple times, since they connect the various three-dimensional worlds, but none of them are so long as to make that process a nuisance and there are always e-tickets to collect along the way so that you can purchase upgrades and unlock concept art at the various shops.

Parents who are hoping for a game that will last their kids awhile should also be delighted with Disney Epic Mickey because a single trip through the game can take even an experienced gamer somewhere around 20 hours if he tries to explore every nook and cranny in search of the secret experiences and the gorgeous concept art that are available. Even blazing through the game on subsequent adventures can take half that amount of time all over again. The difficulty level throughout the game is challenging but never brutal, especially if players explore and find all of the available upgrades, plus it’s genuinely amusing to find different ways to work through the stages.

Though it’s difficult to say whether or not Disney Epic Mickey will ultimately provide Mickey Mouse with all of the redemption that he could use at this point, there’s no question that the game is a huge step in the right direction. By the time players help the famous mouse through the final battle with the inky monstrosity that he helped to create, they will most certainly have developed a strong attachment to the timeless character and--most likely--to the world that he all too briefly inhabits. In many ways, this feels like the most faithful and wonderful Disney adventure that the video game medium has ever provided. Disney, if you’re listening, here are four words for your consideration: more like this, please.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 08, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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