Disney Epic MickeyESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Action Games
I remember the first time I saw Disney Epic Mickey in motion. I was at E3 in June and it was Epic Mickey’s first public showing in playable form. I was amazed with the concept of the story as well as some of the gameplay it was bringing to the table. Since that time I have been eagerly awaiting the game's final release. Well that time has come, and I received the retail version for review. After putting the game through its paces, I have to admit that my emotions are mixed. The story and creative vision put forth was just as great as I expected, but there were a few speed bumps along the way that took some of the luster away from what could have been “game of the year” material.
Visually speaking, I think Junction Point has done a great job bringing the world of Epic Mickey to the Wii. Given that at this point the Wii is the only console you will play this game on, the visuals are pretty solid and add to the gaming experience. From the fluid animation, original artistic design of the characters and worlds, to the use of subtle lighting and particle effects, the Wii’s graphic chipset does an admirable job of putting this all on screen. Although the Wii does a pretty good job, there are a few technical issues that you will come across. Most notably there are a few areas where the level design is just too complex and the Wii will have some trouble rendering it without any glitches. This inadvertently leads to some very noticeable slowdown. As well, you may find some screen tearing, but this will be result of getting stuck in a corner or the camera going all wonky on you. Overall, the effort put forth to bring this game to life on Nintendo’s lesser powered console is pretty admirable to say the least.
In terms of Epic Mickey’s audio, I would have to say that like the visuals, it does compliment the game, but just a little less so. The game’s soundtrack really does flatter the game's artistic design. You’ll find that each level you are venturing though seems to have accompanying music that blends in and makes for a more immersive experience. To be able to take classic Disney themes and put a new twist on them to allow for a new feel, and sound of course, that matches the visuals, is impressive indeed. Where I was very disappointed was with the voice acting, or in this case, the lack of such during gameplay. You’ll find solid voice acting in the cut-scenes, but the gameplay does not benefit in this area as there are no voices. Given how the story plays out, you’ll find a lot of text boxes to read, not joyous character voices to hear. As for the sound effects, the game is brought to life with the available sound effects, from environmental sounds specific to each area to the very cute squeaks and grunts that each character utters. Bottom line — the game’s sound does have its own charm, but it really does miss the inclusion of voices during gameplay.
For those looking for a typical “The Happiest Place on Earth” Disney experience, you are in for a surprise, as Epic Mickey does not have such a happy story. To sum it up, there is a place where Disney characters who have fallen out of favour go. This place is called Wasteland. You could consider this a ‘retirement community’ of sorts where discarded and less illustrious characters go to spend the rest of their cartoon lives. Unfortunately, Mickey accidentally spills dark ink into this world and hence evil is unleashed onto Wasteland. Months later Mickey himself is pulled into Wasteland by the evil he unleashed, and it is here where Epic Mickey’s adventure really begins.
The story that unfolds is a huge draw to what makes this game. You will find that you will experience many emotions as you play. From sadness and pity, to joy and elation, this game will take you on a bit of an emotional ride. It is not your typical soft and cuddly Disney experience, and it really does seem like Disney has grown up in some ways as they provide an involving narrative this time around, not just a superficial Disney-esque experience. As I played the game I found I had a vested interest in what was going on in Wasteland and I wanted to learn all I could about those who had been ‘retired’ to this lonely and somewhat sad place. Along with an interest in all of the characters populating Wasteland, you will also take on the role of Mickey, who inadvertently unleashed evil upon Wasteland, and you will find that cleaning up the mess is something you want to do, not just something you need to do.
Another aspect of Epic Mickey that is somewhat well implemented, and makes it a game of its own, is the newly introduced paint and thinner mechanic. Once you are in Wasteland you can see exactly how the world and its residents have been affected by your accidental release of evil. With this in mind you have the tools to fix much of what has happened, as you are equipped with paintbrush, paint, and paint thinner. This new mechanic has some interesting gameplay elements as you can create or destroy objects and/or areas in Wasteland. From painting a platform to help you reach an inaccessible area to using paint thinner to ‘erase’ a part of a mountain and discovering a hidden object, you’ll have lots to do and lots to think about. As well, you can battle enemies with this new mechanic. Here you can use the paint to help ‘convert’ them to your side, or you can use the thinner to take them out by dissolving them and they vanish forever. If I had any problem with this whole paint/thinner mechanic, it was that any changes I made in any given level seemed to disappear once I left. If I exited an area where I either painted, used thinner, or both, to alter the environment, and then returned, the changes disappeared. It was very strange and somewhat weird. Maybe this was due to the memory limitation of the Wii itself, but I do not know for sure as I am not a hardware engineer, just a reviewer.
Interestingly enough, how you deal with the enemies you come across actually impacts how the story plays out through your adventure. Of course, this means how you use your paint and/or thinner will dictate what kind of character mouse you are. You can choose the role of savior, a good route, and try to convert the enemies, or you can choose the role of punisher, the bad route, and use thinner for all problems and cause everything to disappear forever. Where this moral choice really becomes prevalent is in the boss battles. Depending on how you go about defeating the various bosses in the game, you will either gain a new ally or cause them the disappear from the story for good. It is an interesting addition to the game given your choices do impact the story in someway.
So the story, paintbrush/thinner mechanic, and moral choice aspects of game are really neat, and make for a more enjoyable experience, but there are some glaring issues that do hurt this game. Let me explain.
One of the most inescapable issues that came to light during my time with the game was the control and camera. In terms of the control, it is not as accurate as I would have liked. This issue was very annoying as it caused my death on more than one occasion. For example, teetering on the edge of a platform, I did not have the ability to jump or step at the right time. I felt that the responsiveness of button presses did not register in the actual gameplay on a consistent basis. In a game where this was needed, it was frustrating that this issue raised its ugly head.
As for the camera, man this could prove to be more maddening than the control issues. This is particularly evident for the combat portions of the game. I found the lock-on feature of Epic Mickey seems to have issues finding the enemy you want to lock onto during multi-enemy battles. For me, this caused repeated button presses in an effort to get the camera to lock onto the right enemy. This caused me to get disoriented as the camera would wildly move about until finding the right spot. Even outside of battle, the camera, which is dynamic, caused the game to take on viewing angles that are quite strange, and although there is a feature to center the camera again, the movement for such can be disorienting and it can be a battle to find the right viewing perspective. I know I found myself staring at one too many walls during my play through. I really wonder if a fixed camera could have corrected these annoyances, but right now I guess we will never know.
Another issue I had, which was not nearly as annoying as the control and camera issues, was the questing sections of the game. Here you get specific objectives that entail you to go across the various areas and back again in order to return the item being requested. Although great in theory, they could be more of a chore than an adventure. I found that having to venture to multiple areas in an effort to find something as simple as some flowers for a NPC who needs them could be more boring than fun. Don’t get me wrong, it is not like this all the time, but the fact that there are quite a few of these fun-less quests is a bit disheartening.
Finally, a somewhat problematic issue that affects Epic Mickey is a lack of clear direction for such things as quests, puzzles, or where to go to next. In a game like this, which relies on a combination of adventure and platforming, direction is important. To have to wander around in an area and figure out what to do next, or where to go, can not only be monotonous, but affects the flow of gameplay. I wish their was more explanation in these situations as it could have kept the game flowing, and somewhat more interesting, given you would at least know what you are looking for, what you have to do, or where you have to go.
On a more positive note, Epic Mickey is about a 12-16 hour adventure depending on your skill level and how you play the game. There are a ton of collectibles that will cause those gamers who consider themselves completionists to come back and play again. I myself can say that I am happy with the length of the game as it is not your typical short, quick and easy to play through Disney experience, plus the story is truly interesting as it plays out.
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