Epic Mickey Logo

Epic Mickey – 83 years in the making

Epic Mickey takes a darker look at the world created by the mouse, by taking players to a world inspired by a time before the mouse existed. Interestingly, Warren Spector worked on this game: you may know him from other non-mouse titles such as Wing Commander, System Shock, and Deus Ex (really?). The influence is subtle, but it’s definitely there. It doesn’t ruin anything for me to tell you that the endings of System Shock 2 and Epic Mickey are quite similar, but how that is possible I leave up to you to figure out.

This one has been on the back-burner for some time and I’m glad I’m finally getting around to it, because I still feel like these types of games still have a place in the gaming lexicon — and I’m going to attempt to explain it all to you, as long as you agree to forgive my feeble attempts at explaining Disney animation history in the space of a few paragraphs. And that’s a blessing and a curse of Epic Mickey: If you’re a Mickey/ Disney fanatic there is much to savor here, but if not the game must get by on it’s adventure merits alone. Either way, for your safety, remain seated with your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the rocket and watch your children (para su seguridad, permanezca sentado con las manos, brazos, pies y piernas dentro del cohete y ver a sus hijos). You are cleared for launch.

 

Setting

The game makes an immediate allusion to Through the Looking Glass as we first see Mickey in the opening sequence. Indeed, much of the game is based on the idea of alternates, or opposites. Mickey enters the workshop of the sorcerer (think Fantasia), who is creating a model world very similar to Magic Kingdom, painting in all of the detail. Mickey, the clumsy ass he is, manages to spill paint thinner into the model. This creates some crazy voo-doo causing Mickey to get sucked into the universe. This is Wasteland, which is like a bizzaro Disney World, wrecked by the “thinner disaster”. There is a mad scientist and evil paint thinner creatures that Mickey must contend with. And where Mickey is “the man” at the Magic Kingdom, Wasteland is run by Oswald (the Lucky Rabbit). Wasteland is where the Disney characters of the early 20th century live in a purgatory-like existence. So, for those in the WDW know, Epic Mickey contains worlds that will remind you of Tomorroland, Adventureland, Main Street USA, and whatever that area is called where the Haunted Mansion is. There’s even a nod to Tron in there, nice touch.

Brief history lesson: In a nutshell Mickey is actually a knockoff of Oswald; Mickey was created after Universal Pictures told Disney to cut his operating budget. Unbeknownst to Disney, Universal also signed most of Disney’s staff to a new contract. Walt told Universal to stick it and created Mickey Mouse with some of his buds who, today, could pass for a coffee shop, indie-film, fixed-gear aficionado. Mickey Mouse, for legal reasons, is absolutely nothing like Oswald (kinda like the Fargate from ATHF). Eighty years later Disney owns the rights to Oswald again, and Universal owns Al Michaels… look it up. And that’s how we arrive at Epic Mickey.

That being said, the world is actually one to marvel at, which is a must for any platforming-adventure game. Mario transitions between worlds by jumping into paintings. Mickey transitions between worlds by jumping into films projected into screens. The transitions are impressive looking 2D replicas of classic animated shorts. And when I say impressive looking, I’m not talking about XBox 360 poly-counts and z-buffers and shit. I’m talking about creating the visual vibe of those animated films. Characters have that crazy hand-drawn and painted look to them. While I didn’t have very many “wow” moments with this game, but this is one of them. The 3D environments are well detailed too, not to the level of PS3 or Xbox, but in the attention to detail to Disney artifacts. In the first world, for example, a keen eye will spot some giant NES Mickey Mousecapade cartridges among the Wasteland rubble. And let’s get something straight — both Mousecapade and Duck Tails were legit NES games back in the day, not for the faint at heart.

 

Gameplay

To set things right Mickey takes up his trusty paintbrush. Using the Wii Remote Mario shoots water from his backpack to clean-up the town Mickey uses paint and thinner to build or destroy to solve puzzles. There might be an item hidden behind a wall — use the thinner. Or, there may be a chasm you need to cross — paint a bridge and cross safely. Mario also has a spin attack when shaking the Wii Remote. Mickey can also spin attack enemies by shaking the Wii Remote. The rest is pretty standard adventure game fare: you collect items — the more stuff you have the further into the game you can progress. Characters give you quests to complete, which mostly consist of fetching and scavenger hunts. Most of the time it is tedious, but you’ve gotta do them to progress — and only sometimes is the payoff something useful for your abilities.

In a surprising twist, however, there is also a bit of morality in the game (a la Deus Ex perhaps). The most pivotal puzzles always have two solutions, one that can be solved with thinner (obviously evil) and one with paint (clearly good). The best way to describe it is to think about how Captain EO turned the Supreme Leader (played by Angelica Houston… look it up) to the “light side” by shooting positive music beams at her. (Are these Disney references doing anything for you yet?) Depending on how you solve these puzzles determines how your paint and thinner capacities increase, and how characters react to you. But, lets face it, it’s a Disney game. I’m taking the high road on this one… hell, I can’t even bring myself to be evil in a BioWare game, how am I going to do it now. Paint all the way baby. Actually, the cut scenes and rewards favor the “paint-side” as well, so just go with it.

This game also has a ton of extras for Disney fans. Just like the real world, this game has you collecting pins, pin collecting is huge at WDW, though to an outsider seemingly as important as collecting Pogs today. Anyhow, your efforts will also unlock some art and cutscenes, standard to these games, as well as some of the actual animated shorts from that era (Steamboat Mickey… anyone?) Like I said, if you’re a Disney person, you’ll have a blast with the extras.

 

Technology

I think we’ve reached a point in gaming where it now becomes important to talk about using the technology of the system they run on. This being the Wii, we’re talking about motion control, point and shoot, etc. The game covers most of these bases well, and the paint / thinner mechanic lend themselves well to the controls. There’s a voice, however, the occasionally mumbles from the speaker on the Wii Remote when entering and exiting homes within the game. The voice doesn’t say anything intelligible, and I’d prefer it just not be there. For a lesson in proper use of the Wii Remote’s microphone, see No More Heroes, which makes you take phone calls through the remote. You’ve gotta be careful between fun and novelty, I’m looking at you too — Kinect and Move.

And what review of a platforming adventure game would be complete without a discussion of the camera? Lakitu did a better job for Mario, and he was floating in a cloud, with the camera tied to a line at the end of a fishing pole. It seems like the only time you struggle with Epic Mickey is when it is most vital, i.e. tough platforming jumps and precision paint shooting. Other games allow more liberal camera movement by allowing the view to pass through a wall, which is transparent temporarily. Epic Mickey takes the other road, treating the camera like a physical object, so when Mickey is in a tight space, so are you. Unfortunately, this is the norm more than it is the exception with these games.

 

Adventure Games

So here’s the rub with adventure games: If you’ve played one, you’ve played many… not all, but many. This game introduces very little innovation in terms of advancing the genre, but makes up for it with the license. On the other hand, if you’re not interested in the content it’s going to be a hard sell for you. It also seems like these games are hard to manage: players will always find way to jump and climb into spaces you didn’t think would be yet available to the player. It happens in Epic Mickey and results in some buggy quests. On one occasion the game told me I failed a quest outright, one that I did not ever receive, because I advanced too far past the main story line. The game is easy enough however, that it shouldn’t break your ability to complete the game. Be aware, however, that you may need to converse with characters multiple times to get the quest acknowledgement you so desperately desire.

And the collecting… Get ready to do a lot of collecting, it’s what you do in most platforming-adventure games and you’ll do it here. Again, sometimes your love of the content alone is what can carry you through this. It’s what drives you to find 120 stars… then 120 more. In Epic Mickey, there are pins, glowing orbs, tickets, film reels, etc. Each has a purpose, not all are relevant to the game’s completion. It’s not a knock, that’s just the nature of the game, and I fear that I’ve played too many games like this one to fully enjoy trying to find anything. I guess I’m not as OCD as I used to be…

The 2D transitions between worlds are visually faithful to the classic animated shorts

 

Nerd Appropriate

If you have a Wii, like Disney stuffs and/or are an adventure game fan, you’d owe it to yourself to check this one out. The environments are meticulously detailed. Where other reviews have poo-poo-ed the 2D environments, I found them to be quite faithful to classic animation; and while they are tedious to run back and forth through, they are not hard to complete and not worth complaining about. The moral decisions to puzzles add a surprising wrinkle to the game, and yes… the major paint mechanic will definitely remind you of Mario Sunshine, but is that really a bad thing? As I’ve said many times before, it’s easy to become a jaded hardcore gamer with M-rated offerings on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Plus, after playing so many adventure games through my Nintendo years, the “collecting” aspects of Epic Mickey were almost too much to handle.

This being Nerd Appropriate, the only other complaint I could really lob at the game is — What about EPCOT? Maybe we can explore the never fully realized experimental prototype community of tomorrow (look it up) in Epic Mickey 2 (hint hint). In the end, as a game onto itself, the treatment of the material and fascinating visuals make Epic Mickey a title worth playing.

Please, watch your step as you exit the review. Por favor, cuide sus pasos al salir.

Scott

Hi, I’m one of the founders of Nerd Appropriate and the Rated NA podcast. I like good and bad sci-fi films and tv, pho, and the retrofuture. I am primarily an Xbox gamer, but also do some PC and Wii U gaming as well. By day, I am a research scientist, mostly in topics related to human-computer interaction and user experience. Before all this, fellow NA co-founder Matt and I played music together in various bands. I also used to make "comedy" videos for my high school morning news program before there was a place to post them online. Favorite Star Wars character? Admiral Ackbar. Best Bond era? Timothy Dalton (Craig a close second). Game of all time? Maybe System Shock 2. Thanks for being a part of this labor of nerdy love with us.
  • Ash

    Good Review man! I wouldn’t ever play this game for a few reasons. 1. Don’t do platformers 2. Have lived in the shadow of the mouse for too long.

    Great damn work.

  • I can definitely understand #2. Unfortunately, sometimes the platforming gets in its own way, something that I think you take for granted in a more polished level designs of 3D Mario games. And the RPG elements, while minimal and somewhat interesting, cause you to do a lot of backtracking through some of the same worlds over and over. Not cool.